Saturday, July 12, 2008

Reservations Required

This summer, the movie business has seen its ups and downs. Iron Man was a huge hit; Speed Racer was a crash and burn. Sex and The City was a sleeper surprise; The Love Guru just needed to be put to sleep. Always reliable Pixar served up another hit with Wall-E, and The Dark Knight is on the horizon; hopefully, those will make up for the duds that look to be in the form of Step Brothers and Tropic Thunder. In short, the movies maintain their boom or bust approach, even as they scream about the increased piracy and pressure, and the ticket prices keep skyrocketing.

So, imagine my surprise when I found a theater that was actually innovating. No, not bigger screens or louder sounds, or 3D gimmicks. Instead, Robert Redford's Sundance company bought two theaters: one in Madison, WI, and one here in San Francisco. They decided to make movie going an adult experience: comfortable seats, including loveseats, balconies for 21 and over to allow access to a bar for adult beverages, and more. But best of all? Reserved seats! Yes, you can now choose the very seats you want, and have them reserved for you, in advance. No scramble to get into the theater to secure your ideal viewing angle. Instead, a civilized reservation, ensuring you the very one you want, allowing you to meander to your seats in a relaxed fashion.

Well done, Kid. I thank you from the bottom of my wallet.

UPDATE: Just saw my first movie at this theater, and the experience is even better than I expected. First, we reserved Balcony seats, right at the front of the balcony: all that was between us and the screen was a low wall to rest your feet on and some safety railings that did not obscure your view at all. The lobby is equally civilized: three story high ceilings with soaring skylights, and bamboo trees reaching to the light. The back walls of the lobby are reclaimed wood, with cutouts at the second floor for their swanky café/lounge. The screens at the box office lines alert you to the status of each theater: In Progress, Now Seating, or being Cleaned. Forgot to buy tix online? Head to the kiosks tucked away in an alcove to the side of the lines. How civilized.

Escalators to the first floor bring you to a Peet's Coffee, for your refreshment pleasure. But we headed to the third floor, for the balcony seats. How to ensure they are for 21 and over? The entrance to the balcony can only be reached by entering the bar at the top floor, where a bouncer is ready to card you. The bar is long and relaxed, candles on each table, where you can sit and order a drink or from the extensive menu of gourmet appetizers, sandwiches, or personal pizzas. Oh, those drinks? No plastic cups or tacky paper plates here: tasteful glassware and china. And surprisingly affordably priced, for top shelf drinks. Worried about finishing your meal or drink before showtime? Uh uh: you are encouraged to take it in with you. Yep, you read that right; the waitstaff will even take your order and deliver to your seat for you when its ready, if you prefer. Ah, the joys of assigned seating.

Head to the balcony and get ready for more surprises. Big, overstuffed reclining seats, with lots of legroom, segmented into duos, with a single armrest between them. What to do with those heavy glasses and plates? On either side of the duos are tasteful tables, offering you a full foot of space between duos. Plenty of room for the plates, napkins, and more. Those drinks fit nicely into elegant recessed cup holders in the tables, easily able to handle wine glasses, highballs, or bottles. And the coup de grace: padded, fabric elbow rests along the edge of each table side, ensuring your comfort during the show.

My friends, this is how to see a movie. Add in validated parking in the underground garage, and the plethora of Japanese dining options in the surrounding Japantown, only a few steps away, and you have the absolute ultimate movie house. My only comments on how they could improve slightly on the experience is to have a tasteful screen in the large balcony bar that informed patrons when their theater had been cleaned and was ready for seating, and perhaps a bit more attention from the bar/wait/cleaning staff. Beyond those minor issues, the Sundance Kabuki has easily become my first choice to see a non-IMAX film.

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