Piper's Alley Theatre

1608 N. Wells Street,
Chicago, IL 60614

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Showing 26 - 44 of 44 comments

JRS40 on December 15, 2009 at 10:32 am

Was there this past weekend to see “The Messenger.” It’s really sad compared to the way it used to be. They don’t even put the slides in the slots in front of the theaters to identify which movie is in which theater. Seats are broken and they are so understaffed I had to close the auditorium doors when the movie started (and noticed one of the theaters had theirs open the whole time) or we would have clearly heard the movie next door. It’s as if they stopped caring. That and the fact that they no longer do shows after 8pm? This theater will be gone within a year.

Tim O'Neill
Tim O'Neill on November 14, 2009 at 12:42 am

CinemarkFan, I totally agree with everything you said. The Pipers Alley used to be a good theatre. It has really gone down the tubes since the Loews Cineplex 1998 union projectionist lockout. It’s a mystery why AMC continues to operate this theatre. I’m guessing that they are stuck in a long-term lease. Who knows? I wish they would let you lease it, CinemarkFan, because you have a knack for showmanship. The Pipers Alley did have 70mm in two of their bigger auditoriums during the early days. I happen to have a Chicago Reader Section Two dated June 28, 1991. This was one month after Loews opened this theatre. On page 31 is a big ad for Pipers Alley in which they announce “The Epic Entertainment Experience of the Year! 70MM Film Festival.” It was supposed to be a 4 week festival of “original 70mm studio vault prints of 4 of the all time greatest epic films.” The first week was BEN-HUR; the second week, WEST SIDE STORY; the third week, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY; the fourth week, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. However, the festival only lasted two weeks. They cancelled the last two weeks and opted to play BOYZ IN THE HOOD on two screens instead. Now keep in mind—70mm was still prevelant back in 1991; so having a 70mm festival probably wasn’t anything unique. Today, Hollywood doesn’t make 70mm prints anymore. This would be a great time to do a 70mm festival. There are so many young people who have never experienced 70mm nowadays. Please, CinemarkFan, keep your dreams alive. I have done some 70mm projectioning. I’m on board with you. Keep us all posted.

GFeret on June 18, 2009 at 12:50 pm

to CmFan:
you mentioned Webster Place, well they have the parking thing going on with the adjoining garage. Business there wouldn’t be what it is, facelift or not, without that parking IMO. If only P.A. could do likewise with their adjoining garage. But maybe the garage on North Ave’s too small to faciliate this?

The updates you listed above are well and good. The restrooms behind the concessions per se don’t seem problematic, it’s not like one has difficulty finding them. But it would be better if they also had restrooms up on the theatre floor level, although so many (old) theatre put their facilities down in the basement so maybe that’s being too picky?

AMC MovieWatcher in the past has sent me surveys evaluating my last P.A. experience, and the one thing I might complain about is speed of ticket purchase. Have theatre managers forgotten so many arrive just 1-2 minutes before showtime, and until automated ticket dispensing’s perfected we need and want to buy our tickets without enduring one lengthy transaction after another.

CinemarkFan on June 16, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice place and I’ll go back (“Moon opens here Friday), but it needs upgrading if it’s to survive. And I’ll explain why

I was here with my Mom & Brother on 5/23 to see “Limits of Control” (trippy flick BTW), and I could tell that pretty much is still the same from when it opened in ‘91. The seats are worn with some tears in the padding, duct tape covers some of the carpeting (Burnham Plaza anyone?), and the bathrooms smell like tall p*ss. This is not good at all. And the audio & projection while fine, needs some overhauling. You compare/contrast what’s going on inside PA with the Landmark Century further down on Clark, and you’ll see, it’s waay different. And remember that AMC is running things, and they’re known to run former Loews locations into the ground. If this place is to make it to it’s 20th birthday, it needs the following

New plush seats ala the Lake in Oak Park or the Landmark.

New carpeting. Again, the Burnham Plaza style condition its in is not very welcoming.

