The seats at the iPic movie theater in New York City’s Fulton Market make the back seat of a limo look like a car for peasants. On Jan. 24, I sat in a reclining seat enclosed in a private seat booth. A pillow was behind my head, a blanket on my lap, and a glass of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne in my hand.
If this is the future of movie theaters, I thought, why would anyone invest thousands of dollars in a home entertainment system? There was comfort, privacy, and, most importantly in my opinion, good drinks. The bar in the lobby featured handcrafted cocktails, beer on tap, wine, and a whole lineup of things I could never get away with having in my home bar. Which is exactly the vibe these drinks-slinging movie theaters are going for.
“It’s really enhancing the experience for people,” Hamid Hashemi, the chief executive of iPic Entertainment, tells VinePair. “People are consuming more and more media today, there’s no question about that. The question is how much is consumed in-house and how much outside the home. In order to get people out, you have to give the comfort and luxuries of the home plus food, beverage services, and all the other things.”
The concept isn’t entirely new. iPic opened its first theater in 1999. But the elevation of cocktail culture and recent changes in laws that allow movie theaters to sell alcohol have brought the idea into the mainstream.
For people to leave their homes and pay for an experience, the options have to be substantially better. The proof is in the numbers. Home entertainment systems have been sucking the profits out of movie theaters for years now. First it was VHS, movie rentals, and RedBox. Then came streaming services to seal the deal. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video now put movies onto computer screens and smart TVs months or even weeks after they come out in theaters. And no one can forget the original movies and series that streaming services are producing.
When you have all of this at home, why go out and pay to watch a movie in a theater? For iPic and other theater companies investing in beverage services, the answer lies in quality of conveniences. While on the phone with Hashemi, he kept going back to comparing movie theaters to hotels. Every hotel is the same on a base level (a place to sleep), but many people are willing to pay for more amenities. On a base level, people can watch a movie at home and enjoy the run-of-the-mill drinks they always have. For a more luxurious experience, people can go to a movie theater that serves craft cocktails and chef-prepared food.
“If you have a legitimate bar or a legitimate restaurant and you deliver quality,” Hashemi says, “people come and it pays for itself.”
Traditional movie theaters aren’t the only business taking advantage of people’s desire for a craft drink while watching a movie. At the NYLO hotel in New York City, a weekly movie screening in a room in the lobby pairs original cocktails from the bar with art house documentaries. One of the movie screenings was “Factory Girl,” a documentary about Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick. The two original cocktails were served in a vintage Coke bottle and a Campbell’s soup can.
People want good drinks, and businesses that screen movies want people’s business. So the next time you wonder why anyone would consider going to a movie theater, think cocktails. The answer is cocktails.