Sydney's new cinema mixes entertainment, hospitality

Palace Cinemas Chief Executive Benjamin Zeccola in one of his new cinemas at Palace Central Cinemas, Broadway. Wednesday 1st November 2017. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH NEWS 171101
Palace Cinemas Chief Executive Benjamin Zeccola in one of his new cinemas at Palace Central Cinemas, Broadway. Wednesday 1st November 2017. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH NEWS 171101

As competition for the entertainment dollar intensifies, the country's movie chains are rolling the dice.

In Melbourne, Village opened a 4D cinema last week - at Century City in Glen Waverley - with chairs that move and wind, fog, scent and other effects that match the action on screen. And another of its multiplexes, the Knox at Wantirna South, will feature virtual reality experiences such as driving, shooting and flying this month.

But in Sydney, it's all about wining and dining.

Palace Cinemas' new $10 million complex, on the third floor of the Central Park building in Broadway, makes watching a movie just part of an upmarket night's entertainment.

Before a movie, patrons can go to a craft beer hall, a champagne bar or what's called a wine wall - where they can try a glass of Grange or another upscale drop. They can take in the city lights through a window before the curtains close.

If they go for Palace Platinum - the equivalent of Event's Gold Class or Hoyts' Lux premium cinemas - they are greeted by a concierge who will take their coats.

Inside, there is a call button so a waiter can collect an order written on a slip of paper and deliver food without a word being spoken.

For more romantic nights, patrons can book a double seat without an armrest so they can snuggle up.

And after the credits roll, the bars are still open so they can chew over whether the movie was any good for another hour or two.

With competition nearby from Hoyts Broadway and Event George Street, Palace chief executive Benjamin Zeccola??? has gone for a higher-end experience that reflects both the gentrification of the Broadway-Chippendale area and the expansion of the small bar scene.

Palace Central has 13 boutique cinemas ranging from 35 to 85 seats - all ergonomic, leather and imported from Barcelona.

"We've brought all of our best ideas to life in this one venue," Mr Zeccola said. "We've got Palace Platinum, which is our take on what Gold Class style service should be.

"But rather than having teenagers deep-frying spring rolls and presenting them as fine dining, we use the food providers in the building that already have expert chefs and full commercial kitchens."

Mr Zeccola said he did not see the nearby multiplexes as competition.

"We have quite limited capacities," he said. "This is a distinct experience - a combination of entertainment and hospitality."

Most ticket buyers are expected to come from outside the local area, with 60 per cent of them women.

"It's less about differentiating on film," Mr Zeccola said. "We're playing the Bond films, we're playing Star Wars, we're playing Murder on the Orient Express. But we're also going to play French, Italian and Spanish films."

Standard tickets will cost the same as at other Palace locations - $21.50 - with the cinema's profitability depending on food and drink sales.

"We would lose money just on cinema tickets," Mr Zeccola said. "We rely on the bars - popcorn, wine, choctops - but that's not a bad thing ... We have spectacular bars to complement the cinema-going experience."

Not surprisingly, there will be no flashing arcade machines or giant buckets of Coke.

"We're happy for teenagers not to come," Mr Zeccola said. "It's cinema for grown-ups."

This story Sydney's new cinema mixes entertainment, hospitality first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.