Stephen Starr Wants New Center City Cineplex for Dinner and a Movie

"Somebody’s got to have the balls to do it," says the restaurateur.

If you wanted to go see the new Spider-Man movie when it opened earlier this month, you had to travel about two miles from City Hall to see it on the big screen, because the Ritz is just too good for summer blockbusters, and because Center City doesn’t have a proper cineplex. We almost had one—once at 8th and Market, and once in Rittenhouse—but as you’ve probably heard, getting anything done in Philadelphia is a migraine-inducing prospect, building a 40,000-square-foot movie theater included.

One man who wants to put a stop to our movie-screen shortage is restaurateur Stephen Starr, who, along with industry analysts, sees the future of the movie-theater business in the growing cinema-eatery model, where you combine the experience of seeing a flick with having a meal. You show up and sit back as a waitress takes your order, beer, wine and cocktails included, before the movie begins. “It’s something I’m very interested in,” Starr says of a Center City cinema eatery. “It’s not an easy thing, but somebody’s got to have the balls to do it.”

Our region already has one such cinema: the eight-screen Movie Tavern, which has been a hit since its 2011 debut in Collegeville­. The Montgomery County location is the chain’s 15th in the country, and Texas-based company CEO John Hersker tells me he hopes to build another six or so in the Philadelphia area, though he won’t commit to city limits. “We’ve certainly looked into potential sites,” says Hersker, but adds that he hasn’t had much luck, mostly because so few sites of the right size are available. Those that are include the Gallery, the gigantic empty lot at 20th and Market, and, ironically, the old Boyd Theater at 19th and Chestnut streets, an unlikely prospect given its historic designation.

Starr points out that he was way ahead of the curve with this idea back when he was set to serve food at Robert Redford’s Sundance Theater in West Philadelphia, before Redford’s partner, General Cinemas, went bankrupt in 2000. And while he won’t get into details, Starr confirms that he’s recently had discussions with at least one movie company about bringing a cinema eatery into Center City. You thought a night out at the movies was expensive now; just wait until your date orders Continental Szechuan shoestring fries and a $15 Red Carpet Mojito while watching Avengers 3.

A version of this article originally appeared in the July issue of Philadelphia magazine.