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Culture / Entertainment

Houston Reels In a New Craft Beer Obsessed Movie Theater

The Upscale Dine-In Cinema Wars Are Only Heating Up

BY // 02.22.18

A lot has changed in movies since the 1950s. Look no further than special effects to see just how much. Sure, we could compare the colossal CGI triumph of Avatar  to the clumsy giant squid of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

For a more precise parallel, look to the aesthetic treatment of sea-dwelling monsters in 1954’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon to 2017’s The Shape of Water. In one corner, we have the infamous Gill-Man decked out in a foam-latex suit. In the other, we have a slick, sinewy, six-packed Amazonian fish man (and Oscar contender).

Audiences don’t settle for second-rate visuals anymore. It’s not just the style of films that have evolved either. Audiences have changed in the way they want to watch them.

Mid 20th century, it was all about drive-ins. Now, it’s more and more all about dine-in theaters.

Houston’s all in on new trend, with the opening of the upscale iPic at River Oaks District only upping the ante — and apparently inspiring more competition.

Flix Brewhouse is the latest contender. The cinematic mashup is coming to the Hub at Harvest Green, a new 300,000 square-foot mixed-use development at Grand Parkway and West Airport Boulevard in Fort Bend County. It is planning for a summer 2019 opening — and a unique take on the dine-in movie theater trend. Flix Brewhouse is as much about brewskis as it is the movies.

While most dine-in movie theaters  offer alcohol, it’s rare you’ll find true craft beer.

At Flix Brewhouse, craft beers are brewed in-house. With an in-house microbrewery, Pro-Am home brew competitions, brewing and tasting seminars, and beer dinners, there’s as much buzz over getting buzzed at Flix Brewhouse as there is about a Black Panther blockbuster.

In fact, some Flix Brewhouse customers may not even see a movie at all during their visit. The restaurant and patio will be open to everyone, no movie ticket required — as is the case with iPic and other dine-in theaters with full restaurants. It’s dine in, drink in, and dive into a movie — or not.

The minds behind Flix Brewhouse considered an earlier Houston area arrival, but its plans for a theater at the Crossing at Telfair development didn’t pan out. It wasn’t panned by the critics, though. Officials at Flip Brewhouse and the Sugar Land development couldn’t agree on a plan.

The chain still plans to open a second (and perhaps third) theater in the Houston area.

Houston’s Movie Theater Revolution

A horde of new theaters are slated to open in the Houston area this year, including another Star Cinema Grill, a new AMC Theatre, an Alamo Drafthouse, a Cinemark Theatres, and two Xscape Theaters.

The new Star Cinema Grill is coming to CityPlace, a mixed-use development inside Springwood Village. The dine-in theater at 1495 Lake Plaza Drive in Spring will be a marriage of tasty and high-tech. Plans call for a full-service bar with beer, wine, and spirits, laser projection technology, and heated and cooled luxury recliner seating.

Like dine-in movie theaters that came before, Star Cinema Grill will bring a menu with queso, pizzas, salads, chicken tenders, and the like. Some snacks are a little more nuanced than your standard fare, like crushed avocado crostini.

Star Cinema already has five other greater Houston locations. The one in Vintage Park was previously home to an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Yet two more new Star Cinemas are destined for Texas, one in Katy and one in College Station.

Star Cinema Grill is hardly greater Houston’s first foray into the dine-in and devour cinematic experience. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema opened in Katy at Mason Park about 10 years ago. While far-flung, the Austin-based chain drew people because of its wide array of snacks, pizzas and tacos — not to mention a healthy dose of fun attitude. Simply write down your order, place it on the rail, and “repeat as needed.”

While breakfast tacos, mozzarella sticks and cheeseburgers aren’t exactly revolutionary, they are part of the welcome novelty. Especially when Alamo first opened in Houston. Alamo now has 29 locations, with 17 in Texas. Since the Mason Park location, Katy has earned another Alamo in Lacenterra, and Sugar Land has one at 198 Kempner.

While that’s all well and good for people who live closer to the ‘burbs, it took a while to get a serious dine-in theater closer to the city. Enter iPic Theaters. In November of 2015, the upscale dine-in movie theater made its way to River Oaks District.

While it falls into the dine-in theater category, iPic caters to a somewhat different clientele. Its movie goers sit comfy in luxe two-person pods while dining on local and seasonal dishes from a menu curated by James Beard Hall of Fame chef Sherry Yard. Master mixologist Adam Seger concocted the cocktails for the popular date-night destination.

AMC Houston 8, another dine-in option, is the most casual of the three. Its history is more complex, having begun as Angelika Film Center, transitioning to Sundance Theater, and ultimately evolving (or devolving depending on your point of view) into a downtown AMC.

What started out as an indie film-lover’s haven was eventually bought out by a movie mega-chain. AMC Houston 8 downtown offers up three dining options: full service, delivery to eat and express pick-up. But their food is what you’d call casual.

Low-key or upscale, the dine-in movie theater tend is spreading. Will more traditional movie theaters be as endangered as drive-ins someday?

One thing’s certain. Houston will have a front row seat to find out.

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