Houston's new luxury movie theater – iPic Theater at River Oaks District – raises plush seating to a new level. (Photo courtesy iPic Theaters)
Snuggling at the movies is about to get easier — and much more intimate.
Houston’s most highly anticipated new movie theater in years (and arguably ever) — the iPic Theaters at River Oaks District — is rolling out its new pod seating concept for the first time in the Bayou City. When the new iPic Theater opens November 6, Houston will be the only iPic in the country with this new seating.
Yes, the pod seats are coming!
The seating’s modeled after airlines’ ultra luxury-level pod seating, which is usually limited to overseas flights. At Houston’s iPic, pairs of seats will be encapsulated in pods — coverings along the back and sides — giving couples an added measure of privacy. “It gives you more intimacy,” Hamid Hashemi, the CEO of iPic, tells PaperCity Magazine in an exclusive pre-opening interview.
Don’t get any ideas. This isn’t about epic make-out sessions (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s all geared toward enjoying the movie without the unwanted distractions you find in many theaters. The concept is something of a private screening environment in a happening, community setting. Perhaps because Hashemi, a 30-year veteran of movie theater business, has experienced both.
“I have a nice screening room in my home,” Hashemi says. “And it’s still not the same as watching it in a theater.”
Of course, iPic is not the same experience as watching it in a multiplex, either. This is a luxury, boutique movie theater. The emphasis is on perks, not mass-produced popcorn with industrial-grade butter.
At the River Oaks iPic, that means a gastropub dubbed The Tuck Room with a menu designed by James Beard Award-winning chef Sherry Yard and a cocktail list crafted by mixologist Adam Seger. Not quite a nightclub, not quite a full-blown restaurant, The Tuck Room is designed to project a cool lounge feel. It’s a place that encourages lingering — a sharp departure from the traditional mega cinemas.
“The traditional movie theater concept’s all about getting as many people as possible in, cramming them full of popcorn and soda, and getting them out,” Hashemi says. “It’s about the turnaround. We’re not about that.”
Indeed, the average time spent in an iPic theater is four and a half hours. For your typical multiplex, that figure is a little over two and a half hours. Part of the iPic draw is the food. The Tuck Room offers dishes you won’t find on any movie theater concessions board, items geared toward foodies. Every month brings a new highlighted celebrity chef creation, such as Elizabeth Falkner of Iron Chef fame’s Smoky Bro Pizza.
In the theaters themselves, seats aren’t stuffed in to achieve maximum density. Each of iPic River Oaks’ eight theaters will hold between 50 and 90 seats only. Purchase a premium-plus seat and you can hit a button to have food delivered to your seat by a ninja. Yes, a ninja: That’s what iPic calls its all black-clad servers who are supposed to slip in and out of the theater without being seen.
This is a movie theater with more stories than a J. Peterman catalog. If you’re going to transform moviegoing, you need to build some drama.
iPic’s philosophy centers around the somewhat wild notion that it can grab movie night back from the gaggles of teenagers, crying babies, screen talkers and mad texters. This is a movie theater for grown ups. In 2015.
iPic does not try to achieve this by imposing oppressive rules or shaming anyone, a la Alamo Drafthouse. Instead, it does it by price point (tickets run between $18 and $25 on average) and fostering an environment of like-minded serious moviegoers.
“No, no,” Hashemi chuckles when asked about any special restrictions. “We are open to all ages … We do get kids — most coming with their parents. We show animated movies and kids love our theaters. They love ordering M&Ms and having them served in a martini glass (iPic’s standard candy presentation).
“We treat kids like adults, and if you treat kids like adults they tend to act like adults.”
What iPic Theaters — there are 11 open around the country now, with another set to open in Miami the same month as the new River Oaks District location — don’t typically draw are large groups of older teenagers on their own. “The regular dedicated 16- to-19-year-old moviegoer sees 102 movies in a year,” Hashemi says. “How many of those 102 movies do you think they sit down and actively closely watch? Ten to 15 … maybe. It’s all about hanging out.”
iPic Theaters do not foster that type of hanging out. These are places where movies actually matter. Hashemi is obsessive enough about the details to try out (and reject) hundreds of leather seats himself before settling on the chairs he wanted for his theaters.
“He’s the most hands-on, detail-orientated CEO I’ve ever seen,” says Michelle Soudry, who regularly works with iPic Theaters on marketing campaigns.
“We’re trying to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary,” Hashemi says of moviegoing. “We always need to be perfecting things. We need to keep things fresh and innovative.”
In Houston, that means cuddling in your own private pod while the movie plays. And a ninja awaits your command.