To dream up the perfect movie date, you need a few ingredients: somewhere to grab food beforehand, a cinema with quirk and character, and a proper selection of nightcap locations to wash down the flick. The University District is one of the best places for this because they not only have a whole Ave with some of the best restaurants in the city but also have solid movie theater options.
The neighborhood has always been a hub for movie theaters. Many of the historic theaters aren’t around anymore because they’ve evolved, either into another type of venue (The Neptune Theater, 1921, turned mainly into a live performance venue) or some kind of retail store (The Egyptian Theater, 1925, was a Rite-Aid before being demolished to make way for a Target department store) or they’ve burst into flames (The Seven Gables, 1976, burnt to a crisp in 2020).
Of the historic theaters left in the area, The Varsity (1940) and The Grand Illusion Cinema (1970) are still kicking. The latter will give you a movie experience you won’t find anywhere else in Seattle. That’s where we’re going on a date tonight, baby.
📸: Cedars Restaurant
You can’t go into a movie with an empty stomach. Cedars Restaurant serves up zesty, creamy goodness with traditional Indian and Mediterranean cuisine.
Start with a mazza plate: a sampling of hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, grape leaves, and tabbouleh, all with a side of pita bread. Order a chai to drink (I prefer mine iced). For your main courses, Cedars’ most popular dish is their butter chicken.
Hot tip: If you want to stray from that well-trodden path, order the biryani, a curry rice dish that comes with a meat of your choice—lamb is my favorite for biryani. But you can’t go wrong with Cedars’ vindaloo, a tangy wine vinegar curry sauce with potatoes that have a kick, or the dal maharani, a creamed lentil soup loaded with herbs and spices.
Hotter tip: If you’re seeing a matinee on the weekend, try Jewel of India on the Ave for a great lunch buffet open from 11 am to 3 pm Friday through Sunday.
📍 Cedars Restaurant: 4759 Brooklyn Ave NE
Open Monday through Sunday from 11 am to 10 pm. On Mondays, they close at 9:30 pm. You can make reservations ahead of time. There’s patio seating available.
📸: Grand Illusion Cinema
The Grand Illusion Cinema is a little hole-in-the-wall theater a stone’s throw from Cedars. The building used to be a dentist’s office until it became Seattle’s first arthouse theater. The Grand Illusion shows whatever movie they want. Usually, these are indies, foreign films, or revivals. This summer they’re doing a whole run of movie musicals. In October, they show tons of monster movies. And, around the holidays, you can count on weeks of It’s a Wonderful Life showings. Sometimes they host secret Saturday movies, where you won’t know what movie you’re seeing until the lights click off and the projector whirs to life.
Amble over there after dinner and settle into the cozy, dark theater. With its low, tiled ceiling and velvet seats that match walls of red curtains, the place is an homage to moviegoing in the golden age of cinema. Sometimes a bus rolling up the Ave will shake the entire building, but ignore that. Pretend it’s just part of the movie.
📍 Grand Illusion: 1403 NE 50th St
The longest-running indie theater in Seattle! Check their site for showtimes.
📸: U District
Pick Flowers. The flower shop-turned-cocktail bar’s ceiling is all mirrors. It’s dark inside—sometimes inconveniently so—but their red string lights slung along the exterior walls cast soft, sultry glows. Someone is usually smoking outside. It’s often loud, and the service is gruff (for reference, health inspectors shut down the bar for multiple COVID-19 violations in 2021). If you want to feel sexy and neglected like an addicting dysfunctional relationship, go here.
📍 Flowers: 4247 University Way NE
Open Mondays through Saturdays from 6 pm to 12 am. Word to the wise: Their mojito is so good, but they’ve usually been out of mint when I’m there.
📸: Shultzy’s Bar & Grill
Pick Shultzy’s Bar & Grill. This is a happy place decked out in light wood and University of Washington sports memorabilia. Slide into one of the mahogany booths or stake a claim on the back patio to chatter away. If you want to give your evening a jolt of sugar and alcohol, order Slamminades—they’re lemonade except, you know, alcoholic, which makes them slammin’.
📍 Shultzy’s Bar & Grill: 4114 University Way NE
Open Tuesday through Saturday, from around noon until 1:30 am. Order up: Shultyz’s has some of the best fries in the city—thin, crunchy, and piping hot. If you need a post-dinner snack, get the fries.
📸: College Inn Pub
Pick the College Inn Pub. In the basement of the College Inn, built in 1909, sits an unassuming pub. This place is all low ceilings and dark wood. It feels like a place students in Good Will Hunting might gather, or Dead Poets Society, or maybe just Robin Williams’ ghost. The College Inn Pub almost closed for good during the pandemic until regulars swooped in to buy the place in 2021.
📍College Inn Pub: 4006 University Way NE
Open Tuesday through Saturday from 2 pm until 2 am. Sundays from 4 to 11 pm. Mondays from 4 pm until 2 am. Knock back a pint or a pitcher of Manny’s Pale Ale here.