The Last Picture Show


This week I say goodbye to that old friend, Chunky’s Cinema Pub in Pelham, NH...

The Last Picture Show

A fangirl's farewell to Chunky's Cinema Pub

As a die-hard movie nerd, I have seen many, many movies over the course of my life, and a large part of movies that have stuck with me wasn’t only the movies themselves, but the cinematic experiences and the theaters that I saw them in.

The very first time I remember going to see a movie of any kind was in 1980 at the South Shore Plaza Twin Drive-In, located in Braintree, MA, when my parents took me and my brother to see a re-release of Star Wars: A New Hope. The fact that I have such a clear memory of seeing the movie at five years old is a testament to the impact Star Wars had and continues to have on my life. A few years later, I vividly recall waiting in a line that stretched around the Braintree General Cinema IV in 1983 to see Return of the Jedi with my brother and my dad.

The General Cinemas in Hanover, MA played host to my first viewings of The Goonies and Back to the Future in 1985, and the feelings of energy and excitement I had leaving the theater after each showing was something I will never forget.

The Hoyts Cinema at the Harborlight Mall was my high school movie hangout, where I watched movies like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The first time I cried at a movie in a theater was here, watching Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in 1991 (embarrassing my brother horribly), and I saw Titanic here about three or four times in 1997.

When I was going to college, everyone knew about the Wollaston “Wolly” theater, which offered “Buck Nights” on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Despite missing seats and parts of the ceiling that were caving in, it didn’t stop swarms of me and my friends going there to see Wayne’s World, Jurassic Park, Hook, Forrest Gump, and Braveheart, and then we’d top the evening off at the Newcomb Farms diner across the street, which served breakfast specials for a buck after 10pm.

After college I worked for about a year at the Flagship Cinemas in Quincy MA, which had the best perks ever: free popcorn and soda, and four free movie passes a week. I could even bring my friends to the free movies, and as a result, I ended up seeing movies like Air Force One, Conspiracy Theory, and Face/Off so many times I don’t think I’ve watched them since.

None of these theaters exist anymore. I have funny, exciting, sentimental, and scary stories I could tell about all of them and the movie adventures I had, but for this post I want to focus on a specific theater that I know so well I consider the very building a friend. This week I say goodbye to that old friend, Chunky’s Cinema Pub in Pelham, NH.

The Chunky’s Cinema Pub chain originally began as a single-screen theater in Plaistow, NH, founded by Jim and Kyle Nagel. Over the years they added more theaters in Haverhill, Pelham, Nashua, and Manchester, and even a couple in Maine. Chunky’s became known for their large theaters, pub-style food, and signature chairs made from the front seats of Lincoln Continental cars.

If Chunky’s locations dwindled over the years, the remaining theaters made up for it with fun-filled nostalgic special events, such as the annual summer screenings of Jaws (complete with vintage Narragansett beer cans so you could “crush it like Quint”) and The Goonies, which boasted a treasure hunt inside the theater where you could search for boxes full of free passes, gift cards, and candy. In December they would screen Christmas classics like The Polar Express (with golden tickets and hot cocoa for the kids who came in their pajamas) It’s a Wonderful Life, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (where those sporting their best ugly sweater were entered into a contest for free passes.)

I moved to northern MA/southern NH in 2007, and my first experience with the Chunky’s chain was one Halloween a few years later when one of my roommates discovered that the Chunky’s in Nashua was giving free entry to movies if you came dressed in costume. Well, quicker than you can say “cosplay”, we tricked ourselves out as three ninjas and a bohemian dancer and went to see Secretariat. I remember being dumbfounded that there was a place where one could actually sit and watch a movie and order food that was not popcorn or candy and have it brought to you. It was amazing, and as they say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The Pelham theater was the one closest to me, so it became my movie home away from home. It was my go-to, my happy place, and it became my hangout, my Peach Pit, my Central Perk, my Luke’s Diner, my Cheers (several employees actually did know my name!) I would only venture out to other theaters unless it was a movie I felt I needed to see on an IMAX screen, like Top Gun: Maverick. I fell in love with Chunky’s for so many reasons. Their tickets were cheap, because they made most of their money from food sales. They played right to my nostalgia button with their classic movie screenings like Back to the Future, The Princess Bride, Top Gun, and The Breakfast Club.

They encouraged cosplay, or just coming in your pajamas with a blanky. People were friendly, the seats comfortable. It was like going to see a movie in a big giant living room. Sure, there were nights when the people at the next table were extra noisy, or my food took forever to arrive and when it did, it would be lukewarm. But those times didn’t bother me enough to take away from my delight and enjoyment overall, and it certainly didn’t stop me from being a regular customer. Actually, for me the menu alone was worth going to Chunky’s for! Now, I know there are people who would vigorously disagree with me, and I will say it wasn’t winning any Michelin 5-stars. But part of the glory of having your own blog is that you can state your own opinion, and oh MAN, did I love the food, drinks, and other goodies at Chunky’s. The menu consisted of mostly burgers, appetizers, and other comfort foods, and the entire thing was movie-themed. My personal favorites were the Smokey and the Bandit burger (a burger topped with onion rings and BBQ sauce), the Reservoir Dogs (two giant hot dogs with fries) the Rocky’s Philly Cheesesteak, and the High Noon Nachos (nachos doused with chicken, queso, and tomatoes, and BBQ sauce).

And that was just the food! Now I have never been a big imbiber of alcoholic beverages, but doggone wouldn’t Chunky’s just be able to reel me in nine times out of ten with their One-Eyed Willy, the Shark Bite Bowl, or the Breakfast Club Cocktail. If you theme it, I will come!

All in all, I went to the movies at Chunky’s for fourteen years…a goodly long time. It’s been an amazing run, and I wanted to share some of my favorite memories of good times spent there.

