TheaTour!: The Empire Garden Restaurant

If you’re like me, old, repurposed theaters both thrill and dismay you. On the one hand, it’s exciting to see something familiar in a surprising light (how will they use that mezzanine?!); on the other, it’s always a bit sad to see the breeding grounds of art turned into a deli or a shoe store.

Empire Garden Restaurant, Globe Theater, Boston, Chinatown, theatre architecture, converted theater old theater

That melancholic mixture—half smile, half tear—arrives full bore at the Empire Garden Restaurant in Boston. Known in legitimacy as the Globe Theater or as Loew’s Globe Theater, the EGR successfully retains much of its theatrical charm, making a hell of a backdrop for dim sum. Still… it makes a hell of a backdrop for dim sum. Enough said.

Dipping under its deep red marquee, a small, uneventful lobby takes you to a TV-studded, classical stairway.

Empire Garden Restaurant, Globe Theater, Boston, Chinatown, theatre architecture, converted theater old theater

Another lobby waits at the top…

Empire Garden Restaurant, Globe Theater, Boston, Chinatown, theatre architecture, converted theater old theater

… and snif snif—you’re in dim sum land!

Make sure to mind the carts as you enter the gorgeous seating area. (Apparently the panels in the proscenium open up to reveal another dining area, opened for weddings and such.)

Empire Garden Restaurant, Globe Theater, Boston, Chinatown, theatre architecture, converted theater old theater

After ordering, run on up to that proscenium and take in the plaster.

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Just don’t think too hard about the strange collision of Eastern and Western art behind you!

Empire Garden Restaurant, Globe Theater, Boston, Chinatown, theatre architecture, converted theater old theater

The entire restaurant, the owner explained to me, sits one floor level above what would’ve been the orchestra section. (As if the stairs weren’t enough of a giveaway, the proscenium’s legs tell the original story: They’re almost comically short.)

But that original ground level grants no hint of its glitzy, lavish past. Today, it’s an Asian foods market.

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So: Yes, it’s cool to have your lunch in such gilded splendor. Who doesn’t want a little cherub watching as you eat pork dumplings?

But it’s also a bit sacrilegious, isn’t it? Knawing your way around a temple of theater?

Forgive us, Bacchus, as we slurp and chew.

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Oh, for a Muse of Pixels…

Charles Edwards and Eve Best in rehearsal for “Much Ado About Nothing”

Shakespeare is taking to the airwaves…

Not to be outdone by the National’s NTLive, the Globe Theatre in London is inaugurating its own theatrical broadcast season this fall. It’s called “Globe on Screen,” and will feature All’s Well That Ends Well, Much Ado About Nothing, and Doctor Faustus, beamed to movie theaters around the world.

NT Live has shown wonderful (if unavoidably watered down) productions, so here’s hoping Globe on Screen follows suit. As for me, I’ll be at Much Ado for Eve Best’s take on Beatrice. (Can I get an “Amen,” “Nurse Jackie” fans?)

It’s interesting how little hang up the Brits have about this theatrical broadcast thing. The National and the Globe aside, they’ve also got DigitalTheatre.com, a kind of iTunes for filmed versions of plays. Producers from the Royal Court to Sonia Friedman have shows available for rent or purchase, and while the venue (your computer screen!) isn’t ideal, it’s better than nothing.

PBS’s “Great Performances” excepted, American theater is much more strictly limited to its in-the-flesh audience. What’s behind the holdup—union craziness? inadequate funding? lack of demand? What do you think?

In the meantime, check out Globe on Screen trailer, below:

Photo by Marc Brenner

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