"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round – brought to you by Aperol, Pinnacle, Jameson, Fireball, Red Stag and Avion. The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
I’ve been in Milwaukee long enough to know that my fellow city dwellers hate being compared to the people 90 miles to the south in Chicago. More often than not, it’s because of the inferiority complex developed over the decades, whether it be in business, sports or the skyline.
Having lived in both, Milwaukee is just fine and stands on its own. I don’t often compare the two cities, but a recent experience made it unavoidable.
In the west suburbs of Chicago, I frequented the Hollywood Boulevard movie theater. It’s a great place – full service bar in the lobby, big, comfortable chairs, and a great dinner menu to order from. What’s great about it is that a server comes to you before the movie starts, you place your order, and it’s delivered to you.
The wait staff also checks in during the film to see if you need dessert, or a drink refill. You would think this disrupts the movie going experience, but it doesn’t – it only adds to it.
It was definitely a place I missed when I came to Milwaukee full time. So, needless to say, I was pretty excited to visit the iPic at Bayshore when I heard it was similar.
Having never been there, I visited the website and took the virtual tour. The tour gives you the impression that it’s just like the Hollywood Boulevard experience.
"We do food service for the first 20 minutes of the feature" the host says, and they show an employee bringing the food in. It also says you can get blankets to kick back and relax in.
Unfortunately, when I got to iPic, it was nothing like this. I waited in line to order food, which was fine – it skips the step of having waitstaff traipse around the theater – but I was disappointed to find out that the menu was filled with bar food, rather than dinner fare.
Then, I had to provide a phone number for the bar to text to tell me the food was ready, which is kind of a problem when you go into a theater and the reception is spotty at best. This also required getting out of my seat when the show started.
I was also disappointed that when I attempted to order an alcoholic drink, I was told to exit the line I waited in, get in another line and wait for it to be prepared.
First, I didn’t have that kind of time – I didn’t arrive 30 minutes before the show, thinking I’d have a service staff taking care of this. Second, the prices were ridiculous for basically carry out service of appetizers and sodas (I didn’t have time to order alcoholic drinks!) – for two people it was nearly a $100 day.
I rarely "miss" Chicago – there is plenty to do and see here, and plenty of great bars and restaurants to visit and enjoy. But in this one instance, Milwaukee failed to compare.
When iPic launched in 2010 they had the experience you speak of. The ticket price included valet parking, popcorn and a reserved seat. You could order food from the restaurant nextdoor (owned by ipic) and you could order alcohol at the same place you ordered your food. They also would deliver it to your seat in the theatre.
That lasted all of 6 months. Staffing costs outwieghed the need for the services. Parking was abundant at Bayshore so no one used the valet (eliminated). No one ate at the restaurant nextdoor, so it closed (just recently reopened as a BBQ joint), and the menu was reduced to bar food. It was cheaper to hire younger staff (under bar service age) to man the regular counter so alcohol purchase were moved exclusively to the bar. And finally, staff reduction caused them to eliminate food delivery to your seat.
Long story short, it was a flawed business model for our city. Also it was the 1st iPic theatre. They obviously were learning as they go. There are now 5 more iPics accross the US. It's not the best theatre in the midwest, but you can't beat a large comfy reserved seat for a busy Friday night show. And in comparison to Chicago, it's cheaper, there is plenty of parking, and your rent/mortgage is half as much. I'm willing to sacrifice the ultimate movie experience for those differences.
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