You can grab a pinot at the bar then have goat cheese rolls and sriracha salmon delivered to your chair. Behind a hidden door lies a secret screen capable of showing films in 3D. “We want to elevate the cinema-going experience as much as we can,” says general manager Matthew Garelli. “It’s a cinema for adults.”
Out the back of Ponsonby Central, in an area that used to house a dusty car park and a discount denim store, is the home of the latest Silky Otter cinema, a nationwide chain that, against all odds, flourished during lockdown. Its latest site, on Auckland’s Richmond Road, is having a soft launch this week before opening fully this weekend.
The Spinoff first wrote about Silky Otter back in June because it seemed like an anomaly – a cinema chain flourishing at a time when, thanks to the pandemic, no one was going to the movies. With people stuck at home, movies migrated to streaming services and many predicted they might stay there.
But Silky Otter is bucking that trend. Since 2019, Silky Otter’s built multi-screen complexes in the Auckland suburb of Ōrākei, Christchurch’s Wigram and Nelson’s Richmond. Ponsonby is its fourth location, and there are plans to add three more, including Takanini and Queenstown, in 2023.
How have they done this? “A little bit of crazy” has helped, admits CEO Neil Lambert. He’s a cinematic diehard, one who wants to recreate the movie-going experience he had as a kid for his generation. That means giant cinemas seating 400-plus people per screen are out, and boutique experiences are in. Silky Otter theatres have no more than 47 seats, offer a boutique range of food and drinks, and in Ponsonby, two executive chefs are making food to order.
Ponsonby, admits Garelli, has been their most difficult build yet. “This is one of the most challenging we’ve done so far,” he says. “There’s a carpark upstairs [so] we had to squeeze in. It’s a bit of a nook.” It is the first cinema in Ponsonby since the closure of the Brittania Theatre in 1969, and a secret screen with 24 seats will be used for special occasions, including 3D screenings of James Cameron’s upcoming blockbuster, Avatar: The Way of Water.
Tickets for any screening at Silky Otter Ponsonby cost $30 and its opening weekend films include Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the Harvey Weinstein takedown film She Said, and David Farrier’s Mister Organ.
Read the full Silky Otter story here