By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Dec 27, 2007 at 11:29 AM

Completing my Christmas tradition of Chinese food and a movie, I finally checked out the new IPic theater at Bayshore Tuesday. It's a little overwhelming at first, but overall, it's a great way to see a movie.

We bought our matinee tickets online for $5.50, and that came with valet parking and a free bag of popcorn. Signage was ample to find the theater, but after that, I felt a little on my own.

It felt a lot like Vegas inside the theater. Bars, restaurants and a bowling alley you have to see to believe flank the movie section. The concessions stand is also the bar, apparently, and it's devoid of easy-to-find prices (I know this because my wife almost bought us a half bottle of $46 champagne). Best I could tell, prices for the full bar and snack area were posted on a rotating digital menu, but there seemed to be a fair amount of confusion during this process. The popcorn was prepackaged and tasted like cardboard -- but who can argue with free? The drinks are at a premium cost (like all movie food is). Our group of four enjoyed a $25 bottle of Seven Deadly Zins while we sat back and watched "Charlie Wilson's War."

It's not really labeled, but if you turn the corner, you'll find a bowling alley with perhaps the two largest TVs of all time -- effectively, they are movie screens filling up the entire wall above the pins. I can imagine this would be a great way to watch a Brewers game. Behind the alley is the gourmet restaurant, but again, a lack of signage makes navigation a little tricky.

As for the movie theater part, ushers actually bring you to your assigned seats. We got stuck in the front row, but as the seats are so spread apart and reclinable, it wasn't a problem. The screens are far bigger than what you'd find at your typical theater, and the seats are far more comfortable. The only problem is that because you're so spread out, it's hard to lean over to share popcorn or ask a question.

I wish I had a little more time to discover all the nuances of the IPic. It had a fun and upscale feel to it, and could be a great rainy day diversion. And, priced as competitively as every other theater, it even feels like a good value. I've heard people say that mashing together a movie theater, gourmet restaurant and bowling alley won't work. And to that I say, why not? If this is the new direction of American movie theaters, then count me in.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.