Fresh paint job & a more upbeat decor in the lobby & concession area. This brings me to my next suggestion

If possible, relocate/reconfigure the restrooms. You have to go around the back of the concessions to get there now.

New screens themselves.

New projection equipment. Keep runnning film, but have a digital projector or two in hand if the movie calls for it.

A 35/70mm projector in #1. A location like this is perfect for a 70mm festival.

In all 4 auditoriums, remodel the decor a bit, and install a curtain for #1.

I know this would cost a lot of money, but come on, it will not last in the condition it’s in. This is especially true with moviegoers who can catch the latest arthouse flick by going to the Landmark, Evanston, or even the River East in some cases.

A remodel will increase business, believe it. Attendance at Webster Place was good, but when Kerasotes gave it the facelift it needed, business skyrocked. The same can happen for PA.

GFeret on June 16, 2009 at 1:34 pm

If P.A. theatre people had more than half a head on their shoulders, they’d offer a can’t-pass-this-up price break for parking at the adjoining garage. That can and will make all the box-office difference.

The parking garage however from what I’ve seen has all the business they can handle from 2nd city and other Wells St attractions, so lot full happens. It vexes me the City of Chicago monster has evolved, so much of vital commerce crucially turns on a stupid thing like parking, a thing which hardly mattered in my own youth.

Here and at other sites this place gets bad-mouthing I don’t see it deserves at all. It is just fine, and right outside the ticket-door you can scrutinize the handprints of Carol Channing, Gary Sinese, and many others.

DavidZornig on April 19, 2009 at 9:06 am

I’m not sure how this place ever got away with using a Wells Street address. When it is clearly located on North Ave.
I understand desiring the Pipers Alley tie in, but the original buildings this one replaced wasn’t even really connected to or part of Pipers Alley. It was behind it & next to it. Approximately where the rear of the Aardvark Theatre actually would have been. And that’s a stretch.

This strip of North Ave. had some older 3 flats with various taverns and shops in them before the current building was built. I guess Aardvark Mutiplex wouldn’t have really had the same punch. We should also be thankful they didn’t call it Second City Cinema. Which is even slightly further down Wells Street.

Mindhunter55 on December 28, 2008 at 10:38 am

This place is a dump. I went to see JCVD at Piper’s Alley on November 15th as it was the only theatre in Chicago playing it. When I went to buy food at concessions nobody was there. I waited at least five minutes before a manager noticed me and I finally got my soda. The theatre itself was horrible. There were tiles partially or completely missing from the ceiling. The tiles that were there looked very water damaged. The seats were torn and looked filthy. It seems like they have not been cleaned in years. Finally I believe the heat was not working as it was freezing in the theatre. The only good thing is that the movie was on screen and in focus.

GFeret on September 12, 2008 at 7:55 am

What a terrible spectre to raise in the previous post.

I have no problem at all w/ AMC ownership. They’re good to me.

What need for remodeling? Tell me. Everything looks and works fine

I just saw there RIPPLE EFFECT (still showing). Talk about an obscure title, but a very good character piece. It could’ve gone on longer for further development and denouement.

CinemarkFan on August 21, 2008 at 5:13 pm

As you may know, this is the closing time of the year. Will Piper’s be on it’s way out? Lincoln Village? Norridge? Five years ago this month, Loews Cineplex closed the McClurg Court and Rice Lake Square. Come to think of it, I believe Oakbrook 5-7 went a few weeks after. I hope Piper’s Alley won’t close. It is still pretty young (17 years old). If money were to be poured into a remodeling, this place could still do great business with art films & such. But with AMC running it, I don’t know. With four screens, it doesn’t fit their business model.

KenC on May 13, 2008 at 5:58 pm

The seating capacity for the 4 auditoriums is as follows: Theatre#1- 463 seats, #2- 300 seats, #3- 256, and #4- 290. A total of 1,309 seats.

