Remember the days when “dinner and a movie” meant making two different stops and having to decide, early show or late? Those days may be sunsetting, with movie houses opening bars and restaurants inside, featuring menus that go way beyond hot dogs, soda and popcorn.
The newest upgraded movie theater food venue opens next week at Santa Rosa’s Airport Stadium 12, with a full bar and grill, serving both wine and beer, just off the lobby.
Dubbed Hollywood and Wine, the cafe will be open both to filmgoers entering from the lobby to get refreshments to take with them into the movie auditorium, and to patrons entering through the cafe’s outside doors, directly from parking lot, using the venue as a restaurant only.
The new bar and grill is scheduled to open at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Its opening coincides with the first showings of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which officially opens nationwide Dec. 15, but will have preview screenings on Thursday, the previous night, across Sonoma County and the rest of the country.
The final menu at Airport Stadium 12 is still in the works, but is expected to include favorites from the menu at the bar at the Raven Film Center in Healdsburg, where Santa Rosa Entertainment Group, the parent company for both theaters.
Also named Hollywood and Wine, the bar at Raven Film Center opened in 2008, and was the first movie theater in Sonoma County to introduce beer, wine and an expanded menu of items that moviegoers can take with them in the auditorium, said Catherine DePrima, marketing director at Santa Rosa Entertainment Group.
Favorite fare at the Raven movie house includes paninis, smoked sausage and quesadillas, with prices ranging from $4.50 to $7,50, and wine by the glass starting at $8. The offerings at the Airport cinemas will be similar, with draft craft beers starting at $6.50.
At the Airport Stadium 12, amenities also include recently installed reclining seats with attached trays, and a new ticketing system that allows patrons to choose their seats when they buy their tickets at the theater’s ticket booth.
It’s a combination that the public seems to find attractive, said Dan Tocchini, president of Santa Rosa Entertainment Group.
“With the reserved seating, you don’t have kids running from auditorium to auditorium on Friday and Saturday nights,” Tocchini said. “You can have a date night. Millennials love it, because it’s a place to hang out.”
The Santa Rosa Entertainment Group, soon to be renamed Santa Rosa Cinemas, owns 10 theaters in California, including five in Sonoma County.
Other theaters also report success with expanded menus and beer and wine service, including the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol, which opened its lobby cafe in 2015. The menu includes terragon chicken, roasted red pepper bisque, panninis and more, prepared fresh on site and ranging in price from $5.95 to $10.95, plus craft beer and wines by the glass.
“We have a lot of people who come in just for lunch or dinner,” said Rialto proprietor Ky Boyd. “One person told me we’re his favorite restaurant in Sebastopol.”
With theaters offering more food and drink choices, as well as greater comfort, would could argue that movie houses offer everything you could have at home, but Boyd contends the theater experience gives you more.
Film Fest Highlights
Here are some favorites of the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival’s directors. All films will show between March 22 and 25. For more details, see sebdocs.org.
“Almost Heaven”: An observational film that follows a 17-year-old Chinese girl training to become a mortician in one of China’s largest funeral homes, 72 minutes. 11:45 a.m. March 24 at the Rialto.
“Among Wolves”: An intimate portrait of a biker club in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 87 minutes. 2:15 p.m. March 25 at the Rialto.
“Bee Nation”: Follows the challenges and triumphs of six students competing in Canada’s inaugural First Nations spelling bee, 81 minutes. 7 p.m. March 23 at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts.
“The Cinema Travelers”: Honored at Cannes, traces India’s traveling films as they reach distant villages in what may be their last days due to today’s ubiquity of technology, 96 minutes. 5 p.m. March 24 at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts.
“City of Joy”: Traces a group of girls who suffered unspeakable abuse as they reclaim their lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 74 minutes. 7:30 p.m. March 23 at the Rialto.
“Donkeyote”: Follows a rural Spanish man who comes to the U.S to walk the historic Trail of Tears — with his pet donkey. “It’s charming and sweet,” said festival director Desiree Andrews, “a really good example of a film you’ll see at this festival and nowhere else,” 86 minutes. 7:15 p.m. March 23 at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts.
“Knife Skills”: Witnesses the launch of an upscale restaurant in Cleveland, staffed by ex-cons. Nominated for an Academy Award for documentary short subject, 40 minutes. 12:15 p.m. March 24 and 1:15 p.m. March 25 both at the Rialto.
“Letters from Baghdad”: Tells the story of Gertrude Bell who some say was as influential as Lawrence of Arabia and shaped Iraq’s destiny after World War I, 95 minutes. 7:30 p.m. March 24 at the Rialto.
“Negative Space”: Oscar-nominated short about a son and his frequent-flier father who teaches the boy how to pack light and tight. At his father’s funeral the protagonist sees his father “laid out in this big carton” and thinks: “Look at all that wasted space.” 6 minutes, 6:15 p.m. March 23, 6:30 p.m. March 24 and 1:15 p.m.March 25, all at the Rialto.
“Rebels on Pointe”: The closing film, is a cinéma vérité documentary featuring Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male ballet company with a cult following, 90 minutes. 4 p.m. March 25 at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts.