On a cool summer evening, Chicagoans can be found nestled beneath the stars on a West Loop rooftop, taking in classic Black love stories such as the 2000 film Love and Basketball. Welcome to The Emily Hotel’s Rooftop Cinema Club.

“There’s finally a rooftop space for us,” South Sider Alex Martin said. “I know a lot of rooftops in the city accept Black people, but The Emily Hotel is inviting.”  

Formerly the Ace Hotel, The Emily Hotel’s new outdoor movie hotspot offers regular movie showings throughout the week on their rooftop.

Photo courtesy of The Emily Hotel's Rooftop Cinema Club.

“There are a lot of other rooftop cinemas in the city, but they usually think Black folk are there to cause problems,” Martin continued. “From the second you walk into the hotel lobby, someone is there to greet you and make sure all of your questions are answered. That was the first thing I noticed. You felt like, ‘they see us and are here to help.’”

For a minimum purchase of $20 a person, movie goers can take over a lounge chair for a view of their favorite film. But if lawn chairs aren’t your thing, for about $30 a person, an upgrade with both a double-width deckchair and bowl of popcorn are included in the ticket price. Showings after 4:30 p.m. are limited to ages 18 and older.

Between bowls of shared popcorn and other tasty treats for purchase, movie goers can be heard laughing at familiar jokes from Love and Basketball, such as Omar Epps’ famous line to Sanaa Lathan, “Who you going to the dance anyway? Spalding?”

It’s this shared moment of celebration through laughter that Deanna, a West Side resident, said she noticed early into the Saturday night showing of Love and Basketball during a night out with her sister on July 24. (Reporter’s Note: Deanna did not feel comfortable sharing her full name).

“It’s a film I’ve seen over the years several times, because my step daughter was obsessed with it growing up,” Deanna said. “But tonight I watched because I just wanted to get familiar with the rooftop. It’s nice to see such a diverse crowd enjoying it.”

An employee at the Rooftop Cinema Club says this type of interaction is frequent.

“You know how we are,” Ashunti said. “When we see us, we talk and we come together. There’s no issues. I always see people who clearly haven’t met before, but will bond over the movie and talk because we’ve seen it so many times.” (Reporter’s Note: Ashunti did not feel comfortable sharing their full name).

For Chicago transplant Timbra Dye, her visit to the Rooftop Cinema Club for the July 24 showing of Love and Basketball was about reliving her glory days. 

“My grammar school boyfriend and I used to love this movie,” said Dye, who came to the showing with a friend. “We called ourselves Monica and Quincy.”

While the couple is no longer together, Dye said it’s a great space for the perfect date night in a  space that feels safe to celebrate Blackness.

Photo courtesy of The Emily Hotel's Rooftop Cinema Club.

“Black love being front and center like this is a beautiful thing,” Dye continued. “How often are we able to see ourselves on screen, so positively and so regularly at that.”

Rooftop Cinema Club employee Ashunti said out of all the films they show, a good half of them celebrate being Black. With a free photo booth and game area for visitors to enjoy an hour before the film, Ashunti said folks looking to snag a last-minute seat play around in that area in the hopes that someone who purchased tickets beforehand decides not to show up. 

“But that rarely happens,” Ashunti added.

With regularly cleaned individual headphones for each movie goer, Martin said that’s just another small step the hotel takes that makes for a great experience. 

“Their attention to detail means we don’t have to worry about anything except having a good time,” Martin said. “I came with a friend, but noticed many people making new ones.”

Ashunti agreed. 

“Overall, it’s a good experience,” Ashunti said. “You can meet up with people you know, or talk and meet Black folk from all across the city.”

Visit The Emily Hotel’s Rooftop Cinema Club website to catch a film.

is a freelance contributor for The TRiiBE.