The old hall on Nassau Street is the eclectic movie hub Princeton's campus community deserves.
The Princeton Garden Theatre has since 1920 been a staple of the university town's arts culture, but since reopening in 2014 as a non-profit (managed by Renew Theaters) has stepped up its film game, offering a mix of first-run dramas, foreign flicks, Hollywood classics, guest lectures and more.
The classic two-theater hall, which even broadcasts live theater, straight from the National Theatre in London, was the fourth of five finalist stops in our search for New Jersey's best movie theater. We're visiting all five theaters, taking into consideration things like film selection, sound and image quality, comfort and concessions.
Here's what else we found inside this terrific Central Jersey spot.THE BREAKDOWN
Film quality (picture and sound): We saw the Oscar-nominated documentary short "Watani: My Homeland" Tuesday and were impressed by the Garden Theatre's picture quality and acoustics. The cracks and booms of the doc's explosions (in Aleppo, Syria) rang full in the large theater and the visuals were crystal clear. The venue may be nearly 100 years old, but it's technology is clearly up to date.
Film selection: Like fellow finalist The ShowRoom in Asbury Park, the Princeton Garden Theatre skews toward current feature dramas, independent and foreign films, and documentaries. But interspersed with the main attractions are a hearty list of one-off special events throughout the year. The March schedule features screenings of "The Elephant Man" and a live theater production of Shakespeare's "The Tempest."Inside the Princeton Garden Theatre in Princeton, one of five finalists in NJ.com's search for New Jersey's best movie theater. Feb. 21, 2017. (Bobby Olivier | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
Food and drink selection: Snacks here were pretty standard, with a few exceptions: craft sodas, Ritter german chocolate bars, and boxed water -- yes, boxed water. Minimize your carbon footprint, folks! Also, we're happy to report the buttery popcorn at the Garden was the best of the lot so far!
Atmosphere: The Garden Theatre felt the most old-fashioned of the lot thus far -- as it should have -- with a low ceiling lobby and ancient, print carpets. But overall, the vibe inside the Princeton venue is that its programmers know what they're doing. The staff was chatting with patrons about upcoming films, giving some advice on what to see next -- the place's busy schedule between regular features and one-off events can be a little overwhelming. But it's good to see there is always something going on on Nassau Street.Employees at the Princeton Garden Theatre in Princeton, one of five finalists in NJ.com's search for New Jersey's best movie theater. Feb. 21, 2017. (Bobby Olivier | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
Comfort: The two theaters' high-backed seats did not recline but were still plenty comfy, not so different from Asbury Park's chairs. Both theaters are larger than you'd imagine viewing the place from the street -- 180 capacity each -- with stadium-style seating. There truly isn't a bad seat in the house.
Extras: The amenities at the Princeton Garden Theatre come in the varied schedule, from regular first-run films like "La La Land" and "Hidden Figures" to exclusive events: Run DMC's Darryl McDaniels comes April 11 to present a special film, and in May, the Garden will air the London broadcast of the play "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead," starring "Harry Potter" alum Daniel Radcliffe. What other New Jersey movie theater offers such highlights?Outside the Princeton Garden Theatre in Princeton, one of five finalists in NJ.com's search for New Jersey's best movie theater. Feb. 21, 2017. (Bobby Olivier | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
The N.J.'s best movie theater search is coming to an end -- a winner will be named later this week!
Bobby Olivier may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyOlivier and Facebook. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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