Talk about serendipity. When Mrs. Chambanamom and I decided to hit the movies on a rare date night last weekend, we were intent on seeing Spotlight, the Oscar-nominated flick about the Boston Globe reporters who blew the lid off the massive sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church.
But because Carmike 13 — the only movie house in the Champaign-Urbana area showing it — did not schedule a Saturday evening viewing, we decided to look for a theater in Bloomington-Normal that had it. Fortunately, we found a 6:35 p.m. showing at the Ovation Cinemas 10 on the east side of Bloomington.
We had no idea what was in store for us.
And I’m not referring to the film, which as an aside is a fine piece of art, as judged by two journalists. We were gratified that it was a realistic portrayal of the newspaper life.
What really surprised us was what we experienced before the movie began. Unknowingly we had walked into a luxurious movie-going experience, complete with full-service dining, wait staff, generous loungers, alcohol and swing-out tables at your seat.
Ovation Cinemas 10, which opened last February, isn’t like attending a movie in C-U. When you arrive at the box office, the ticket seller punches up a screen that has a diagram of the theater and asks you to select your seats. We immediately noticed there were only a handful of rows; in fact, our theater had 41 seats. The tickets, by the way, were $8 apiece (less than Champaign’s theater). He also asked if we’d be purchasing adult beverages; if so, he needed to see an ID to place a wristband on each of us.
We took our tickets and headed to what normally would be the concession area. But instead of a concession stand, there was a bar and numerous tables, adjacent to several TV screens that were showing sporting events. Each table had a menu, so we took a glance.
Greek feta fries. Atlantic salmon. Baja shrimp quesadillas. An all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast during Saturday morning matinees. Beer (including craft beers and local when possible – impressive). Wine. Mixed drinks. Plus all of the usual standard movie fare like popcorn (delivered in a real bowl).
The prices were not outrageously high. The feta fries, a large portion, were $7.95; as an appetizer, that’s pretty standard these days. A bottomless bucket of popcorn and all the soda you could drink was $11.75, about a $1 more than you’d pay elsewhere. A glass of Ravenswood Zinfandel was $9 — right on par with what a restaurant would charge. Ovation actually has the menu posted online.
(Here’s a tip from one of our readers –– if you have a Carmike annual popcorn bucket, they will honor the refill price).
Best of all, everything was ordered at your seat and delivered to your seat by an attentive wait staff. You could order at any point during the movie (by pushing a button at your seat) and the food would be delivered to you. A small light at your seat allows you to see what you’re eating.
How does this work without being obtrusive? Fewer seats that are well-spaced. Oversized, luxury seating — think first class on an airplane — allowed for ease of eating, and the aisles are especially wide to allow the wait staff to wander through. The larger theaters hold around 100. (Another reader tip: although we went very spontaneously, it is best to order your tickets before you go, ESPECIALLY for kids movies. They sell out as the theaters are smaller and there is assigned seating.)
So is it worth it to drive 45 minutes for a totally new and different movie experience? In our estimation, yes — at least to try it once. We couldn’t stop talking about the experience and it was fun to watch the whole process. As for the extra time it takes, you can make up the difference by having dinner at the theater.
Is it for everyone? Probably not. Some people won’t like the inevitable distraction of the wait staff, even if it is negligible. And others may not like eating in the dark, despite the small light.
We can’t wait to go back — and next time, we’ll take the kids. We think they’ll get a big kick out of that all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. Who wants to come with us?
Carmike Ovation Cinema 10
Location: 415 Detroit Dr., Bloomington
Phone: (309) 661-2452