When iPic Entertainment opened one of its cushy dine-in theaters in Fort Lee last August, it sounded like a grown-up moviegoer’s holy grail—a swank cinema where the floors aren’t sticky and the seats won’t cripple you. No more wolfing down dinner in order to make show time.
The creation of Boca Raton-based entrepreneur Hamid Hashemi, the fast-growing iPic chain is different from other dine-in theaters. First and foremost, it gives food and film equal billing.
Each multiscreen cinema is paired with an adjacent restaurant and bar, as well as a high-end kitchen dedicated to dine-in theatergoers. Sherry Yard, previously a longtime executive partner of Wolfgang Puck’s, has masterminded the menus for all 15 locations.
The Fort Lee iPic (Jersey’s first) is the anchor tenant for Hudson Lights, a new retail-residential complex that may someday be a place to kill a whole day. For now, you’re basically coming for movies and City Perch, its stylish street-level restaurant.
Booking our iPic evening online was confusing at best. But a quick call to guest services clarified my options. Fifteen dollars would score a leather, non-reclining Premium seat to which I could bring food and drink from iPic’s Express Dining counter. I sprang for two $25 Premium Plus (weekday) tickets, which entitled my husband and me to table service provided by a “Ninja butler,” complimentary popcorn, plush blankets, and two fully reclining leather seats with privacy dividers on either side.
Settling into our capacious seats and summoning service with our private call button, I felt like I’d been upgraded to first class on a flight. When our Ninja server Anthony arrived with ginger-beer-spiked Blushing Presbyterians ($11) from the craft cocktail menu, I wondered how I’d ever watched opening credits without a highball in hand.
Eating, however, was a different story. Yes, Yard’s cutlery-free “dine in the dark” menu—brimming with handheld goodies like lobster rolls ($18), filet mignon sliders ($19) and toffee-cookie ice cream sandwiches ($9)—sounds savvy. But in reality? Eating in the dark still makes for one unholy mess.
The table between our seats was barely large enough to hold our food, leaving us no choice but to eat over our laps. As we munched on limp ratatouille pizza ($14), squares of crisped sushi rice topped with wasabi-laced tuna tartare ($17), and surprisingly still hot and crispy fish and chips ($16), I could feel wayward bits falling everywhere. At one point, I dropped my napkin and, unable to find it in the dark, had no immediate choice but to wipe my greasy hands on my blanket. We emerged from the theater looking like toddlers, with tomato-sauce smudges on our faces and grease stains on our shirts.
And there’s this: No matter how Ninja-like our Anthony may have been, interacting with him (asking for another napkin, letting him clear our plates) popped the escapist bubble so many of us crave from the cinema experience. During the last minutes of our convoluted sci-fi flick, I was so busy settling the tab, I missed whatever resolution the final dialoge might have provided.
For sure, I can think of more dignified ways to blow $170 on a night out. But I’m not writing off iPic entirely. If I were to dine in again, I’d minimize disruptions by using the iPic App to preorder and prepay for our food.
But to be frank, I’d just as soon skip all that messy in-the-dark eating and grab a civilized meal at City Perch before taking the escalator to a pair of Premium seats. In fact, my husband and I had eaten at City Perch on an earlier visit. The place is lively and stylish. The cocktails—a Lemon Berry Mule ($11) and a Fire & Ice Old-Fashioned ($11)—were delicious. And if the short-rib sliders ($7) and crisp-crusted burrata margherita pizza ($15) were any indication, the food is quite decent. I could also see doing a movie with fancy-pants cocktails in hand before heading down to dinner.
Or just buy ipictheaters.com’s Premium movie seats and nothing more: you’ll get big screens and pretty spiffy bathrooms. If you wind up distracted by everyone else munching away and canoodling under their free blankets, go back to your friendly, sticky-floored cinema, where you can actually focus on your flick. Sno-Caps and popcorn might not be such penance after all.Click here to leave a comment