By Kayla Samoy
Just a few minutes shy of the 6:30 p.m. showing of “The Maze Runner” at RoadHouse Cinema, an employee announced that besides three seats – which were all separate – the show had sold out.
A sold out theater is something I’ve only experienced during special opening-night midnight showings in Tucson. Perhaps I, along with the dozens of people waiting in line along with me, had underestimated the appeal the theater was going to generate during its opening weekend. But RoadHouse Cinema isn’t your typical movie theater.
The dine-in cinema is Tucson’s first, replacing the old Crossroads Theater that was affectionately remembered as “the cheapies.” But cheap isn’t a word that I would apply to RoadHouse.
RoadHouse is constructing a much different moviegoing experience than its predecessor. Tickets are pricier at $13.50 for an adult on the weekend — but that didn’t seem to bother the people packed in the lobby waiting to buy tickets.
The two ticket counters and absence of online ticket purchasing caused the lines to move at a glacial speed, but few in line seemed too perturbed about the wait. Employees tried tokeep waiting customers engaged and happy, passing out sample cups of caramel or jalapeno popcorn and handing out menus for patrons to peruse.
RoadHouse lets you choose your seats when buying your ticket. The seats are arranged in pairs, though, so beware if your moviegoing party is an odd number. By the time we’d made it to the counter, there were only a handful of seats left at the 8 p.m. showing of “The Maze Runner,” so we settled for seats along the aisle in the back.
The cashier advised us to arrive at the theater 30 minutes before the movie started in order to order food, so we had about 45 minutes to kill. I debated ordering food to help pass the time, since the lobby is filled with tables and has a bar with four mounted televisions where you can catch a variety of sporting events while grabbing a beer.
But instead, I decided to maintain the integrity of the dine-in cinema experience and wait it out instead.
We sat down on the plush purple seating across from the ticket counters and observed the lobby. RoadHouse emits an interesting juxtaposition of elegance and country, with chandeliers and fancy wallpaper right beside wood paneling and a giant red barn door. The combination is subtle but it produces an atmosphere unlike any other movie theater in Tucson.
Once 7:30 p.m. rolled around, we headed to Theater 3. RoadHouse has six only theaters, and seating is even more limited since the walkways between rows are generous — to allow room for servers to walk through when footrests are popped.
As soon as I sat in the luxurious black recliners, I was almost convinced the ticket prices were worth it. The chairs were comfortable enough to sleep in and the rows staged well enough that sitting in the back made no real difference to your view of the screen, even if a tall person inconveniently sits in front of you.
Grouped in pairs, two recliners share two cup-holders in the middle, convenient if you want to order a drink and get water, inconvenient if you want to snuggle up with your movie partner. A wooden tray is attached to each seat and comes with another cup holder. There’s a large wooden armrest on the other side, home to salt and pepper shakers, ketchup, menus, notecards and a pencil.
When our server arrived she explained that the notecards were for us to write down additional orders during the movie, an attempt to make the order process less of a distraction.
She pointed out the wondrous reclining controls as well as the call button that would summon her to our seats.
The menu is full of staples: popcorn, pretzels, pizzas, burgers, mac-and-cheese and tacos; as well as desserts (one amusingly named Robert “Brownie” Jr.) and a variety of nonalcoholic (soda, tea, coffee) or alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, mixed drinks). The main dishes averaged around $10 to $13 and some entrees are under $10, with drinks ranging from $4 sodas to $5.50 beers to $7.95 mixed drinks.
After placing an order for $10.95 fish tacos served with rice and beans and an iced chai tea, I reclined in my seat and watched the pre-trailer videos. RoadHouse is working hard on creating its brand, featuring “street talk” videos where they question Tucsonans downtown about movie related things such as their favorite comedy or which movie character they’d want to be.
My chai arrived – it was good but it also was predominantly ice – along with giant water cups, which in retrospect were probably so large in order to cut down on requests for refills during the movie.
Just four minutes before the feature film began, our food arrived.
My tacos were served on a fancy white rectangular dinner platter of the sort you’d find at a normal sit-down restaurant. While the rice was fluffy and delicious, the first bite of the black beans I took was surprisingly cold and tasted a little fishy, though I had ordered the fish tacos. There was a little container of salsa on the side, which allowed me to put just the right amount on my tacos. The fish was delicious and just perfectly crispy, though the slaw a little sweet to my taste.
As I dug into my food, the lights dimmed and the trailers began. I use the word dimmed loosely here, because unlike other movie theaters, there was still a lot of light. With other theaters being adamantly against cell-phone and iPhone usage partly because because the light is disrupting for other patrons, it’s a moot point at RoadHouse. Sections in the back of the theater are lit up so servers can see when they come in to deliver food. Those large wooden armrests on either side of the pairs of recliners also feature a little light, which allows you to see what you’re writing when ordering. It also perfectly illuminates the elbows of the person sitting in front of you and I found myself occasionally getting distracted as the man in front of me demolished his huge pile of nachos during the movie.
While the food is marketed as one of the biggest draw-ins for the theater, it’s also a little bit of a drawback. During the movie I could hear my neighbors munching on nachos, crackling the paper lining of their burger baskets and – at one particularly intense moment in the movie – even belching. Perhaps though, this can be a trade in for young noisy children, since RoadHouse has a policy against children under six.
The last added distraction is the servers. As discreet as they try to be, it’s still distracting to have them come in and whisper about orders or deliver food while you are watching a movie. Since it was opening weekend there were still flaws with some of the service, with occasional mix-ups when it came to food delivery, with some servers not making an effort to duck down or move in and out of the rows unobtrusively during the movie.
I would definitely recommend trying out RoadHouse at least once. When I went, during the initial “soft opening” weekend, the food was 50 percent off, which brought in the price for two meals, a burger, tacos and two tea beverages, at just over $15, an absolute steal for the quality. Full price is pushing it a little bit, especially for a college student, but it makes for a great place to go to for a special occasion.
It’s a fun experience, though not an ideal way to watch a film if you really plan to watch the movie. I imagine going to see a serious film with all the added distractions would be frustrating for even the most casual of movie watchers, but it makes for a fun date night. ♦