Remember when going to the cinema was an event? The earliest picture houses with their striking facades, ornate interiors and names referencing that most novel of inventions – electricity – suggested a side helping of pomp along with the movie feature. However, fast-forward to the present day and much of the original romance of going to the cinema has been diluted by sterile multiplexes and the rise of home streaming services like Netflix. But, like the underdog who turns hero in the last reel, some of London’s best cinemas are fighting back; from cosy enclaves with waiter service like the Electric Cinema to iconic edifices like the Ciné Lumière, we explore the chic and boutique cinemas that know there’s much more to a night at the pictures than a two-for-one ticket to the latest blockbuster and a box of popcorn.
This screening room in the Grade II listed, Art Deco L’Institut Français tends to have a bias towards French and European releases – quelle surprise. But here’s something you might not expect: located in South Kensington, not far Exhibition Row, Ciné Lumière augments its comfy seating and stylish ambience with its very own original Rodin sculpture in the lobby. So chic you half expect it to sell packs of Gitanes and roll necks along with the pick’n’mix (kidding, they’re far too stylish for pick’n’mix).
The latest addition to the Picturehouse family may have only opened this year, but it has quickly established itself among London’s best cinemas. Conceived as the independent chain’s flagship, it sits proudly on the site of an old Cineworld in Piccadilly Circus. Once something of a fleapit, the cinema has had a suitably stylish overhaul with a grand staircase replacing the former entrance – doing away with the infamous escalator ride in the process. The screens have been made larger too, and, like other Picturehouse cinemas, there’s plenty of legroom. As befits Piccadilly Circus’s recent high-end makeover, the cinema includes a member’s bar, gallery space and rooftop terrace.
Like its sister cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue, the striking Grade II-listed Curzon Mayfair attracts a dedicated crowd of film lovers who praise the program here above all others. The bar is well stocked and, thankfully, you can take your beverage in with you. Look out for the original features in the main screen, including two Royal Boxes, while those fond of modern comforts can rely on plenty of spacious seating and luxurious amenities to make even the most glacial-paced arthouse film slip by.
The Electric Cinema on Portobello Road is one of the oldest working cinemas in Britain, featuring in the first crop of purpose-built cinemas to land in London. Nowadays, the real selling point is the chic ambiance and fantastic roster of films, as well as the luxurious facilities. Not only does The Electric boast waiter service and deluxe seating, but there’s also a selection of beds for those who really want to settle in. There’s also a bar inside the auditorium, which serves a delicious range of hot and cold snacks.
Part of an independent network of boutique cinemas, The Screen on the Green in Islington is a one-screen movie house with a loyal fan base of locals. Originally opened in 1913, TSOTG is one of the oldest, continually running cinemas in London. At night, the glowing neon façade certainly captures the theatre of the early, purpose-build cinemas, but step inside and the ostensibly vintage auditorium will impress with its modern touches. Opt for the premium upgrade and treat yourself a luxurious sofa with leg rests.