CARBONDALE — Watching a movie with a beer, glass of wine or a spirit won't just be an at-home experience any longer in Carbondale after Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
The Carbondale City Council approved a Class K liquor license for American Multi-Cinema, or AMC Theatres, on Tuesday. The license would allow customers of the theater — age 21 and up — to purchase alcohol before or during movies at a lobby bar in the theater’s lobby. The license allows customers to consume drinks at the bar, the lobby or in the theater during movies.
The bar is called MacGruffin’s.
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Renovations at University Place 8 on East Main Street for the new bar, along with the addition of hundreds luxury, red-leather recliners in each theater, have begun. Half of the renovation is already finished and four theaters are open with the new seats. AMC Spokesperson Ryan Noonan said the other half is expected to be done at the end of the month.
Although the renovations are nearly finished and the theater has obtained a liquor license, liquor will not be served until the city can complete an inspection of the bar.
Alcohol service and comfortable seats aren’t the only changes happening at the theater. An expanded food menu serving chicken strips, mozzarella sticks and pizza has been added. Also, new soda fountain machines with several drink combinations for movie goers.
AMC’s Director of Alcohol, Food and Beverage Frank Lewis said the decision to make the renovations now come from an expiring lease with the landlord.
When Lewis presented this change to the City Council in December, he said it was to recapture the adult audience.
“Seventy percent of the people seeing movies today is 21 or older,” he said. “The group of teens hanging out in front of the theater is gone.”
He cited his stats to the Motion Picture Association of America.
Lewis said the alcohol served will be in different cups from traditional theater cups as a way to identify what substance is being consumed. Also, he said the entire staff will be trained to spot intoxicated individuals and underage attempts to consume liquor.
He said there haven’t been many problems at the more than 100 other theaters in the country that serve alcohol, and the prices and theater experience really aren’t conducive to drinking several drinks while watching a movie.
The addition of the luxury seats will lead to overall reduction in seating in each theater, but Rob Anderson, legal representation with AMC, said it will not cause a reduction in attendance.
“We’ve found … attendance actually goes up by 150 to 200 percent,” he said. “Because the amenities are nicer, more people come out rather than staying home and seeing what is on Netflix.”
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He said statistics have shown that it improves revenue for the town by more people being out and going to a restaurant or other stores nearby.
As for the concern that minors could attempt to drink alcohol, Anderson said prior research has shown that the movie theater is not a place where they go for alcohol, mainly because it is expensive.
“You are going to be paying $10 to get into the theater, and you will be paying movie theater prices for a beer or a glass of wine,” he said. “We price ourselves intentionally to make it unattractive for minors to come and try purchase alcohol.”
Anderson said only customers who bought tickets would be allowed to purchase alcohol, and it is served at a one drink for a guest, per visit to the bar.
As for the price of a movie ticket? Anderson said he doesn’t have any information that company plans to change the price as it is, as of Thursday.
AMC is serving alcohol in 115 venues throughout the United States, including 11 in Illinois, according to AMC officials.
Councilman Adam Loos said the risk of underage people getting alcohol is no less than at a restaurant or a bar with an entry age of 19.
“You can’t deny it on that basis,” he said. “If you are from Herrin or Marion, why not come to Carbondale and have a different experience.”
Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry said he supported the change in December. He said he has visited theaters with the alcohol service and the city manager has checked in with such theaters without any glaring issues reported.
“We need to be progressive and move forward,” he said. “We have to try things and see how it works, and if it doesn’t, we will amend it.”