Rich Howells

Iron Horse Movie Bistro in Scranton will reopen under new management this November

Iron Horse Movie Bistro in Scranton will reopen under new management this November
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Almost a year after the Iron Horse Movie Bistro suddenly closed its doors, news came over the weekend that the downtown Scranton movie theater will reopen under new management before the end of 2018.

Located across the street from the Marketplace at Steamtown, the theater will be taken over by a brand new company called Cosmic Cinemas founded by former executives and employees of Regal Entertainment Group, Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, and Cinebarre. It will still serve food and drinks, including alcoholic beverages, with a focus on adult audiences looking to enjoy a quiet and intimate movie-going experience in its plush reclining seats.

The takeover was confirmed by The Marketplace at Steamtown in a Facebook post on Sept. 30:

Who’s ready to start watching movies again in downtown Scranton?! YES!! It’s happening! Are you excited?! We sure are!!

It appears that Cosmic Cinemas will keep the Iron Horse name, at least for the time being, with a projected opening date of Friday, Nov. 9. According to the company’s website, this will be one of its first locations to open and its only theater in Pennsylvania; other locations are scheduled to open in New York in 2018 and North and South Carolina in 2019. Its vision for these theaters is also described on its website:

Cosmic Cinemas offers fresh, made-to-order appetizers, entrées, beer and wine and mixed drinks before and during the showing of first-run films. Other exciting special programming includes celebrity appearances, premiers, and themed festivals.

The Cosmic Cinema business model with its focus on adults stands apart from other movie theaters. Cosmic’s beverage menu caters to a more sophisticated palate, and a parent or guardian must accompany children under 17 years old. Additionally, no babies, talking, or cell phones are permitted in the theaters.

While must-have movie theater popcorn will not disappear, Cosmic features items like pizza made with fresh dough and sauce, fresh ground burgers, hand-cut fries and more. Along with fresh food, Cosmic guests can enjoy beer and wine and cocktails with their movie.

“We want to give the mature movie lover the experience of watching a movie the way it was meant to be. We want to provide the very best in an exceptional meal and movie experience without the distractions,” Cosmic Cinemas CEO Terrell Braly said of the theater concept.

“The snack bar of the past is gone. Instead we offer an extensive selection of wine, beer and cocktails. You can get bottled beer in both domestic and imports, as well as drafts focusing on local and regional microbrews.”

Braly was the CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas and the founder of its expansion arm, Alamo Drafthouse Franchise Systems, Inc. He went on to become the founder, CEO, and chairman of Cinebarre, LLC, a joint venture created with the Regal Entertainment Group in 2007. The Cosmic Cinemas website says that “under Terrell’s leadership, Cinebarre expanded to 70 screens in eight locations in five states, reaching gross sales of $35+ million with approximately 500 employees. Cinebarre theaters won numerous local and regional ‘Best Of’ awards and received extensive media coverage for redefining the meaning of ‘dinner and a movie,’ including on ABC ‘World News Tonight.'”

The original Iron Horse Movie Bistro lasted less than a year in Scranton, so hopefully Braly’s business acumen, along with the combined experience of his team, which largely consists of former Cinebarre employees, will lead to a more successful run.

Phoenix Theatres Entertainment opened the Iron Horse “luxury movie theater” in Scranton on April 28, 2017 after renovating the previous Marquee Cinemas that had closed in that location years before. Allowing moviegoers to choose their seats in advance, Iron Horse was packed during its opening weekend and received positive reviews but seemed to have trouble maintaining those crowds over time, offering new releases, $5 movies all day on Tuesdays, special screenings of classic films, a rewards club, and special events like the NEPA Horror Film Festival during its run. On Jan. 21, the theater announced its closure in a simple Facebook post thanking customers for their patronage, apologizing for any inconvenience, and offering full reimbursement to anyone with gift cards or Super Saver tickets.

After NEPA Scene posted a story on the closing, it’s clear that many locals commenting on the article on Facebook agree that Phoenix wasn’t appealing to Scranton moviegoers in the nine months it was in operation. Common complaints included high prices for mediocre food and alcoholic beverages, poor service, and a lack of advertising and outreach to the community, which were all echoed in comments on the Marketplace’s Facebook page. The feedback wasn’t all negative, however – many people said they enjoyed the small, newly renovated theaters, the comfortable reclining seats, and low ticket prices, hoping that it will all return sooner rather than later. With its new second floor marketplace nearing completion at the time, Marketplace at Steamtown owner John Basalyga immediately began seeking new management.

“We believe that new management of the theater will do a better job of appealing to the Scranton market than has been the case so far,” Basalyga said in the statement in January.

While the changing habits of consumers and the convenience of streaming media are hurting theater attendance nationwide, Iron Horse (301 Lackawanna Ave., Scranton) also faced stiff competition from the beginning with the Regal Dickson City Stadium 14 & IMAX in Dickson City less than six miles away and the long-established Cinemark 20 in Moosic just seven miles away. Cinemark and Regal also renovated their theaters to include reclining seats and added the ability to choose your own seats in response to the opening of Iron Horse.

Iron Horse validated parking in its adjacent garage, and those without transportation could easily walk or take a bus there, but the competing theaters have large parking lots and plenty of nearby stores, shopping centers, and restaurants to attract consumers and keep them busy, leaving Iron Horse without many advantages over them, with the exception that it was – and will continue to be – the only theater serving alcohol. The Marketplace, formerly the Mall at Steamtown, is working to catch up to competing stores with the recent opening of the Electric City Aquarium & Reptile Den and the lively Scranton Public Market for vendors and small business that has become part of Scranton’s monthly First Friday art walk.

Cosmic Cinemas may have a larger menu than Iron Horse previously offered, including popcorn, fries, chips and salsa, pizza with a variety of toppings, burgers, sandwiches, desserts, milkshakes and floats, fountain drinks, coffee and tea, and a kids menu. Prices for the food are currently listed online but not for the beer, wine, and mixed drinks. If the company meets it projected opening date, all will be revealed in just about a month.

Read NEPA Scene’s review of Iron Horse’s previous opening weekend here.