I had passed The Metrograph for weeks without knowing what it actually was. Sitting discreetly at the south end of Ludlow Street, just before the no-reservations restaurants of the Lower East Side give way to fragrant and chaotic Chinatown, it has little to mark it out as a cinema. In fact, I only realised what I had been walking past when I saw a listing linking The Metrograph to a rare screening of early Genet-inspired Todd Haynes movie Poison, with an introduction by indie producer Christine Vachon. I booked tickets, had a great evening and it immediately became one of my favourite cinemas in the world.
The Metrograph is the vision of Alexander Olch, best known in New York as a designer of neckties that are sold in Barneys and Nordstrom. He has spent the past few years creating a cinema that mixes offbeat classics and left-field seasons with a small bookshop, a snack bar that looks like a cross between a Swedish stationery store and a Damien Hirst installation, and the Commissary – a lovely upstairs restaurant and bar that is part old-school Hollywood, part New York classic Balthazar. Everything about the place is a joy: from the typography used for all its signage to the velvet seats in the main screening room, fashioned out of wooden beams salvaged from the demolished Domino Sugar Refinery across the river in Brooklyn, and the Dolby system taken from the landmark Ziegfeld Theatre uptown, which closed last year. The Metrograph might be new, but it has been lovingly crafted with great respect for the analogue past.
The best thing about the place, however, is the programming. Its seasons inspire repeat visits, whether its focus is films based on the novels of The Talented Mr Ripley author Patricia Highsmith, or movies that came out of Universal Studios in the maverick environment of the 1970s. There are also weird and wonderful one-off events: a recent screening of the classic 1975 Maysles brothers’ documentary Grey Gardens – which follows the lives of mother and daughter Edith and Edie Beale, relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis – was introduced by “The Marble Faun”, aka Jerry Torre, who appears throughout the film as an occasional domestic help for the Beales.