My family used the occasion of two close family birthdays as an excuse to visit a Cinema Pub. I don’t know how common such things are in other regions of the country, but in the Greater Boston area I was able to find a total of three separate companies offering essentially the same form of entertainment at multiple locations.
The basic idea is to create a dinner theater set-up, but one for film as opposed to a live play.
Years ago (before the general renaissance of the movie theater – which has turned out to be a small renaissance rather than a large one) I had several thoughts along similar lines – methods designed to keep the movie theater relevant and profitable in this day and age of in-home theaters. My concepts were: re-introduce the grand palace theater, balconies, liveried staff, soda fountain, etc and pair that up with cartoons, serials and the main feature. My thinking was that very few people younger than myself have ever had the experience of attending a film at a real theater – complete with having popcorn dropped on your head from the balcony….
The other idea was to offer up a dedicated theater for private viewings – pay to have the flick of your choice up on the big screen; that effort would be accompanied by a movie memorabilia shop – kind of a Hard Rock Cafe for film.
I was kind of hoping that Chunky’s Cinema Pub would offer some elements of either of those ideas. In the end it proved not to, though that didn’t really interfere with my experience.
The Chunky’s chain has three locations scattered around New Hampshire and appears to have been constructed inside a former supermarket (excellent re-purposing of real estate). The one we visited (Nashua, NH) had 6 individual theaters, a very large lobby arranged to get kids to spend quarters on video games and no snack counter. But it did have what was obviously a fairly large kitchen nestled way in the back of the facility.
I was very keen to see how the theaters themselves were laid out; the promotional copy on the Chunky’s website seemed to suggest that service and eating during the movie could be performed in a manner that didn’t interfere with the film itself. (I also had hopes that the arrangement might support a mini film festival.)
Each theater is laid out with a series of long thin tables, short axis facing the screen, each surrounded by Lincoln Town Car seats that have been mounted on rolling stands. The chairs face the table for the meal and then you turn them sideways to face the screen.
Everything is on the level (no canted seating) and I was a bit concerned given the fact that all of the seats have fairly high backs.
We arrived the suggested (minimum) hour before show time and ordered our meal from a menu that consisted largely of angus burgers (I had the chicken strips); all of the meals are named for an actor or a film (in a ham-handed, relatively un-amusing way); the names may have not been all that amusing, but the food was certainly up to snuff and commensurate with the prices asked.
Chunky’s is obviously making a fair amount of its revenue from selling on-screen advertising; throughout our ordering and meal eating time, we were subjected to an endless succession of ads for local shops and services (not to mention Chunky’s own promotional fare); these were rarely relieved by an on-screen trivia question or word-scramble (movie titles) puzzles. No prizes for getting things right (though I did ace the trivia questions). I can understand the need, but we quickly did what everyone else has already learned to do – ignore the ads – instead concentrating on dinner conversation.
Just prior to the beginning of the film we were told by our waiter (capable and professional) that he’d take dessert and drink orders right before the film started and if we needed anything else to use the push button caddy on the table. (Bill paying was a major distraction: while the waiters were armed with penlights – you tell me how a customer is supposed to read their bill….)
Once the lights dimmed, the flaw in the design became immediately apparent as everyone shuffled their chairs around to try and find a clear view of the screen – which itself was undersized (most likely due to the short distance between projection wall and screen surface). Our chosen fare for the evening was the newly released 3D version of Jurassic Park that some reviewers have hailed has having some of the best 3D scenes to date. Ummm. Not. There was absolutely nothing remarkable or special about the re-release, though it was nice to see the dinos again up on a screen just slightly larger than our in-home flat screen. (Or would be little larger than our home screen if we had one of the newer 72″ models.)
Had the theater been filled or nearly filled to capacity, we would not have had the luxury of spreading out into the areas next to nearby tables and most everyone in our party would have been staring at a lot of head backs. And for some reason we were all under the impression that the wait staff would be able to serve the tables without blocking anyone’s view of the screen. This turned out to be an inaccurate impression. We had plenty of opportunity to watch silhouetted waiters and waitresses – not to mention silhouetted serving trays, silhouetted glasses and plates – passing back and forth in front of the screen. In this particular event, it was only mildly distracting (I must confess that we were all waiting to see how this magic was going to be done so were potentially more sensitive to it than we otherwise might have been) as everyone attending had admitted to seeing Jurassic Park at least a few times previously. We still laughed at the “Dino Doo-Doo” line – but no one jumped when the T-Rex roared.
The new 3D version of Jurassic Park? No great shakes. Certainly not worth the extra three buck 3D surcharge – which reminds me that despite the previous, pricing for this experience was very reasonable (I paid around $80 bucks for two tickets and three meals) and the chairs were VERY comfortable – maybe it was the camera, the short distance between projector and screen, maybe it was the 3D glasses, but anything close to the camera appeared slightly blurry (and no, these were not things that were deliberately out of focus); just about everyone in our crowd mentioned this at one point or another.
All in all I’d say that if one was a serious movie buff attending a first run – skip the Cinema Pub. You won’t ever achieve that immersive experience one gets from a large screen filling up your vision and you will definitely be annoyed by the many built-in distractions – waiters checking up on your progress, the family at the next table who forgot that they aren’t in their own living room, the struggle to find a good viewing position, the struggle to stay awake whilst occupying a comfy chair in a darkened room. If, on the other hand, you are looking for an afternoon or evening out with friends and family and are looking for something a bit different than the usual, you could do worse.