A night at the movies in Washington State's historic Port Townsend

Kombucha on tap at the Rose Theatre in Port Townsend

It's Friday night at the movies in Port Townsend, a historic maritime community on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. Friends and I arrive 45 minutes before show time at the Rose Theatre's Starlight room on the third floor of a former Elks club hall. Upholstered chairs and comfy couches face tall windows with views of Puget Sound's Admiralty Inlet. One of three cinemas in a vintage multiplex that began as a vaudeville house in 1907, the room has just 46 seats, and often sells out.

"Everyone has their special chair," says Port Townsend resident Jane Kilburn,  seated in the front row next to an antique end table. Someone calls out "Lauren Bacall," Kilburn's signal to take a small back and white photo of the film star to the bar, and retrieve her order of house-made hummus, olives and peppers.

The Starlight Room

We find spots several rows back, and wait for someone to shout "Paul Newman." Raspberry mojitos and microbrews appear along with lentil sliders and salads. Until the screen comes down and the chandeliers dim, it's easy to forget we're here to see a film. But mood lighting and gourmet snacks aside, the main course at the Rose is a rotating buffet of on-screen entertainment well worth a weekend visit.

"It's always been my goal to show both commercial and art house films," says Rocky Friedman,  who along with partner Phil Johnson,  went door-to-door with rose-patterned carpet samples to find community investors willing to finance restoration of the theater in 1992. Twenty-five years, 15 tons of popcorn and 3,176 movies later, the Rose thrives by offering a mix of entertainment designed to appeal to this community of well-educated population of retirees along with tourists and younger locals.

Gourmet snacks and drinks in the Starlight Room 

Friedman might rotate as many as a half-dozen selections within a given week, giving visitors a chance to create their own mini-film festival.  Showing recently on three screens (158 seats in the original Rose Theatre, 79 next door in the smaller Rosebud Cinema and 46 in the Starlight Room upstairs in an adjoining building) were Wonder Woman, Paris Can Wait, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf, the Wedding Plan, Restless Creature, a documentary about New York City ballet star Wendy Whelan; and Baby Driver.

In addition to films, Friedman streams performances by New York's Metropolitan Opera. London's National Theatre and Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet. He staged a dance film festival last May, traveling to New York to preview 42 movies before selecting 23 to show over four days. To celebrate the Rose's 25th anniversary on July 11, there was a free screening of The Godfather and free popcorn.

With 34 investors involved, the Rose is more than a labor of love, says Friedman, 64, a filmmaker and screenwriter. It's a viable business, managing to turn a profit even as theaters such as the Seven Gables and Guild 45th in Seattle, have closed.

For an independent theater to succeed,  "You've got to create reasons for people to set down the remote and come out and go to the movies," he says. "The intent has always been to personalize the whole experience."

Popcorn with real butter

A grand staircase with 55 steps leads to the Starlight Room, opened in 2013 in partnership with Port Townsend's Silverwater Cafe on the ground floor. A former photographer's studio with floor-to-ceiling black-out curtains, the room was ready-made for a theater. Seattle interior designer Michele Bayle combed local thrift stores, estate sales and auction houses for vintage furniture and fixtures. Silverwater created a menu of small plates and drinks. Vintage movie posters and black-and-white photos of film stars decorate a bar area stocked with a popcorn machine and bowls of chocolates and gummy bears.

Just as regulars have their favorite chairs in the Starlight Room, they also come early to sit in a cozy, nine-seat balcony in the Rose Cinema where the popcorn comes with real butter and patrons can order local Finnriver cider and Kombucha on tap

Friedman no longer personally introduces each film as he once did, but the tradition continues with his theater managers providing a bit of background on the movie or the director before each screening.

His goal from the beginning was to create a business that allowed him to do what he loved.

"For me, it's all about the work. "I feel grateful for being able to do what I love for 25 years."

If you go:

Chances are you'll be taking in a film at the Rose Theatre in the late afternoon or evening, which means you'll be looking for things to do earlier in the day. Some suggestions:

Farmers Market

Don't miss the Jefferson County Farmers Market Saturday, 9 a.m.- 2 p.m. in Port Townsend's historic Uptown District. Organic farmers, artisan food producers and arts and crafts vendors are celebrating the market's 25th anniversary this year. Bring a cooler or a picnic basket, and stock up on small-batch cheeses, pastries, soaps, ciders, and seasonal produce. New this year is Fiddlehead Creamery selling vegan ice cream in flavors such as sesame tahini and raspberry Thai basil.

Saturday market


Northwest Maritime Center

Port Townsend's maritime legacy lives on at the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St., host to the annual Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival (Sept. 8-10). There's a marine thrift store, library and boat rental center on site.

Fort Worden and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Visit Fort Worden State Park, a former U.S. Army installation about 1.5 miles from downtown. Near Point Wilson, where the Puget Sound meets the Strait of Juan De Fuca, the park is home to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, an interactive natural history museum with a hands-on aquarium.

Finnriver Orchard and Cider Garden

What began as a small cidery on a family-run apple orchard and blueberry farm has grown into a destination with food, music, a bocce ball court and a new tasting room at 124 Center Road in Chimacum. Stop on your way in or out of Port Townsend for samples of Finnriver ciders and fruit wines. Food vendors sell wood-fired pizzas, crêpes and bratwurst.


Finnriver tasting room

Getting there: Port Townsend is at the northeast tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula. From the Seattle area, take a ferry to either Kingston or Bainbridge Island,  cross the Hood Canal Bridge, and follow WA-19N. Travel time is a little more than two hours. See http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries

Where to stay: Port Townsend is known for its bed and breakfasts in historic Victorian-style homes.
Choose from an inn on the beach to a room in a house built in the 1800s.  See listings at www.enjoypt.com along with information on hotel/motels, vacation rentals and RV/camping spots.

Rose Theatre reservations: Movies in the Starlight Room (21 and over)  sometimes sell out. Order advance tickets online at http://rosetheatre.com Prices are $10 for adults; $9 for seniors and students and $8 for children 12 and under. Matinees are $1 less.

Tourism info: See www.enjoypt.com, or stop in the visitor information center at 2409 Jefferson St. Suite B.


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