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Rosebud Cinema's 'Wow Factor'

Popular Wauwatosa theater reopens under new management

Aug. 28, 2012
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The Rosebud Cinema (6823 W. North Ave.) is back and in good hands. The neighborhood bijou along one of Wauwatosa's busiest streets made a splash when it opened in 1999. People talked about its seating—those sofas and chairs with end tables—as much as its bar and food selection. But it's been owned and managed by different parties over the past decade, and the cinema had lost some of its luster by the time it closed this spring.

Fortunately, it wasn't shuttered for good. Lee Barczak, owner of the Sheridan House Hotel and other properties, purchased the Rosebud and installed two managers: David Gigl, who runs the exquisite café at the Sheridan, is in charge of the theater's food and bar side, while Larry Widen, who had owned the Rosebud and the Times theaters in earlier incarnations, has returned as the movie man.

The basic format remains, albeit brightened and freshened. Some of the furnishings are new, and the building has been dressed in a clean coat of paint. "The most attractive feature is that the furniture moves," Widen says. "It has flexibility. If you're a big guy and want to stretch your legs, you can do that."

Try that at the multiplex! And try the Rosebud's food, which Gigl promises will be superior to the fare at the old Rosebud. "The focus is on items you can eat with your eyes shut," he explains. "We're installing new equipment to produce better quality faster. It will give our audience the wow factor."

As for the movies, there will be one first-run feature every two weeks, but much juggling around it. Widen is planning a late-night "shock theater," a weekend classics series Saturdays and Sundays at noon, a budget flick and a family matinee. He'd like to see an occasional Milwaukee exclusive premiere of indie or foreign films. "We will pay strict attention to what our customers want," says Widen, who already has a good idea from past experience. "Our people love mysteries, thrillers, dramas, high-quality action films. They don't want sophomoric R-rated comedies by Adam Sandler or light romantic comedies. In the past, we've done well with movies like Michael Clayton and American Gigolo—women love these as much as the guys."

Of course, the David of a one-screen house is up against the Goliath of the multiplexes. "We are fortunate that Wauwatosa retains much the same footprint as 60 years ago," Widen says, speaking of the days when the Tosa Theater, the Rosebud's predecessor, did bumper business with the locals. "It's a high-density residential neighborhood and a business area. We are in an open-air mall, basically. You can drop off your dry cleaning, pick up your prescription and catch a movie. You can have pizza at Cranky Al's down the street and come to us for dessert."

And bottom line: The experience of sharing a movie in the dark with a hundred strangers can't be replicated at home, no matter how large your screen, and certainly can't be approximated on your smartphone.

The Rosebud opens 6:30 p.m. Aug. 31 with The Bourne Legacy. The Sept. 7 grand opening will feature WaterWalk, an indie featuring a raft of Milwaukee actors (Lee Ernst, Angela Iannone and John McGivern) and a scene filmed around the corner from the Rosebud.


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