My idea of luxury is probably a little stunted. I have no Champagne wishes or caviar dreams. A cold Miller High Life and some Haribo gummy frogs are enough to make me happy. Still, I'm a big fan of the "treat yourself" mantra when the occasion calls for it: a new book, a cocktail that isn't made with well liquor, a few records if I'm feeling really flush.
Going to a movie alone is among my permissible self-care indulgences, but even then, I often take the cheap route, hitting one of the Carolina Theatre's $9 Retrofantasma double features or a $6 matinee at a Carmike theater, splurging on popcorn and soda but sneaking in candy in my purse. So going to a theater like Silverspot Cinema in Chapel Hill or CinéBistro in Cary is generally out of my league.
Both are part of a nationwide trend of cinema presenters trying to turn a creature comfort into a luxury experience, in a battle being waged against Redbox, Hulu, Netflix and torrent sites. Silverspot, which opened in October, is one of three locations—the other two are in Florida. Cary's CinéBistro, in the updated Waverly Place, began service in early September, and is one of 10 such venues across the country, four of them also in Florida.
Ticket prices at both theaters are $14.50, higher than the $10-to-$11 average for standard evening showings. Neither strays far from other local onscreen offerings, mixing one or two prestige pictures (Brooklyn at Silverspot, The Letters at CinéBistro) with blockbusters (Spectre, Creed and The Hunger Games at both). They differentiate themselves through ambiance and dining options. Both theaters follow through on the enhanced cinema concept they promise, but each executes it differently. To me, only one feels truly high-quality.
A cozy restaurant sits just inside Silverspot's entrance at University Place, formerly University Mall. It doesn't offer in-theater food service; rather, you slide into a table at the restaurant, Trilogy, which takes up a big corner of the main lobby. But if you order 15 to 20 minutes before show-time, the staff will box and bag your meal so you can take it into the theater.
The menu has a lot of slightly upscale American cuisine, with burgers, a lobster roll, catfish tacos and a fried chicken biscuit among the entrée options. A pepperoni or cheese pizza will run you $12 (the Hawaiian is $14), and if none of those suit your fancy, you could opt for glazed salmon ($22), baby back pork ribs ($26), a few simple salads or shrimp and grits.
Before a 7:40 p.m. screening of Spotlight, I'm sitting at the long, slick bar, sipping a strange drink, the $13 Kitty Hawk Kocktail. A concoction of orange juice and tequila with jalapeño and tarragon, it's sweet, spicy and tangy—a little outside of my whiskey-flooded wheelhouse but mixed no differently than a similar drink at a regular bar. I'm tempted by the "cheesecake lollipop tree for two" with bubblegum whipped cream (how does that even work?), but being just one, I pass on the challenge.
Silverspot's 14 theaters are laid out in stadium fashion, with wide, thick armchairs. When purchasing your ticket from an automated teller—no more mumbling through Plexiglass!—you select your desired seats, eliminating the search-and-stakeout. Depending on what you've ordered, the lack of tray tables can make eating tricky, but there's enough room in and around the seats to accommodate the maneuver. The aisle width is a dream for a long-legged person like myself. Cross your legs, slouch, practice Rockettes kicks: There's room to do it all.
My $14 Caesar salad is middling, but the $6 truffle fries are a worthwhile treat. They're perfectly soft on the inside and just crisp enough on the outside—I could have eaten a popcorn bag of them. The picture is beautifully sharp, and the screen isn't as large as I'd anticipated for an upscale theater. It's plenty big, but it isn't a neck-straining IMAX monstrosity. For a low-action film like Spotlight, the smaller screen makes it easier to focus on the tension and dialogue. Without going over the top with luxury, Silverspot is a significantly more comfortable, enjoyable experience than a traditional multiplex, well worth the extra few dollars.