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Dinner, Drinks at Shattuck Cinemas

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 18, 2009 - 07:08:00 PM
Shattuck Cinemas manager Nancy Klubben opens the doors in time for Tuesday’s matinee.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Shattuck Cinemas manager Nancy Klubben opens the doors in time for Tuesday’s matinee.

Coming soon to a theater near you: Kobe beef sliders, salads and chicken wings, and if you’re 21 or older, cocktails—all of which can be enjoyed while watching your favorite movie from a comfy red loveseat or a leather rocker. 

Landmark Theatres, which has owned Berkeley’s Shattuck Cinemas since 1994, received a permit from the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board last week which will let adults carry their alcoholic beverages from the theater’s soon-to-be-established restaurant and bar into separate screening lounges, making it the only movie theater in the city to have a liquor license. 

The project is part of a nearly million-dollar upgrade for the theater, Ted Mundroff, CEO of Landmark Theatres, told the Planet in a telephone interview from Los Angeles last Saturday. Similar operations are in place at Sundance’s Kabuki Theater in San Francisco and at Speakeasy’s Parkway Theater in Oakland and Cerrito Theater in El Cerrito. 

Landmark hopes to launch the service in late May. The theater will remain open during the remodeling. 

Moviegoers at Shattuck have already had a chance to experience the wide, rocking seats, bean bags and plush couches that were introduced around Christmas time, along with a revamped concession stand and snack bar which serves popcorn, corn dogs and soda. 

The modernization will decrease the number of seats by about 23 percent, from 1,244 seats to 924. But company officials say they hope the viewing experience will keep patrons coming back. 

Landmark, which also owns the California Theatre on Kittredge Street, has 14 theaters across the country, which allow food and drinks inside the cinema, a concept Mundroff said has been wildly successful, prompting them to launch it in Berkeley. 

“The theater hasn’t been revamped since it opened in the late ’80s,” Mundroff said. “So we thought it was time to do something about it.” 

Mundroff said the theater’s landlord, Roy Nee, informed them of a vacancy at the entrance to the cinema—previously part of Mel’s Diner located next door—which turned out to be a perfect spot for a new restaurant. 

Shattuck Cinemas, a 26,000-square-foot, 10-screen theater complex located in the landmarked six-story Hink’s building in downtown Berkeley, shares its ground floor with the revamped Shattuck Hotel and other commercial businesses such as Starbucks, Bowzer’s Pizza and Planet Juice. 

Currently, the Hink’s building has at least three empty storefronts, including those left vacant since Coldstone Creamery and Shoe Pavilion left town. 

Mundroff hopes that the new attractions at the theater would lure more people to downtown Berkeley, bringing a much needed economic vitality to the city. 

According to a report prepared by the city’s Planning Department, Landmark plans to make the theater Berkeley’s premiere venue for art and specialized films. 

The theater has no plans to convert to reserved seating, Mundroff said, or to charge a fee for all the upgrades. 

The document says that theaters across the country are currently operating on a very tight profit margin and that many closed down over the last 10 years, “mainly due to changes in the structure and pricing of film distribution.” 

Landmark, the report says, has been hit by a significant decline in ticket sales in the past several years, forcing them to even consider shuttering the business. At a time when theaters rely primarily on profits from concessions, the report explains that an upscale full-service restaurant and bar will help Shattuck Cinemas survive. 

Designed by local architects Kahn De-sign Associates, the 740-square-foot restau-rant will seat approximately 21 diners. 

Mundroff said that customers will be allowed to take their food and liquor into two auditoriums located right across from the restaurant and bar, and that an ID check will be in place to ensure that minors don’t slip in with alcoholic drinks. 

A couple of theater auditoriums will also be rented out for independent film festivals, private parties and corporate events, Michael Fant, Landmark’s vice president of real estate and marketing, told zoning members at the meeting, and ID checks would be carried out there as well. 

“We are far more covered than any bar,” Fant said, adding that none of the Landmark theaters with bars across the country had run into any kind of problem with authorities so far. 

“This concept is not meant for kids, but for adults,” Mundroff said. “The idea is to create a niche theater experience for grown-ups—a community within a community. Not only will they be able to go into a movie and see things they like, but they will also be able to do it while enjoying a glass of wine in a warm relaxing atmosphere. It will be a place where you will be able to meet friends and talk about the film you just watched without having to rush out immediately.” 

Comfort certainly seems to be the highlight of the brand new Shattuck Cinemas. 

On Tuesday, before the 1 p.m. crowd started trickling into the lobby, manager Nancy Klubben pointed to a wicker basket stacked with plush red pillows. 

“You can take those into any of our auditoriums,” she said smiling, “And our audience loves them—there’s nothing like curling up with a big soft pillow during a movie. I am excited about the changes, and it’s already helping the theater. We are seeing a lot more people come in now.”