Culture / Entertainment

Houston’s Historic River Oaks Theater Is Coming Back to Life With New Dining, Cocktails and the Same Art Deco Treasures

See When the Bayou City's Most Interesting Movie Theater Will Reopen

BY // 05.17.23

Finally, after years of waiting, worry and hope, devotees of Houston’s only art house cinema are rejoicing as work will soon begin on transformation of the 84-year-old River Oaks Theater into an of-the-moment movie theater that maintains the grandeur of its Art Deco origins. The beloved movie house is expected to reopen by the end of the year. It has been shuttered, just sitting there at 2009 W. Gray, for more than two years now with the last movie shown there happening on March 25, 2021.

The saving of the beloved River Oaks Theater was finally revealed in early 2022 when Houston-based Star Cinema Grill Group took over the lease of the property.

Now, Culinary Khancepts, an affiliate of Star Cinema Grill Group, is revealing the details of its refresh — with promises to preserve the theater’s rich history and Art Deco design. Gensler is serving as the architect for the renovation.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that the iconic Art Deco-era River Oaks Theater, which opened in 1939, was saved from the wrecking ball and will again exhibit films to Houstonians.
The impending return of River Oaks Theatre’s movie showing days brought out plenty of fanfare. And popcorn. At the announcement in February of 2022.(Photo by F. Carter Smith)

It is a complete facelift for River Oaks Theater that will include the addition of a full kitchen enabling an in-theater dining experience. Not forgetting that the theater previously had a second floor bar that was just as popular as the downstairs popcorn machine, Culinary Khancepts will also offer a curated wine and cocktail menu for movie-goers.

“We are honored to bring back one of Houston’s most iconic entertainment venues,” Omar Khan, president and CEO of River Oaks Theater, says in a statement. “The River Oaks Theater will not only offer the best of art house films, but will also bring live performances to the venue for theater arts enthusiasts to enjoy. We felt as that as the city’s only Houston-owned and operated cinema companies that it was our duty to save this masterpiece.

“We look forward to serving our community with the best-in-class cinema experiences. The last year was spent working through design, city approvals, historical preservation, landlord coordination of building improvements, including a brand new roof and prepping the theater for a sprinkler system.”

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Just as seats in the Astrodome were sold as that iconic Houston structure was remodeled, the old seats of River Oaks Theater will be sold as construction begins. River Oaks Theater Inc. will donate the existing seats to Friends of River Oaks Theatre. The group will handle the sale of the cinema seats, which are already available here for pre-sale.

River Oaks Theater Inc. is now an affiliate of the Star Cinema Grill Group, a Houston-based dine-in-theater group, which currently operates 11 movie theaters in Texas and Illinois.

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