The Portland metro area has a new movie theater concept that offers what they call a luxury movie experience. The place is called Cinetopia and I've been wanting to check it out since it opened a few years ago. Finally last week, my wife and I decided to make the trek up to Vancouver to give Cinetopia a go. In a few words, we were not impressed.
Cinetopia is essentially a small theater plus a restaurant and wine bar. They offer 8 screens total, in two different types of theaters: grand and living room. Grand theaters are fairly traditional while living room theaters are meant to be a bit more cozy. Those seats that look to be more spaced out from each other plus a carpeted area up near the screen with large throw pillows. The concession stand is similar to what you would expect with the exception of having a gourmet butter bar for your popcorn.
The restaurant is billed as a 4 star joint that features a rather large northwest style menu and white table cloth tables. The wine bar is unique with its high tech, self serve wine dispensing machines. I think they take a special card and works on a 'credit' system for samples or full glasses.
What Jeff the Great liked: The best part of Cinetopia is their movie technology. All movies are shown in digital format and they can support up to 2048p resolution (your HD TV at home is probably 1080). There really is a big difference between a film showing verse digital. The picture was great and there were no flaws. Also, I am no audiophile but I noticed a distinctly better sound experience. The surround seemed so natural and was incredibly crisp and clear.
What Jeff the Great didn't like: Just about everything else. Other than the fine video/audio quality, the place just wasn't done right, in my opinion. Here are my observations and a few suggestions.
A 4 star restaurant in a movie theater, in Vancouver just doesn't make sense. On Thursday night, my wife and I were one of only two parties in the dining room. There is something about an empty restaurant at dinner time that makes you want to go somewhere else. One thing that struck us is that after buying our movie tickets and while making our way into the restaurant, we were stopped by an employee and told that dinner at Cinetopia takes at least and hour and that we shouldn't have dinner if our movie started soon. Umm, what's the point of having a restaurant at a move theater then? Most items on the menu didn't seem to be the kind you could easily take with you into the theater and share. Not to mention the prices! Just about every item was priced $2-$3 more than what I would expect. Their wine menu offered a selection for $12.50 where my wife's restaurant sells the same vintage for under $10.
If I were doing Cinetopia, I'd create a more casual dining experience that allowed customers to get in out and in 20 minutes, if need be. I'd have burgers, sandwiches, salads and sharable appetizers...not much more. Then, a selection of mostly local beer and win; no glass of wine over $10. Essentially, be more like McMenamins...but a bit nicer.
Next is the theater mix. Of their 8 theaters, 5 are 'grand' theaters that really don't offer much beyond a standard cinema. The grand theaters don't allow alcohol, presumably to be family friendly (and in accordance with state law?). According to their web site as of this writing, only 1 flick is being shown in the 3 living room style theaters where beer and wine is allowed. Slumdog Millionaire is being shown in a family friendly grand theater.
If I were Cinetopia, I'd have 5 living room theaters and 3 grand theaters. Then, I'd make the grand theaters 21 & over after a certain time of the night on week days. I'd have wait-staff come in and take beer/wine orders throughout the movie. Even in the living room theaters, I understand that they stop wait-service 10 minutes before the show starts. So after that, you have to walk out to the bar, missing some of the movie. Finally, fit the seats in all theaters with a tray table of some sort. Think school desk or something like that. Make me want to buy food, make it easy!
There were a couple other things, like a terribly inattentive wait staff in the restaurant (yes, even with only 4 customers) and even higher than normal popcorn/soda prices. The men's restroom was pretty grimie and I noticed urinal falling apart. I also found that noise from the grand theaters was filtering into the hallways.
Cinetopia confirmed to me that they are still building their Beaverton location and should open just slightly behind schedule, in early 2010. I can 0nly hope that they read this blog post and take my advice for that one. Otherwise I don't see it being successful. We have too many other entertainment options in the SW suburbs of Portland.
Take my opinion for what its worth (everything),
-Jeff the Great