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Luxury cinema promises "escapism" in US grim times

Tired of all the grim news about the prospects of a U.S. recession and a bailout for Wall Street?
/ Source: Reuters

Tired of all the grim news about the prospects of a U.S. recession and a bailout for Wall Street?

A new luxury movie theater in a well-heeled Chicago suburb aims to help film buffs escape from the dismal headlines and to catch the latest flicks while relaxing in reclining chairs as friendly staff serve fine wines and gourmet food.

But at $35 per person, not including the price of the wine or food, the experience does not come cheap.

Welcome to the first Village Roadshow Gold Class Cinema in the United States, a luxury concept that Australia's Village Roadshow Ltd aims to introduce in other wealthy areas -- regardless of the economic climate.

"This is a concept that is not for everyone, it's not for everywhere and it's not for all the time," Robert Kirby, chairman of the firm's holding company Village Roadshow Corp, told a press preview. "This is an affordable luxury."

He said he is confident that the company, which already has theaters in Greece, Singapore and Australia, will be able to open 40 to 50 in the United States within the next few years.

After taking advantage of the valet parking and paying the concierge the $35 entry fee, customers enter the theater's lobby, which resembles an expensive hotel, where they can enjoy one of 14 beers on draft at the bar or order a bottle of wine ranging in price from $33 to $695.

In eight screening rooms, six with 40 seats each and two with 25 seats, food is available at the touch of a button, which beckons staff waiting to serve starters such as blue cheese potato chip or main courses of mini burgers or mushroom and brie pizza.

"The idea is to make the food as user friendly as possible," said Keith Keogh, a chef at Levy restaurants, the company that provides the food at the theaters.

The next theater is due to open in Redmond, Washington, which is just down the road from Microsoft's headquarters, followed by 10 others in 2009 in cities such as Kansas City, Los Angeles, Houston and Las Vegas.

The company chose the locations very carefully, according to Kirby, focusing on areas with a relatively high population and average household income in excess of $100,000.

Kirby said that regardless of what is happening on Wall Street, movie attendance has remained steady at an average of five visits per person annually.

"This number has remained stable, people want to go to the movies no matter what's happening in the economy," he said. "We are in the escapism business after all."