Robert Redford is almost as famous for his Sundance Film Festival and Institute as he is for his Hollywood movies. And he’s recently started expanding his Sundance empire and brand into actual theatres.
Seattle is the fifth city nationally to get an official Sundance movie theatre and I took in a movie there over the weekend.
Sundance Cinemas in Seattle’s University District has been officially open for just over for a week, so it’s still working out some of the kinks, but my guess is that when it eventually settles in, it’s going to be a nice respite for adult moviegoers.
Redford’s Sundance Group took over the old Metro ten-plex, just off 45th and Roosevelt, from Landmark Theatres a year ago and has been slowly remodeling it ever since.
All the seats in all the theatres have been replaced and upgraded – they’re comfier and you have much more legroom than usual. And they’re assigned seats. When you buy your ticket – whether online or in person – you buy a particular seat – just like in a legit theatre.
Brand-new screens have been put in and the projection booth is now full of DIGITAL projectors, with only a couple of old-fashioned film projectors preserved for the odd occasion when they have to use actual film.
I watched last week’s #1 film at the box office, “The Conjuring” and the film image looked sharp and the digital surround-sound sounded great.
But what’s getting all the attention – and rightly so – is the theatre’s new bar and bistro. Yes, you can still get your popcorn, soda pop and candy if you want. But you can also have a beer, or wine, or any kind of mixed drink you’d like. You have seven beers to choose from, including three on tap. Pale ales, Hefeweizen, Guinness, even Rainier. Nine wines are available, by the glass or bottle. Yes, they let you bring an entire bottle into the theatre with you.
In addition to offering five “specialty cocktails,” the bartender assures me he could make just about any drink a customer could come up with.
There’s also a nice food menu – what’s being called bistro fare – food designed to be easy-to-eat in a theatre, in the dark. The items range from sandwiches like a chicken melt and grilled cheese to salads, and from 8-inch flatbread pizzas to hummus and cheese plates, quesadillas, and sweet potato tots.
On the day I visited, the line for the bar and bistro was three times longer than the concession line and this caused some minor inconveniences.
One couple didn’t get their food in time to see the start of their movie. (You’re given one of those squares that buzz and light up when your food is ready for pickup, but they make quite a racket if you’re sitting inside the theatre when they go off.)
Another couple tried to order a mixed drink AND a soda and they were told they’d have to get in the concession line to get that Coke.
The only inconvenience I personally experienced was that the Sundance sidecar that I ordered was so good that I spent the first half-hour of the movie debating with myself over whether or not I should run out and order another drink (or three.)
The biggest challenge the theatre may face is its “adults only” admission policy. You have to be at least 21 years old to see a movie there, despite the fact it’s in the heart of Seattle’s University District. With the vast majority of UW students under 21, that’s cutting out a huge swath of potential movie-goers.
The theatre does deserve credit for addressing another major hassle in the U-District: parking. It only costs you $2 anytime after 5:00pm to park in one of 160 spots in a lot directly north of the theatre.
As for prices, the tickets are a little pricier than regular theatres. The theatre adds an “amenity charge” of $1 to $3 to each ticket to make up for the fact no commercials are shown before the movie. That pushes up the average admission price to $14.
Is paying an extra couple of bucks worth it to keep “rugrats” out and alcohol in? Only time will tell.