Enjoy The Show

Enjoy The Show

Remember when stadium seating was a big deal, popcorn with extra butter was a treat, and dinner and a movie meant a bite at a restaurant before or after the show? A new wave of luxury theaters is transforming Saturday night at the movies.

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With the opening of three new luxury theaters in our area, traditional moviegoing experiences are starting to look like aging starlets. At these places, cushy and plush stadium seats are standard and can be reserved in advance online—and sometimes they’re spacious enough to accommodate two rear ends. Popcorn seems pedestrian when compared with the prosciutto-wrapped dates or ahi tuna poke at ArcLight’s café. As for dinner and a movie, at iPic you can have dinner with the movie, and even opt for a $395 bottle of Cristal Champagne to go with it.  

Similar to how professional athletic events have become sports entertainment, the luxury cinema comes with lots of added attractions. That shouldn’t be surprising: With the rise of popular cable TV programs, Netflix and streaming movies, the theater industry is looking for ways to entice people off their couches.

It’s also not surprising that Bethesda would be a magnet for luxe theaters. “We felt the demographics of the area matched perfectly with the demographics of our iPic customer,” says Jim Lee, vice president of marketing for iPic Entertainment, which chose the new Pike & Rose development in North Bethesda for its first East Coast location.   

The enhanced movie-going experience is so new that first-time patrons don’t always know the drill. Kiosk hosts at ArcLight, which has no box office, are there to help with computer ticket retrievals, and staff at the recently renovated Landmark Bethesda Row say that customers sometimes don’t realize that they can take their cocktails into the theater. At iPic, our “ninja”—as the black-outfitted food and drink servers are called—was sympathetic to our ignorance. “Everyone is confused,” he said, handing us menus and explaining that he’d be back to take our orders soon.

Here’s a guide of what to expect at the new theaters—and a look at which ones are doing what the best.

Carole Sugarman is Bethesda Magazine’s Food Editor.

 

After spending Saturday nights at the movies at the three luxury theaters in our area, I’ve come to the following conclusions:
• Reserved seating, with tickets purchased in advance online, is fabulous. It removes the stress of dithering with your date over which row is ideal, or scrambling for seats if you’re late.
• Larger seats, wider aisles and more space between the rows makes for smoother maneuvering in and out of the theater.
• Greeters are a great idea. At all three venues, these staffers stand at the front of the auditorium before the movie begins, welcoming patrons and reminding everyone to turn off their cellphones. It adds a personal touch and seems to make people pay closer attention, cutting down on pre-movie selfies and last-minute texting.
• Beer, wine and cocktails are a nice addition, but too much of a good thing could lead to disruptive bathroom breaks.  
• The rotating menu screens at the concessions (iPic and Landmark) are annoying—you may not be able to view all the possibilities before you order.
• Dinner with a movie is distracting. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ll stick with popcorn.  

Here’s the tab for two adults,
including a medium popcorn, a glass of wine
and a beer (drink prices were averaged)

 

ArcLight Cinemas

Admission: $27.50
Beer: $7
Wine: $8
Popcorn: $6
Total: $48.50

 

iPic Theaters

Admission: $44 (Premium Plus)
Beer: $6.50
Wine: $11
Popcorn: free
Total: $61.50

Admission: $26 (Premium)
Beer: $6.50
Wine: $11
Popcorn: $6
Total: $50.50

Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema

Admission: $23 ($25 for online orders)
Beer: $6
Wine: $10
Popcorn: $6.50
Total: $45.50 ($47.50 if you ordered tickets online)

 

 

BEST SEATS: iPIC
Hamid Hashemi, president and CEO of iPic
Entertainment, personally tested dozens of cushions before settling on one with a mix of comfort, support and style. The recliner for Premium Plus ticket-holders, which comes with a blanket and pillow, is so relaxing you have to be careful not to fall asleep. According to Jim Lee, vice president of marketing for iPic, that “absolutely” happens.  

 

BEST POPCORN SELECTION: ARCLIGHT
Hopefully, popcorn will always be a movie theater must, and ArcLight expands on the standby by offering it with olive oil, sea salt or real butter. For customers with secure dental fillings, the house-made caramel popcorn is really sticky and really good.

 

BEST PLACE FOR TRUE FILM BUFFS: LANDMARK BETHESDA ROW
Like special effects in a movie, the added frills at a theater can’t make up for a lousy film. At Landmark, the least extravagant of the three cinemas, the selection of interesting independent and foreign films remains the draw, and even if the movie isn’t terrific, it’ll almost always be better than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

 

BEST SNACK: ARCLIGHT'S AHI TUNA POKE
It’s hard enough to picture a movie theater café serving raw tuna, let alone doing it well. The Hawaiian poke—cubes of sashimi-grade tuna seasoned with sesame oil, soy sauce and chopped green onion, sprinkled with black sesame seeds and served with a few twirls of pickled ginger and crispy wonton chip scoopers—could become ArcLight’s sleeper hit.

 

BEST LADIES RESTROOM: iPIC
Is this a movie theater or a spa? IPic pulls off a showstopper ladies’ room, with dramatic greenery in the entranceway, and burgundy leather club chairs, tall mirrors and a floral centerpiece in the lounge area. All this before you get to the stunning sinks and stalls.

 

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