In 2013, I went to one of their annual Jaws showings for the very first time. During the movie, a waitress was walking by and stumbled, spelling an entire tray of drinks on me. I didn’t just get wet, I was soaked, I was sopping. I looked like someone had thrown a bucket of water mixed with Coke, Ketel One, and lemonade on me, which is pretty much what happened. My reaction? I started howling with laughter. I mean, it wasn’t her fault, and what was I going to do, scream at her like some deranged “Karen”? It was plain to see she already felt horrible, she began apologizing all over herself and bringing me piles of napkins and then a towel. Then she came back and apologized again and brought me another towel. I kept assuring her it was no problem, if there was any movie I was going to get soaked at, it should have been Jaws. Eventually her manager came out and not only gave me and my friends free passes but gave us our meals for free too. He even offered me a dry t-shirt! Believe it or not, it made for an extremely funny memory that I look back on with amusement.

In October of 2019 Chunky’s held a showing of Clue, which I got to take a friend to who had never seen it before. He laughed so hard he was almost falling on the floor, but the real fun that night was that Chunky’s encouraged you to bring your favorite board game and play it in the theater before the movie! So my friends and I played a round of my Alfred Hitchcock themed Clue game and had a blast doing so. See, this was the kind of thing that made Chunky’s really stand out from other theaters…you can’t do stuff like this at AMC or Cinemark!

Of course, when the pandemic happened, Chunky’s, like most everywhere else, closed its doors and I was heartbroken. Going out to the movies had always been my escape, my comfort, and in a time where all of us desperately needed comfort, where was I going to get it now? Well, it took a couple of months, but Chunky’s came through again. Since Chunky’s is technically a restaurant that shows movies, they were able to open up earlier than most cinemas, at the end of June 2020, and you better believe I was there opening night!

Chunky’s truly saved me that year. It made what was otherwise a fairly bleak and discouraging summer absolutely magical. Some of my favorite movie memories are from that period, because due to a lack of content coming out of Hollywood, the majority of Chunky’s screenings were of cinematic classics, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Ghostbusters, and Harry Potter. It was like my own personal movie paradise, and I was there at least once or twice a week all summer.

Going to Chunky’s and seeing all the movies I loved so much didn’t just give me a thrill, it helped me forget about all the calamity and chaos that was happening in the world at the time. It gave me familiar scenes, people, quotes, and music that made me happy, and for a short time I could live again in a world where there were always happy endings.

My favorite memory from this time was one Sunday afternoon in August of 2020, when I went to a screening of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I ended up being the only one in the theater, and I decided to make the most of it. I ordered a bunch of food, including an appetizer AND dessert, and sang along with every single song at the top of my lungs. I think my waitress got a big kick out of me, and I gave her a big tip because I appreciated the way she kept coming in to check on me, even though I was the only one there. 🙂

When I heard the news in April of this year that Chunky’s Pelham and Nashua were closing their doors, and I legit burst into tears. I was seriously wrecked for two days, and if you don’t understand why then you need to go and read this blog post over again. I felt like I’d just received news that a friend was dying. There were reasons of course, which I’m sure included hard hits from both the pandemic and streaming, but the end result was one of my favorite places in the world was disappearing, and I was heartbroken.

As I write this blog, tonight is Pelham Chunky’s last night, and I’ll be there to say goodbye with one last movie night. All last week they had “Final Act” showings of their audience favorites, and of course I went to see Jaws and The Goonies with friends, I wasn’t missing that for anything. For the Goonies screening, I had a young fourteen year old friend with me who I’ve been taking to Chunky’s his entire life, since he was two years old. Our favorite “dates” were to the Goonies screenings, where he scored a treasure box every single time but once. Last week, as we pulled into the parking lot, he suddenly looked up at the Chunky’s logo and I could see the soberness enter his face. “Oh man,” he said. “It just really hit me…this is our last time here, isn’t it? We’ve been coming here for everything my whole life, Marvel and Star Wars and Polar Express …everything…and now it’s all going to be gone.”

I was pondering on his words as we later sat in the theater watching the movie. Goonies turned out to be more relevant to the occasion than I had anticipated, and I found myself holding back tears when lines like “This is our last weekend together…the last Goonie weekend.” As Mikey pleaded “Down here it’s our time, it’s our time down here!” from the screen, I turned to look at all my friends, and cast a glance around the theater. It was indeed “our time”, and I cherished every second of it. Oh, Pelham, if only I had a marble bag full of jewels to give you, so I wouldn’t have to leave my “Goon Docks”.

There’s still one Chunky’s location left, in Manchester, and it’s close enough that I’ll probably be making regular trips there. But it won’t be the same, at least, not at first. I’ll have to get to know Manchester, make friends with it. I’m hopeful. I’ve already attended several fun movie events there, such as the farm-to-table five course theme dinners. They have trivia nights, live comedians, and other things. I hope to make many new memories there. But I will forever miss my Chunky’s Pelham as it joins the ranks of other old friends I’ve lost as time marches on.

Thanks for the memories…it was indeed, our time down there.

Links I Like

  • Chunky’s Cinema Pub in Manchester, NH
  • Loring Hall Cinema in Hingham, MA (this was my go-to theater growing up, and my most nostalgic movie theater next to Chunky’s. The building has been there since 1852 and still has a balcony!)
  • Milford Drive In – one of two surviving drive-ins in New Hampshire, and I’m thankful it’s close enough to get to a couple of times each summer!
  • The Magic Lantern in Bridgton, ME was the theater we went to when my family vacationed in the summer. The original building was torn down in 2006, but it has since been rebuilt and the new theater houses several historical artifacts from the original in its lobby.


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