It is not unusual for upmarket hotels to host screening rooms. Operations such as the Soho and Charlotte Street hotels in London have cinemas, but those are used mostly for private events. The space at the Devlin, run by the same people as the recently refurbished Stella in nearby Rathmines, will also be open to the public.
Like that picture house, the new establishment, with its “midcentury-style armchairs and couches with cosy lamps”, beds its punters in an unusual degree of comfort. But it has a very different look. The armchairs and sofas are in that neat midcentury Danish style so beloved of high-end magazine commercials from the 1960s. It feels chic rather than luxurious.
Karl Geraghty of Press Up Entertainment Group, which operates the Devlin along with restaurants and venues such as Dollard & Co and the Workman’s Club, meets me to ponder connections between the Ranelagh Stella and its larger cousin a kilometre or so to the west. “What is it that ties the Stella cinemas together?” he says as we stroll beneath a faux marquee arch – modelled on the much larger front of the Rathmines version – that leads us into the neat downstairs foyer.
Both have the sort of swanky bar that requires you to know one brand of gin from another. You can order food before the film begins and – a controversial move for many cinema purists – have it delivered to your seat in the opening minutes of the programme. Stella at the Devlin will, however, have a different programming policy from that in Rathmines.
“Our biggest film was Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” he says of the larger venue. “We get very big female audiences there. A Star Is Born was huge there, and Bohemian Rhapsody is doing well there now.”
Geraghty goes on to explain that the Devlin will specialise in the sort of cultural cinema that plays at art-house venues. Today the cinema opens formally with a screening of Paul Dano’s Wildlife. Based on a novel by Richard Ford, starring Carey Mulligan as one half of a couple breaking up in early-1960s Montana, the picture offers a perfect introduction to the high-end fare punters can expect.
It’s an interesting experiment. The cinema must surely be the smallest single-screen venue in the country (feel free to correct us), but, as Geraghty acknowledges, his team would never have conceived of such a compact operation were it not part of the hotel complex. Visitors to the swanky, if cosy, establishment – which at time of writing really is offering rooms for as little as €119 – are expected to wander downstairs to catch the latest Michael Haneke or Paul Thomas Anderson, but Geraghty is adamant that the space is aimed at the wider Dublin audience.
It is, in that sense, gently moving in on the market currently shared by the Irish Film Institute, in Temple Bar, and the Light House, in Smithfield. Mind you, with just 42 seats, it’s unlikely to send either operation running panicked to its wall charts.
The Rathmines Stella’s success has confirmed that there remains a market for a comfortable, upmarket cinema experience. Netflix may not be putting Oscar contenders such as Roma the way of Irish cinemagoers, but those punters are still prepared to travel to decent venues in all classes of weather.
There are no obvious signs that you’re passing a cinema. But you only need the players from two soccer matches to fill the venue. So that may not matter very much
They are also prepared to pay a bit over the odds. Tickets for both Stella cinemas come in at a wallet-tightening €19, and that’s before you fork out for “fish tacos” or a “barbecue pulled pork belly sandwich”. (Yeah, apparently that’s still happening.)
The Rathmines operation has been so successful that the Press Up team are planning a similar operation in Bray. After yawning delays, the gorgeous Pálás cinema, in Galway – run by Element Pictures, which also operates the Light House – has opened to much acclaim. The sort of supercomfy, well-oiled experience provided by Stella was pioneered by swish London venues such as the Electric Cinema in Notting Hill.
Stella at the Devlin will not much register with passersby. There are no obvious signs that you’re passing a cinema when you encounter the hotel’s boxy frontage at the southern end of Ranelagh village. Then again, you only need the players from two soccer matches to fill the venue. So that may not matter all that much. The cinema will also be available for private functions.
At any rate, they have picked a smart time to open their doors. Awards season is in full flow, and the Oscar hopefuls will soon be burrowing their way to Dublin 6.