When moviegoers visit the concession stand at an ordinary movie theater, their choices are usually limited to popcorn, soda and candy. At the Sterling Cinema Draft House and Hollywood Cafe, the concession stand offers steak, pizza, pasta, salads, sandwiches, beer, burgers, cake and more.
Opened about two weeks ago, the Sterling Cinema Draft House and Hollywood Cafe is both a full-service restaurant and theater,
The building is located near the border of Loudoun and Fairfax counties, in the Sterling Town Center Plaza at the intersection of Dranesville Road and Route 7. Business partners Scott Magerer and Darl Rinehart completely renovated the building that housed Sterling's first movie theater to bring their idea to life.
"We're giving people something different," said Magerer. "There's nothing in this area like it. There're a lot of pubs, a lot of restaurants; there's nothing where you can go and have a whole evening. Here you can have a dinner, movie and dancing."
BRIAN BARDEN of Loudoun County likes the idea. "There never really was much to do in this area," he said. "We always had to go to the city to do anything. So it's cool that there's something here like this now where there never was in the past."
The theater itself is set up in a cabaret style, where customers sit around their own private tables in plush chairs, or if they are seated farther back, in couches. The staff waits on the patrons as they watch one of three full-sized movie screens.
Behind the seating area is a large bar and kitchen. Off to the side are the restrooms and a game room filled with classic arcade games, pinball and billiards.
Located one floor above the theater is the main lounge, where customers can comfortably wait for the next show to start, surrounded by couches, dozens of televisions and another bar. Tables in the theater are assigned, so there is no need to crowd around in line and rush forward in a herd when the staff begins seating for the next show.
Sterling Cinema bears no resemblance to the theater it was before. "People who have been around the area for a long time freak out when they walk in here because this place was so bad, you used to stick to the floors downstairs," Magerer explained.
The building was completed gutted and rebuilt almost from scratch. Walls were knocked down and staircases built. The walls were repainted and the floors newly carpeted. The restrooms were torn out, and a kitchen was built out of the warehouse next door.
"In hindsight, it was a painful process," Magerer said. "Fun, but painful."
Customers certainly appreciate the changes.
"I've seen this place go from a dollar theater to a six-dollar, front-run show to this pub now, and it’s a significant change," said longtime area resident William Steward. "It's actually probably the best I've ever seen it."
"I think it is a unique idea," said Gonzalo Saenz of Sterling. "It was very nice. I enjoyed it. It was very comfortable."
SINCE OPENING on July 26, business at the Hollywood Cafe has already begun to grow. Though not filled to its capacity of 280, quite a few tables were occupied for last Friday night's showing of "Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones."
Annie Mcdougal from Sterling enjoyed her visit. "It was real fun," she said. "It's a great concept and nice atmosphere. It's something good to do on a Friday night."
Customers pay $4.50 at the box office for the recent but not brand-new movies being shown. The next movie to be brought in will be "Spider-Man." After its initial phase, the owners hope to rotate between two and four different second-run movies at the same time.
Sterling Cinema's versatility may be its greatest asset. "The room is really going to be a chameleon," Magerer said. "We're going to use it during the daytime for corporate events. We are going to have it available for conferences, for meetings, and then we're also going to rent it out for holiday parties."
AS PRESIDENT of Entertainment Connection, Magerer can bring in events like game shows, money machines and even a rodeo bull for special promotions. Nights devoted to comedians, live bands and karaoke are already planned.
"There will always be something going on here," Magerer said. "We're trying to make it a fun, flexible room."
The first event on the horizon is ‘80s Ladies Night, which takes place every Wednesday starting Aug. 7. After the dinner and movie at 7 p.m., the dance floor will open up, and the movie screens will show music videos of hit songs from the 1980s.
Other promotions will abound during the theater's official grand opening celebration, which will take place Aug. 20-22.
"Every day when people come in they give us great ideas," Magerer said. "We're going to run Redskins games on Sunday afternoons. We weren't going to do that at first. We don't want to be a sports bar, but so many people were asking us to run the Redskins games."
"A lot of good things are going to happen here over the next couple of years," Magerer . "We're going to be here for a long time."