These metro Atlanta theaters will have you rethinking dinner and a movie

Food and drink ‘experience’ now part of the show at metro Atlanta theaters
Why settle for a hot dog when you can get a 16-ounce Cowboy Rib-eye at CMX CinéBistro Peachtree Corners? CONTRIBUTED BY CMX CINÉBISTRO / ROCA PHOTO

Why settle for a hot dog when you can get a 16-ounce Cowboy Rib-eye at CMX CinéBistro Peachtree Corners? CONTRIBUTED BY CMX CINÉBISTRO / ROCA PHOTO

As a kid, sitting in a theater and watching a sci-fi movie while sipping a Coke and munching on a box of popcorn or a candy bar was my idea of heaven on earth.

Later, during college at Florida State, grabbing a draft beer from the student union and settling in for a Bergman or Fellini film in the university auditorium felt like a sophisticated pleasure.

Nowadays, though, many more theaters are offering an experience that’s essentially “dinner and a movie” — with servers delivering starters, entrees and desserts to a swivel table at your seat, along with beer, wine, cocktails and espresso.

Lobby cocktail bars are becoming more common in theaters across the country. CMX CinéBistro Peachtree Corners’ Central Lounge Bar is on the high end of the trend. CONTRIBUTED BY CMX CINÉBISTRO / ROCA PHOTO

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With theaters across the country, Austin, Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse was a pioneer in employing waitstaff and including healthier vegetarian and vegan fare on a menu that emphasizes craft beer and fun food like milkshakes and its Royale With Cheese burger.

Big multiplex chains like AMC and Regal Cinemas have gotten into the act, too, with beer, wine, upgraded concessions, and even lobby cocktail bars.

In metro Atlanta, the AMC Dine-In theater in Buckhead, Movie Tavern in Tucker, and Studio Movie Grill in Alpharetta have had varied approaches to in-theater dining for the better part of a decade.

But right now, the newest news is all about two distinctly different concepts — one at CMX CinéBistro Peachtree Corners and the other at the Springs Cinema & Taphouse in Sandy Springs.

Chicken & Churros is among the meals that set CMX CinéBistro Peachtree Corners apart from most movie theaters. CONTRIBUTED BY CMX CINÉBISTRO

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A sophisticated menu

In early March, CMX Cinemas opened its second CinéBistro theater in Georgia at Town Center in Peachtree Corners.

Pitched as a “luxurious dinner-and-a-movie experience,” the first CinéBistro opened at Town Brookhaven in late 2011, and quickly set the standard for in-theater food and drink service in metro Atlanta.

Some seven years on, the newest location in Gwinnett is upping the ante with an elegant bar area in the lobby that could be a destination unto itself, and oversized reclining leather seats and the latest in projection technology in intimate theaters with wall-to-wall screens.

The new menu, turned out by a cadre of chefs in a scratch kitchen, is surprisingly sophisticated and seasonal, currently featuring the likes of the Latin-tinged Chicken and Churros, pan-seared Scottish Salmon, and Prime steaks served with twice-cooked wedge potatoes, smoked marrow bone, and garlic butter.

I sampled the Wagyu Skirt Steak, with grilled peach chimichurri, avocado “fries” and roasted sweet potatoes. It was one of the best and most unexpected beef dishes I’ve eaten, recently.

CMX CinéBistro Peachtree Corners’ King of Prosecco features King of Pops flavors. CONTRIBUTED BY CMX CINÉBISTRO / ROCA PHOTO

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There’s now brunch, too, with chicken and waffles and steak and eggs. And libations that highlight local flavors are a bigger deal on the beverage menu. That includes plenty of craft beer on draft, and King of Prosecco, a wine cocktail made with Lovo draft prosecco, served in a martini glass garnished with a King of Pops frozen pop.

“I think we’ve cultivated some of the best executive chefs in the world, because they combine two things that don’t normally go together — quality and volume,” said Matt Russell, vice president of operations for CMX Cinemas. “You usually get one or the other.

“Our executive chefs in each location have the freedom to make every CinéBistro menu a little different. And quite frankly, we have twice as much competition. Not just other theaters, but restaurants, too. We consider ourselves the best in the world at what we do.”

The bar at the Springs Cinema & Taphouse in Sandy Springs features more than a dozen local and craft beers on tap, as well as specialty cocktails and wines by the glass or bottle. CONTRIBUTED BY JARROD CECIL PHOTOGRAPHY

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Comfortable with bar fare

After a year and half of extensive renovations and a $2.5 million investment from owner Brandt Gully, the Springs Cinema & Taphouse in Sandy Springs officially reopened in mid-February.

Gully purchased the former Lefont Theater in November 2017, and brought in Focus Design Interiors of Atlanta and Nashville-based Artisan Industry, a firm specializing in bar and restaurant design, to help create his vision of a landmark neighborhood movie theater.

>> RELATED: Whatever happened to Bill Tush? He's managing the Springs Cinema & Taphouse in Sandy Springs

Though he’s a first-time theater operator, Gully was able to rely on more than 20 years of experience working in the financial side of the business, including co-founding an investment banking firm that helps owners raise money to buy, renovate and build theaters.

“My entire career has been in finance, but it has been in the movie theater business,” Gully said. “I’m one of the movie theater specialists in the country, from a finance perspective, so I work with theater operators all around the country, and I get to see what works, and what doesn’t.”

Among the offerings from the Springs Cinema & Taphouse are Churro Donuts. CONTRIBUTED BY JARROD CECIL PHOTOGRAPHY

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Over the years, Gully worked with many dine-in concepts, including Studio Movie Grill, Movie Tavern and CinéBistro. And while he acknowledges the trend is toward offering enhanced food and beverage options to moviegoers, he thinks higher-end concepts will thrive only in certain markets.

To that end, the Springs offers heated recliners, larger screens and state-of-the-art sound, plus a lobby bar staffed with bartenders mixing specialty cocktails, and serving up wines by the glass or bottle, and a dozen mostly local and craft beers on tap.

Guests at the Springs Cinema & Taphouse can take a freshly baked pizza into their movie and enjoy it at one of the built-in tables. CONTRIBUTED BY JARROD CECIL PHOTOGRAPHY

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The newly added kitchen offers a counter service menu, with starters, sandwiches, entrees and sweets. But it’s still essentially food you can easily eat in a movie.

“Our menu is sort of bar fare,” Gully said. “We have ultimate nachos, smoked pork sliders, a Philly cheesesteak, quesadillas, chicken tenders, grilled paninis, and we’ll be adding some healthier stuff like salads and flatbreads as we go along. We made a conscious decision not to provide service in the auditorium. I wanted to kind of maintain the integrity of the movie, so we use a pager system for pickup.

“I felt like I had to do the food, but the bar was the vision. When you walk in, the goal is for it to look and feel like the bar is the centerpiece. That’s a big part of what we do. You won’t find another theater in Atlanta that has our beer selection. And that’s about our personality and brand.”


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