A couple of years back I heard that a combination restaurant/movie theater was planned for the venerable Prairie Village Shopping Center at 71st and Mission Road. I wrote it off as another overreaching pipe dream that would burn out in no time.
Truth is, I’ve never warmed to the dinner-and-a-movie format featured at the Alamo Draft House downtown or at AMC’s Studio 30 in Olathe. Eating in the dark while the wait staff provides unwanted distractions? No thanks.
Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong about Standees, the Entertaining Eatery.
The new complex opening May 24 on the mall in the Village (in the space formerly occupied by the Macy’s home store and Einstein Brothers Bagels) looks to me like a total winner, a very classy (yet affordable) restaurant joined with three wonderfully intimate (but not at all cramped) movie auditoriums.
Standees is the first effort by Dineplex International, a newly-formed company headed by Frank Rash, an exhibition veteran with nearly 25 years with AMC Entertainment.
Among the other principals in the operation are former AMC CEO Peter Brown and former AMC veep for Strategic Analysis Doug Stone.
Together these guys have decades of exhibition experience, and they’ve done an astounding job of sizing up their intended market.
For starters, they don’t regard Standees as a movie-and-a-meal operation
“It’s first and foremost a restaurant,” Rash explains. “It’s designed to do well just as a restaurant. But all of us involved love movie exhibition, and this lets us keep our hands in.”
I’m yet to eat at Standees, but I like what I’ve heard from Chef Patrick McDonnell and what I saw at a recent walk-through.
The room has an uncluttered, high-tech feel dominated by restful cream and brown tones and highlighted by cool orange lamps.
But what you’ll first notice upon entering is the wrap-around plexiglass screen that hangs over the bar. Fourteen projectors hidden in the ceiling are capable of throwing 14 different programs up on this screen at any given time: sporting and news events, restaurant information, trailers of upcoming films.
It’s like having 14 82-inch diagonal TV screens at your fingertips.
Standees will be a very cool place to watch the Super Bowl or follow the KU/K-State rivalry.
The menu is described as “upscale-American, chef-infused” with an emphasis on locally-grown produce, meats and beers, not to mention an extremely wide and deep wine list.
Among the entrees are cold-water sea scallops, Alaskan halibut, Nebraska free-range chicken Veronique, Iowa Durock pork chops, boneless rack of lamb, and Creekstone Farms top-sirloin steaks.
Prices for entrees range from $17 to $25
Standees joins the already-busy Tavern in the Village, Cafe Provence and Blue Moose Bar and Grill — making the once-sleepy Prairie Village Shops a diner’s destination and perhaps even a nightlife Mecca.
But, says Rash, Standees was designed to do fine just with local trade.
“We’ve taken a long look at the area, and we see this as a neighborhood place. We don’t have to become a destination to do well. The idea is to give the local people an easy, affordable escape.”
Okay, enough about the restaurant. Let’s talk about the movie theaters (this web site is about movies, obviously).
Here’s what I think:
THESE ARE THE BEST AUDITORIUMS IN KANSAS CITY
I’m serious. In every category, from projection to sound to seating comfort to overall design and decor, the three Standees theaters are fantastic.
Each offers seating for 85 customers in an atmosphere that feels less like a commercial operation than like some rich dude’s private screening room.
Even though the individual auditoriums are cozy, they’re not at all cramped. And the screen size is spectacular.
The seats are astoundingly comfortable, the best I’ve ever plopped down in.
Stone, who is programming the theaters, said he’s concentrating on story-and-character-driven films.
“We won’t be showing ‘The Hangover’ or a ‘Transformers’ movie. This isn’t a kids’ venue and we’re not aiming for loud popcorn movies.”
What sort of fare will Standees be showing?
“Things like ‘Argo,’ ‘The Silver Linings Playbook,’ ‘Lincoln’ … Commercial stuff, but more thoughtful stuff. Still, we’re not an art house, not so esoteric as, say, the Glenwood Arts.“
The first three films booked are “The Great Gatsby,” “Mud” (my choice of the best film now playing in KC) and “The English Teacher” (in its first booking outside of New York and L.A.).
Ticket pricing is competitive, to say the least: $6.75 before 6 p.m., $8.75 after. There are no children’s or senior discounts.
On the other hand, there will be no additional cost for 3-D presentations, according to Rash. That right there makes Standees one of the best deals in local moviegoing.
The auditoriums weren’t designed for patrons to eat full meals while viewing movies. For one thing, the theaters don’t have a wait staff.
But at the concession stand you can purchase — in addition to the usual popcorn-candy-soda standards — small plates of restaurant food, fancy desserts, and wine and beer. Each seat has a small, unobtrusive table that swings into place.
The people behind Standees have obviously thought long and hard about every aspect of their operation. And it shows.
This is going to be a terrific place to watch movies.
| Robert W. Butler