As long as there have been nights out on the town (and since the cinema was invented), there's been the great match up of dinner and a movie. It's a date night classic that's never gone out of style, even as supper clubs gave way to sushi bars and grand Victorian theaters became value cinemas.
Still, the pairing is essentially perfect -- time for conversation over a good meal, topped with a little evening entertainment -- so is there room for improvement on this timeless tradition?
Hamid Hashemi seems to think so. The entertainment entrepreneur once linked with the Florida-based Muvico Theaters branched out on his own two years ago with a much bigger idea: Restaurant, lounge, luxury movie theater and high-end bowling facility under one 38,000-sq. ft. roof.
He calls this end-all entertainment destination IPic Entertainment, and the country's first of several locations opens at Bayshore Town Center on Friday, Dec. 7.
Adam Lamb is the executive chef for IPic's restaurant, Ovation, but he's also been on board with the entire operation since day one, joining forces with Hashemi when they both left Muvico in 2005.
"We started this project before we even knew where we were going to put it," says Lamb. "When we started looking around, the opportunity came up for Milwaukee, and there were actually a few places we passed up because we felt that Milwaukee was the perfect place for this."
And in a city that's known for good beer, a penchant for bowling and steadily improving dining scene, why wouldn't it be?
Lamb's restaurant seats 200 in a casually elegant space and offers the full gamut of appetizers, seafood-topped salads, specialty pizzas, 10-oz. Black Angus burgers, meaty sandwiches and entrees from duck to sirloin to lobster pot pie. Prices range between $12 and $30.
The menu is what Lamb calls "regional American," meaning 30 percent of the food, beer and wine is all about Milwaukee and Wisconsin: Usinger's sausage, Sprecher soda, New Glarus on tap, Lake Superior white fin, Door County cherries -- a lot of things people in Milwaukee will "get," Lamb says.
"When you become a regional American company, you really get to invest in the area, so in the summertime we're going to get the kitchen crew out to the farms in the area and connect with producers."
Whenever possible, Lamb says, he uses local, sustainable, organic produce.
"We want to be a socially responsible community partner," he says. "We don't want to come into town and just throw our weight around and think that people will just come. We have to reach out and connect with people. It's such a brand new concept that some people aren't going to get it, so we do want to offer something that is both familiar and satisfying."
Both Lamb and Hashemi agree that the biggest challenge they faced when mixing a movie theater with a dining establishment is the commonly preconceived notion that food at theaters is almost always overpriced and junky.
"Most of the other operators out there look at it as a theater and not a food and beverage hospitality business," says Lamb. "We know that our primary objective is to do great food and beverage and great service."
Within the six-screen, digital projection luxury theaters are plush, six-foot wide love seats as well as a series of club seats that guests reserve in advance. There are no concession stands -- popcorn is free and each theater has a lobby bar. Children are allowed to attend movies until 6 p.m., after which it becomes 21 and over. Prices -- $15-$16 for evening shows, less for matinees -- includes valet parking.
IPic's 150-seat lounge, called Sequel, is a full-service bar with light fare adjacent to Pinstrikes, the bowling component. If it weren't for the 11 bowling lanes, Pinstrikes would be a nightclub, with a massive audio system, 65-foot hi-def video wall, plush couches and plenty of drinks. The bowling area becomes 21 and over after 9 p.m.
"There's lot of choice here," says Lamb. "You really design your own evening. We are creating this brand from scratch and since this is the very first one, the guests get to help define the experience by what they buy and the feedback we get."
IPic plans to expand to Texas, Illinois, Ohio, California and Florida in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”