First there was television. Then came downloading — legal and otherwise. Now there are streaming services like Netflix, which recently debuted Bong Joon-Ho’s “Okja” on its platform rather than in movie theaters.
The movie industry has met all of these challenges to varying degrees of success, whether through such only-at-the-theater innovations like 3-D and CinemaScope or high-quality digital projection. The latest trend — “optimizing” theaters with plush recliners, alcohol and food well beyond the traditional popcorn-and-Coke fare — has helped both exhibition giants like AMC and independent chains like Alamo Drafthouse to compete in the changed market for popular entertainment.
The latest to join the wave is Bow Tie Cinemas, the family-owned chain based in Ridgefield. Following the Christmas 2016 season, Bow Tie has embarked upon a multimillion-dollar renovation to a pair of its Norwalk movie theaters, with more on the way.
“Our customers have been looking for more and more amenities,” said Bow Tie Chief Operating Officer Joseph Masher. “It’s a trend that has been gaining momentum across the nation and we’re happy to finally be bringing it to Connecticut.”
Bow Tie is nearing completion of top-to-bottom renovations of its Regent 8 at 64 N. Main St. in South Norwalk and at Royale 6 at 542 Westport Ave. in Norwalk. Masher said about half of the auditoriums at each theater have already been refurbished. Reserved luxury recliner seating has been installed as well as new lobbies, concession stands and restrooms.
In addition to traditional movie theater snacks, the new Bow Tie Ultimate menu will feature such items as fresh-baked artisanal pizza; three-cheese macaroni and cheese; chicken and waffles; eggplant parmesan fries; Philly cheesesteak egg rolls; chicken parmesan and Buffalo chicken heroes; grilled cheese on Texas toast; loaded nachos; and “health bowl” options like Monterey risotto and Southwest chipotle with fresh vegetables and whole grains.
Bar service includes spirits and cocktails made to order, along with a local craft beer selection, a variety of wine choices and Bow Tie specialty cocktails such as seasonal sangria, mojitos and the branded Bow Tai. “It’s a mai tai,” Masher said with a laugh.
Masher said the new fare — all made in-house — was designed to be easily enjoyed from the comfort of an in-seat table, with orders delivered before the screening begins. “We don’t want to disrupt the movie viewing experience,” he said. “All of our menu items will be available throughout the movie, but you’ll have to go to the lobby to get it if the movie’s already playing.”
Prices for Bow Tie Ultimate menu items range from $4.50 to $12. Jack & Harry’s gourmet popcorn will continue to be popped fresh and offered in caramel, cheddar and other seasonal varieties.
Masher said ticket prices will remain the same at the theaters, despite the company’s loss of about 40 percent of theater seats as a result of the renovations. The expectation is that the added amenities and higher concession costs will more than make up the difference, he said.
Bow Tie plans to begin renovations at its Marquis 16 in Trumbull after Labor Day, and will do the same to a pair of theaters in Annapolis, Maryland, this year. A new ultimate theater will be built in Troy in upstate New York and additional renovations are expected to be made in other Bow Tie theaters around the country next year.
Bow Tie Cinemas, which traces its roots in the American entertainment industry to 1900, operates 267 screens at 42 locations in six states. Masher said each multiplex employs between 50 and 65 people.
“The busy lifestyle led by today’s entertainment consumers often forces a choice between seeing a movie and having a great meal and a cocktail,” said Bow Tie CEO Ben Moss, great-grandson of the founder of his family’s original nickelodeon and vaudeville company, B.S. Moss Enterprises. “We’re delighted to be the first to offer it anywhere in Fairfield County.”