The Plaza Cinema Café has finally opened in downtown Orlando—and our reviews of it are mostly positive.
|At last! A picture show in downtown Orlando. Its style evokes the Art Deco look of golden age picture palaces. |
Like an epic from Hollywood’s golden age, the Plaza Cinema Café has been years in the making. And like one of those epics, it arrives with mountains of hype, a multimillion-dollar price tag and a cast of thousands—that is, if you include the anticipated customers.
Yes, after many delays, the downtown multiplex finally opened to the public, on May 29. And because a movie theater—let alone, a 12-screen one—in the city’s business core qualifies as a major deal, we’ve assembled an ad-hoc panel of volunteers to review its many aspects.
Here, then, with star ratings included, is an overview of Central Florida’s newest multi-screen sensation:
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SOUND & PICTURE
At a movie theater, the movie is the main event. And no matter which one you’re watching, it’s a flop if the picture and sound quality aren’t first-rate. So to check out the sound at the Plaza movie theater, I took in The Soloist, a good test because it features classical music (Beethoven, mostly). The high notes were appropriately bright, the low ones rich and resonant. For the full visual experience, I poked my head into Star Trek just in time to see an entire planet implode. No problem there, either. I only wish that Monsters vs. Aliens had been playing in 3-D, which the theater is equipped to do. (It isn’t equipped for the increasingly popular Imax format, which could have been a big draw.)
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As a throwback to simpler times, hotdogs, caramel apples and pretzels adorn the Café space, looking more like a museum display than food. The chewy popcorn, brought up from the back in plastic bags, isn’t exactly a high point ($3 to $4.50). Not much can be said about boxed candy, while nacho chips with melted cheese sauce ($3.75 regular) is something you either like or don’t. I don’t, not in a theater, anyway. Kids, however, will love them, along with chicken fingers ($4.25) and mini-pizzas ($5.75) because, hey, they’re kids.
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If you’re a movie buff and you work downtown, this place may get you fired. The theater’s weekday show times are invitations to cut out of work early (if only the lineup of flicks were better) or taking a two-and-a-half-hour lunch (if only the food were good). Hooky-playing workers checking their BlackBerries and answering their cell phones could become the modern-day equivalents of the crying baby in the theater.
Two weeks after the opening, the Web site (plazacinemacafe.com) had precious little information—just icons of movie posters to click on for show times (which weren’t always clearly stated or accurate!) and short movie summaries that didn’t provide the film ratings.
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The Plaza Cinema Café is, quite simply, the most elegant movie theater in Central Florida. The subdued, tan-and-black color scheme and the little Art Deco touches evoke the era of the grand picture palace without inviting unfair comparisons. You have to love the big, comfortable seats and the extra-wide armrests, not to mention the two small art galleries, where you can hang out before or after the show. I’m just glad I wasn’t wearing shorts and flip-flops or I’d have felt a tad outclassed by my surroundings.
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Tickets are cheaper than those at nearby chains—$9.50 at night, $4.75 for a matinee (compared with $10 and $7.50 for Regal Cinemas Winter Park Village 20, and $10 and $8 for AMC Altamonte Mall 18). Concessions are also cheaper, even after taking into account that the portions are smaller than at most chains. For instance, the size of a large popcorn ($4.75) is somewhere between a small ($6) and medium ($7) at Regal. And $3.25 for a glass of Budweiser isn’t bad. Parking is free for now. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Visions of deliciousness danced in my head at the refreshment counter. However, the cafeteria-quality chicken “satay” ($9.25), soggy and tough French bread with cheese ($9.75), and overcooked shrimp and cold salsa ($8.75) dashed my dreams. The waxy brownie (usually served with vanilla ice cream for $5.50) didn’t help. The Café gets its second star for the beer ($3.25 to $4), perfect while watching a movie in a cushy chair. Better to arrive 45 minutes early, have a bowl of noodles at Bento Café downstairs, then grab a brew upstairs and kick back.
Two words: Mini Cooper. Get one, borrow one, steal one (JK; that would be wrong), just be sure to drive one to The Plaza’s parking garage. It’s a labyrinth of twisting turns and tight spaces that will make full-size car owners cringe. Once parked, be sure to write down the tower (north or south) and the level (I suggest parking at level three or higher, where spaces are easier to get into). Moviegoers get validated parking for up to three hours. Want to valet it? That’ll be $10.
OTHER PLUSES, MINUSES: On the plus side, there’s a nice view of Orange Avenue from the second floor. Also, the restrooms have paper towels, not those infernal hand dryers you find at many moviehouses. The minuses include the layout near the entryway, especially on busy nights when the concession lines extend almost to the door so that people entering the auditoriums have to find a place to cut through. Two weeks after the opening we still couldn’t get anyone to answer the phone at the theater, possibly because the number on the Web site was for a fax machine. And get this: There’s no smell of popcorn popping. C’mon, people: That’s just part of the moviegoing experience!