By Karen Billing
Imagine a movie theater where, as you’re reclining in a leather chair to catch the last “Harry Potter” movie, you can order up sushi or chocolate-covered popcorn at the press of button. That unique, elevated movie-going experience is here now in Carmel Valley with Del Mar Highlands’ new Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas, opening this Friday, July 22.
Close to $7 million was plugged into the former UltraStar Cinema to bring it up to the luxury level, a new concept for the United States from Cinepolis, a Mexican theater chain.
“We’re here to become part of the community,” said Carlos Wellman, Cinepolis managing director. “We’re very happy to start a new team and adventure out here.”
“We hope the community really embraces it,” echoed Cinepolis partner Adolfo Fastlicht, who noted that the new theater created more than 70 jobs.
Cinepolis opened its first theater in Mexico in 1947 and has since become the largest movie chain in Latin America and fourth largest in the world. Cinepolis developed its“VIP” luxury experience in 1999 and has ventured into several South American countries and India, but San Diego is its first American presence.
They have plans to open seven more theaters in the Southern California region, including the former UltraStar La Costa in Carlsbad, Laguna Niguel and Irvine. Fastlicht said they aim to grow into Northern California and then become a nationwide chain.
Cinepolis’ difference is noticed right away in the theater lobby, which features floor to ceiling windows, glossy wood floors, and a cluster of cozy, stylish couches and tables to grab a bite from the gourmet concession stand where champagne is chilling and decadent desserts are on display.
Cinepolis is the only movie theater in San Diego to have a full bar, which serves wine, beer, champagne and signature cocktails such as a Skinny Margarita or Cool as A Cucumber, with vodka, fresh cucumber and a splash of agave nectar.
Alcohol is only allowed in theaters one and two and Cinepolis will be very strict about those two theaters, general manager Antonio Garcia said. Identification will be required to purchase tickets to movies in those two theaters and any time the patron enters and exits. Moviegoers over 21 can also only imbibe two drinks maximum.
Unlike most movie theaters, there are no ticket windows. Instead, there is a concierge desk where moviegoers can select their own reserved seat when they buy the ticket.
“I honestly believe there is no bad seat in the house,” Garcia said.
For people who purchased tickets online or if there is a line, they can use an adjacent ticket station to pick up tickets, as well.
An upstairs lobby area features bathroom lounges and an art gallery with local artists’ works on display and for sale.
Cinepolis’ eight auditoriums feature 65 seats each, “The most state-of-the-art, beautiful cinemas in the U.S.,” Garcia said proudly. Patrons relax in seven-foot leather reclining chairs with tables in between each and an adjustable table that can go over the lap. Once seated, there is a button to summon service and a menu with an LED light built in so you can see what you’re selecting.
The menu includes items such as Angus beef sliders, flat bread pizza, wraps, coconut shrimp and quesadillas.
They also have standard movie fare like candy and popcorn, but the popcorn comes in six different flavors: butter, caramel, spicy chili, cheddar cheese, cinnamon roll and zebra (black and white chocolate covered) and is served in a footed cone bowl.
Garcia said people have expressed concerns that the service will be interruptive to watching the movie, but he said most people order during the first 15 minutes of previews. After that, service is sporadic and servers are dressed in black and will slip quickly in and out, kneeling to take orders and deliver food.
Ticket prices are slightly more expensive than standard theaters at $14-18. To learn more, visit cinepolisusa.com.