GFeret on February 25, 2008 at 8:25 am

P.A. mgr told me this past wknd their Sat. am bargain matinee admission has just been changed to also apply now to Sunday a.m. too. Great!

GFeret on January 16, 2008 at 10:39 am

Yes, PIPERS can be relied on to include films not to be found at all elsewhere each week on 1 or 2 of their screens, as already mentioned in some posts above. It’s a point that bears repeating, if you get frustrated/bored with the other plex’s just repeating the same titles on too many screens, and definitely thirst for something fresh instead. Here’re some they ran that I recall favorably:

The Hottest State, Opal Dream, Angel-A, Paprika, The 10,
Introducing The Dwights, Interview, Year Of The Dog, First Snow

All quite good and would not have caught them otherwise. Plus PA always has a spot for each new Woody Allen release, including Cassandra’s Dream.

Sound quality is excellent, and am having trouble thinking of any complaint. Their Saturday a.m. bargain admission is a deal that makes all this movie-watching I’ve been taking-in lately possible in the first place.

Broan on December 26, 2006 at 9:58 am

Here are pictures of this theater

CinemarkFan on October 13, 2006 at 1:29 pm

Humm, I’ll check that out. Thanks for the info brian.

Broan on October 13, 2006 at 12:45 pm

The auditoria here are nearly identical to the Esquire.

AMC seems to have slightly improved things; the carpet is either new or freshly cleaned, and the large theater is kept clean and has refurbished seats with new dark blue covers. The smaller auditoria are still kind of dirty and have their worn out seats and scent.

Broan on March 6, 2006 at 12:50 pm

Architect firm was Gelick Foran Associates, who also created the multiplex at the Esquire.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on December 30, 2005 at 3:37 am

Is this theatre on the “hit-list” for divestment, due to the Loews-AMC merger? This seems to be the Near North Side’s “Art House” and AMC, undoubtedly the dominant merger partner, doesn’t seem to show that type of fare.

This could be another theatre for someone like Village to take over (and could be operated in conjunction with the Village Art theatre around the corner).

CinemarkFan on December 8, 2005 at 9:53 am

Grand opening date for this was May 24th 1991. Featuring 4 screens, one with 650 seats, three with 350 seats. 70MM dolby stereo projection in the largest theatre, discount indoor parking, completely handicapped- accessible, fresh popped corn, plush seating in all auditoriums with cup-holder armrests, computerized, same day advance ticket sales. First movies to play here: Hudson Hawk on two screens, Defending Your Life and Truly, Madly, Deeply. When I was here for the first time in 2003, the seats weren’t plush, they were thin blueish/purple seats.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on September 15, 2005 at 3:27 am

The Piper’s Alley is known for playing some “indie” flicks and fare that other Loews Theatres don’t show. They even have “eclectic” toppings for your popcorn such as apple-cinnamon!

I have two good memories of the Piper’s"

1) In 1999, during a revival of STOP MAKING SENSE, some senior citizens went into the auditorium by mistake. They must have been somewhat deaf because they were saying “What!” “What’d he say?” “What movie is this?” Well, Talking Heads fans are serious fans and the audience was annoyed because they wanted to hear the music and were turning around en masse to “shh!” these people.

2) In 1995, my cousin and I went to see CLERKS. The movie was playing to a full house. The starting time came and went. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. 20 minutes. The audience was beginning to “buzz and whisper” so after about 25 minutes, I went out to find the manager. I saw the Chicago Fire Department in the theatre! The fire chief told me “Theatre’s closed for tonight sir, water main break. If you want your money back, you’ll have to talk to the manager.” “Well, I’d better go tell the others.” I replied. “What do you MEAN, ‘THE OTHERS?’” the fire chief asked me. “Well there’s a whole auditorium full of people waiting for the movie to start.” I told him. The fire chief went back with me to tell the others, and as I recall, he said that he told the manager to evacuate all of the auditoriums. I’m sure heads rolled over that one!