My idea of luxury is probably a little stunted. I have no Champagne wishes or caviar dreams. A cold Miller High Life and some Haribo gummy frogs are enough to make me happy. Still, I’m a big fan of the “treat yourself” mantra when the occasion calls for it: a new book, a cocktail that isn’t made with well liquor, a few records if I’m feeling really flush.

Going to a movie alone is among my permissible self-care indulgences, but even then, I often take the cheap route, hitting one of the Carolina Theatre’s $9 Retrofantasma double features or a $6 matinee at a Carmike theater, splurging on popcorn and soda but sneaking in candy in my purse. So going to a theater like Silverspot Cinema in Chapel Hill or CinéBistro in Cary is generally out of my league.

Both are part of a nationwide trend of cinema presenters trying to turn a creature comfort into a luxury experience, in a battle being waged against Redbox, Hulu, Netflix and torrent sites. Silverspot, which opened in October, is one of three locationsthe other two are in Florida. Cary’s CinéBistro, in the updated Waverly Place, began service in early September, and is one of 10 such venues across the country, four of them also in Florida.

Ticket prices at both theaters are $14.50, higher than the $10-to-$11 average for standard evening showings. Neither strays far from other local onscreen offerings, mixing one or two prestige pictures (Brooklyn at Silverspot, The Letters at CinéBistro) with blockbusters (Spectre, Creed and The Hunger Games at both). They differentiate themselves through ambiance and dining options. Both theaters follow through on the enhanced cinema concept they promise, but each executes it differently. To me, only one feels truly high-quality.

A cozy restaurant sits just inside Silverspot’s entrance at University Place, formerly University Mall. It doesn’t offer in-theater food service; rather, you slide into a table at the restaurant, Trilogy, which takes up a big corner of the main lobby. But if you order 15 to 20 minutes before show-time, the staff will box and bag your meal so you can take it into the theater.

The menu has a lot of slightly upscale American cuisine, with burgers, a lobster roll, catfish tacos and a fried chicken biscuit among the entrée options. A pepperoni or cheese pizza will run you $12 (the Hawaiian is $14), and if none of those suit your fancy, you could opt for glazed salmon ($22), baby back pork ribs ($26), a few simple salads or shrimp and grits.

Before a 7:40 p.m. screening of Spotlight, I’m sitting at the long, slick bar, sipping a strange drink, the $13 Kitty Hawk Kocktail. A concoction of orange juice and tequila with jalapeño and tarragon, it’s sweet, spicy and tangya little outside of my whiskey-flooded wheelhouse but mixed no differently than a similar drink at a regular bar. I’m tempted by the “cheesecake lollipop tree for two” with bubblegum whipped cream (how does that even work?), but being just one, I pass on the challenge.

Silverspot’s 14 theaters are laid out in stadium fashion, with wide, thick armchairs. When purchasing your ticket from an automated tellerno more mumbling through Plexiglass!you select your desired seats, eliminating the search-and-stakeout. Depending on what you’ve ordered, the lack of tray tables can make eating tricky, but there’s enough room in and around the seats to accommodate the maneuver. The aisle width is a dream for a long-legged person like myself. Cross your legs, slouch, practice Rockettes kicks: There’s room to do it all.

My $14 Caesar salad is middling, but the $6 truffle fries are a worthwhile treat. They’re perfectly soft on the inside and just crisp enough on the outsideI could have eaten a popcorn bag of them. The picture is beautifully sharp, and the screen isn’t as large as I’d anticipated for an upscale theater. It’s plenty big, but it isn’t a neck-straining IMAX monstrosity. For a low-action film like Spotlight, the smaller screen makes it easier to focus on the tension and dialogue. Without going over the top with luxury, Silverspot is a significantly more comfortable, enjoyable experience than a traditional multiplex, well worth the extra few dollars.


Compared with Silverspot, Cary’s CinéBistro feels ludicrously decadent. It, too, has a bar in its front lobby, but its seating options also include cocktail tables and a cushy lounge area that boasts a gas fireplace. It’s much smaller, with five screens, nine fewer than Silverspot. You can order appetizers, drinks and desserts at the lobby bar, but your dinner isn’t served until you make your way into the theater.

Before an 8 p.m. screening of The Night Before, a screen in the lobby is locked on the It’s a Wonderful Life DVD menu for the few minutes I wait before getting seated. Like Silverspot, CinéBistro features self-reserved seating, but instead of stadium style, the seats are flat rows of recliners in front of a massively wide screen, where I watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his friends romp across New York in the sly Christmas comedy.

While Silverspot offers a thoughtfully enhanced night at the movies, CinéBistro is more about the overall dinner-and-a-movie experience, with upgrades at every turn. Everything is bigger, but not necessarily better. My seat reclines to my liking at the touch of a button, but the picture on the enormous screen is often blurry around the edgeseven in scenes outside of Seth Rogen’s drug haze.

CinéBistro offers popcorn and a few different candies, but these are more of a footnote on its grandiose menu. For in-theater service, you’re called to your seat about half an hour before the movie starts (this ensures servers aren’t distractingly coming in and out during the movie). You have a few minutes to look over the menu that waits, along with silverware rolled in a cloth napkin, at your chosen seat. Then a solicitous server, armed with an iPad and dressed in standard black-and-white high-end service garb, arrives to take your order. Appetizers, entrées, drinks and desserts arrive all at once. Candy selections are limited to six basics: Twizzlers, Peanut M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces, Buncha Crunch, Milk Duds and, inexplicably, Sun-Maid chocolate-covered raisins.

Silverspot, on the other hand, has a classic-looking (if very shiny) concession stand that’s stocked with many sorts of snacks. There’s the classic popcorn, but you can also order nachos, a hotdog or one of about 20 candies as well as wine and beer. They’re the same sort of snacks you’d find at any theater, just with better presentation, and not significantly more expensive than the usual markup on movie fare.

The two theaters’ menus overlap occasionally in their offerings: burgers, salads, a couple of miscellaneous sandwiches. Silverspot’s wide variety of options makes it easy to choose a culinary adventure for almost any palate or price. It seems to have more veggie options, including steamed edamame, fried green tomatoes and grilled broccolini.

CinéBistro’s menu is heavier on meat, including crab cakes, a New York strip steak and North Carolina trout. My bacon mac-and-cheese, with chicken subbed for shrimp, is thick and smoky, but not so spectacular as to merit the $17 price. Across the board, the food was good but hardly extraordinarywith a little planning, you could find a pre-movie dinner that’s just as good and much cheaper.

At one point during The Night Before, I catch myself fully reclined, sipping a delicious if ridiculous cocktail (the generously sized $9 ginger peach whiskey punch) and pondering my next bite of a chocolate cake so rich it takes me all night to get through it. It feels like some serious one-percenter living, which is fun but, ultimately, not that fulfilling. It winds up costing more than $60 for one person, but the bottom-line movie experience isn’t markedly better.

With its balance between cinematic staples and upgraded comfort, Silverspot hits the spot. Next time I decide to treat myself, I’ll make room for it on my list.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Concessions to luxury”