Pot Belly’s Cinema – a reminisce about the good/bad ole days

Pot Belly’s Cinema served downtown St. Augustine for-e-ver {Sandlot reference for all my 80s peeps}. Sometimes being a staple of a city for decades is a good thing- like the Columbia Restaurant, the Castillo de San Marcos and DeNoel Pastry.  Other times, forever = bad as in Santa Maria Restaurant.  Some would easily group Potbellies with the latter. I’m on the fence… the scary, barbed wire fence, right next to the crows and Freddy.  Yeah, it’s a little scary but there is a time & place for everything…

This place could be the best tour in town.  The lobby is filled with vintage toys, lunchboxes, Barbies in their boxes and movie collectables.  Two and a half decades ago, I would have been thrilled to find most of these goodies wrapped under our Christmas tree!  If it weren’t so dark, dusty and… well… creepy, it’d be awesome!

Walking down the hallway to our cinema, I found myself tensing up… waiting for the boogie man to jump out at me.  If you haven’t been, you cannot possibly grasp how serious I am when I say that!  Let me try to capture the feeling…

All the confidence I’d felt when moments before I sent the guys ahead of me vanished as I stepped out of the dimly lit restroom.  Dirty, threadbare carpet was the most welcoming part of the narrow hallway leading to “our” cinema.  The constant chatter of the two gold-laden men in the lobby was strangely out of place.  Was their laughter strained?  Was their friendship a farce? 

Torn carpeting reached around my shoe and grabbed my bared skin- molesting my senses and causing me to stumble blindly against the wall.  My eyes fell on more collectibles.  Chuckie laughed at my fearful response from inside his “sealed” box behind glass.

Gather your senses, Simply!

Jittery laughter forced its way from my chest as I breathed deeply to settle my pounding nerves.  Looking away from Chuckie, I was shocked to see the huge, metal door of a walk-in freezer.  A poster taped on advertised a horror flick and pictured a lone cabin in a foggy bayou.

“You.have.got.to.be.kidding.me.” I blurted out to the empty hallway.

My eyes searched for my respite- the theater with my hubby and friend inside. Instead they met with more horror.  Looking further down the passage I realized these stainless crypts lined both sides of the hallway.  {They were the doors to the theaters!  How disturbingly fitting.}

Turning into the theatre showing “Searching for Sugarman” at last, relief flooded me as I lunged for my seat safe between Chris & David.  Huddling together from invisible evil, we all shared nervous laughter as creaking fans slowly marched in endless circles- causing lights above to “strobe”- adding to the chilling setting.  We considered leaving, but what about the hit men in the lobby?  Instead, we resigned to bow our heads together and entrust our souls to the only One who protects.   

Deliver us from evil. 

Bwa ha ha!  Okay, it wasn’t that bad.  {Mostly because I’m writing this 8 months after our visit.  It was pretty scary, but the people in the lobby were friendly.  Honestly.}  We *did* decide not to order anything off this menu:

If the public spaces were as sticky & dusty as they certainly were, we decided the kitchen must be worse.  The Sundance Film we chose told an interesting story {not scary}.  And we left having shared an evening we will never forget.  {understatement of a lifetime}

Pot Belly’s sold in June, 2013.  I haven’t heard any news from the new owner yet, but I sincerely hope they overhaul this place so it is an experience everyone can enjoy.  But truth be told, there’s a part of me that’s sad for anyone who didn’t get to experience St. Augustine’s 1980s time warp- Pot Belly’s Cinema.

**Update 7/2014: Corazon Cinemas & Cafe will be opening in the space once the new owners scrub all the sticky stuff off the floors and dust off the walls. ;) **

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