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  • Aliena Abernathy

The Heart of Bevo: Arkadin Microcinema and Bar

by Aliena Abernathy

On either side of Gravois Avenue, located in St. Louis’ Bevo neighborhood, you’ll see about what you’d expect: retail shops, some bars, the occasional restaurant. But on one block right in the middle of the historic neighborhood stands a black and yellow monolith of a building with shuttered windows and one ominous name printed across the top of its façade: Arkadin. You wouldn’t expect from its unassuming exterior that inside its walls holds one of the most unique cinema experiences that St. Louis has to offer.

“We’re a small movie theater with a bar-lobby area, and we focus mostly on repertory screenings, cult films, special event type things,” said Keith Watson, co-owner and film programmer at Arkadin.

“And we’re just a place where people can come out and hopefully enjoy some good movies” added Sarah Baraba, co-owner and business manager.

The Microcinema had its start in 2019, after Keith and Sarah, who are St. Louis natives, moved back from Washington D.C. and noticed that St. Louis was lacking in the theater scene that they had come to enjoy during their time in the nation’s capital.

“Keith just came up to me and said, ‘How would you feel about opening a microcinema?’” remarked Sarah, and from there the wife and husband got to work on turning that idea into a reality. They had purchased the property in the heart of Bevo and hired contractors to turn the space into what it’d be known for today.

Photo from @arkadincinema on Instagram

“And then Covid happened,” explained Sarah. The small business had to completely halt plans for the renovations and push back their opening for almost three years until they could resume construction in August of 2022.

That time, however, was not entirely wasted. Amid the pandemic, Keith and Sarah reached out to the next-door bar, The Heavy Anchor, and made a proposition: hold outdoor movie screenings on the patio that connects the two businesses. This patio would host Arkadin’s first ever socially distanced screening, Wet Hot American Summer, in July of 2020, which managed to sell out even amidst a worldwide pandemic. It would be another two years of weekly outdoor screenings until Covid-19 was under control and their renovations could go forward. After securing city permits, screening equipment, and stocking up their fridges with the best local brews, they were finally ready to open their indoor screening area to the public on March 1st, 2023.

The walls of Arkadin are adorned with movie memorabilia from films corny and classic alike: a picture of Nicholas Cage plastered onto a mannequin, a framed photo of Vampira looming over a set of double doors, and a selection of posters from Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock movies. Past the bar, which is stocked with both local brews and ingredients for some particularly fruity cocktails (I recommend the Sophisticated Lady), and through the double doors is the theater itself, a humble-yet-comfortable mix of bar tables, sofa chairs, and traditional movie theater seats facing a screen perfectly sized for the space surrounded by an impressive sound system.

“The community response has been really good,” said Keith. “We’ve been doing a broad variety of things to draw different crowds out.”

Arkadin hosts a wide range of events in their theater that range from their famous Drinkolas Cage night, where they play a surprise Nicholas Cage movie and create a custom drinking game out of it, to their nights of curated shorts, such as their British Folk Horror event -which

ended - that showed four shorts and a feature-length film to a nearly sold-out crowd.

“I really like Arkadin for their programming,” said frequent visitor Josey Rodriguez, “Columbo night is definitely a favorite” referencing a monthly series where Arkadin puts on a selection of episodes from the classic detective TV show to an uproarious crowd.

Photo by Aliena Abernathy

The theater also hosts multiple guest programmers who bring different flavors of film to the space monthly. They range from the auteur Dark Dream Cinema which showcases arthouse horror films new and old, to the downright cheesy with new guest programmer Knifetime bringing hilariously campy Lifetime original movies to a less-than-sober crowd.

“When it comes down to it, we want to show stuff that wouldn’t otherwise get here,” explained Keith.

Even more recently Arkadin has delved into the world of film festivals as they are set to host the second annual HysteriaFest, which will take place in late October. The festival will showcase the newest films from the festival circuit along with more contemporary horror classics. This year the festival, organized by local St. Louis filmmaker Paul Hibbard, will be hosted in the theater for five days, showcasing several films from the French Extremity movement, seven feature films that haven’t hit theaters yet, and over thirty new, independent short horror films.

“[Paul Hibbard] reached out to us and asked if we’d like to do a week-long festival, and we immediately said yes,” said Sarah. Last year the festival went on for only two days while Arkadin was still limited to its outdoor screening area, but even still the event had sold out months in advance. “It had never been something we considered when we were starting out, but we’re more than happy to have [HysteriaFest] with us.”

Keith and Sarah don’t just stop at servicing the film community in St. Louis. They also host events to support local St. Louis organizations like Metro Trans Umbrella Group, and more recently the Missouri Abortion Fund with a screening of Give Me an A, presented by HysteriaFest.

“There’s a lot of good stuff going on in St. Louis and I feel like we can bring each other up by including each other as much as we can,” Sarah and Keith said. “Social justice is really important to keep an eye on so we can make sure we have screenings and programming that reflect that and give the community representation in different ways that you might not necessarily get at a multiplex.”

Even though Arkadin Microcinema and Bar has only been open for seven months at the time of writing, the theater's impact on the St. Louis community has been indescribable. The theater has simultaneously entered the headspace of addicted cinephiles, regular movie goers, local businesses, and members of the community alike with their diverse range of programming, commitment to community improvement, and a well-curated bar as the icing on the cake. With any luck, and much unlike the Orson Welles character the theater is named after, Arkadin will be a staple of St. Louis culture in no time at all.


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