Gold Class Cinemas ratchets up the luxury movie scene

MoviesEntertainmentThe Men Who Stare at Goats (movie)Australia (movie)George Clooney

About halfway through the fun but middling "The Men Who Stare at Goats," I sat up in my enormous puffy orange recliner at the new Gold Class Cinemas and made a promise to myself. "I will never see a movie anywhere else," I thought before sinking back into my seat, pulling my fuzzy blanket over me and reaching for my frosty Manhattan.

Maybe I was woozy from staring at George Clooney's chiseled jawline for too long, or maybe it was the warmth of the bourbon, but more likely it was the utterly self-indulgent, unexpected thrill of being coddled in the dark like a baby king that triggered my earnest declaration of loyalty. A crushing guilt hangover gripped me after the show, though, when the decadence felt out of touch with the sour economic climate.

Founded in Australia more than a decade ago, Gold Class Cinemas is a growing chain of luxury liner-like movie theaters that opened its first California location in Pasadena on Dec. 2. The hallmark of the "Gold Class experience," as Graham Burke, chief executive of its parent company, Village Roadshow, likes to call it, is a small, glowing button on the table next to your seat that summons a black-clad server to your side.

From this stealthy purveyor of privilege you can order a variety of food and drink or just request another pillow on which to rest your worthy head. Show up early and you can start the whole process in the ultra-luxe lounge. When it's time for the movie to start, your server will escort you and your dinner to your seat. Each of the six theaters has no more than 40 seats, with seats placed in pods of two well out of earshot of the others -- the whole process is relaxed and unhurried.

The food, which is prepared on-site by a full-service kitchen headed up by chef Matthew Herter, includes options that are easy to eat in the dark, such as chinois chicken salad rolls, Wagyu beef sliders, charcuterie and potato chips with blue cheese fondue. It's tasty but not out of this world.

It's shocking, really, that the Gold Class concept didn't already exist in the entertainment capital of the world. It's also shocking that Gold Class, which boasts nearly $30 tickets and $19 strip steak sandwiches, is throwing open its doors in the midst of the Great Recession. But according to Burke, that didn't stop the theater from selling out five of its first seven nights and signing up more than 10,000 people for its movie club.

"Gold Class adds another level of pixie dust to the whole experience of going out to the movies," Burke says. It's an illusion of perfect comfort inside an already illusional cinematic world.

jessica.gelt@latimes.com

Gold Class Cinemas Where: 42 Miller Alley, PasadenaWhen: Check website for showtimesPrice: Tickets, $22 to $29 on weekends; entrees and appetizers $9 to $19; cocktails $8 to $12; "movie and meal" deals from $40 per personContact: (626) 639-2260, www.goldclasscinemas.com

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