One casualty of the pandemic has been the quaint tradition of an urban dinner-and-a-movie date night. Why? It’s nearly impossible to find surviving venues.
Look around downtown San Diego. The UA Horton Plaza 8 is long gone (so is Horton Plaza for that matter). The fancy-schmancy Theater Box in the Gaslamp Quarter closed earlier this year.
One of the last big screens standing in 92101 is Rooftop Cinema Club Embarcadero at the Grand Hyatt San Diego.
Yes, you can see indies, foreign films and cult classics at Digital Gym Cinema (inside the new UC San Diego Park & Market educational complex in East Village).
Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas is a short drive from downtown and regularly screens buzz-worthy independent films. And Cinema Under The Stars in downtown-adjacent Mission Hills is now weatherproofed.
But Rooftop Cinema Club’s fifth anniversary in downtown San Diego has quietly crept up on us. With fingers crossed for higher temperatures, it reopens to the public on March 16 with a viewing of the most iconic locally set movie, the original Top Gun. Tickets are on sale now.
Rooftop Cinema Club is a chain of 11 rooftop movie venues in the United Kingdom and the United States. Entrepreneur Gerry Cottle’s business story is antithetical to a familiar old trope. Cottle ran away from the circus that his parents own to found his entertainment empire.
Cottle started the brand in 2011. He entered the U.S. market in 2015 and opened in San Diego in 2018. The former clown/juggler survived the pandemic in part with a pivot to drive-in movies. Now the rooftop gig is back in full-swing.
“I have a passion for entertainment,” Cottle says. “And I think what we do with rooftop movies is excellent, different and comfortable. We’re changing the way people are experiencing open-air cinema.”
His 24-foot-wide movie screen is set up on the fourth floor Sport Terrace of the Hyatt hotel’s Harbor Tower. Viewing capacity is 200 people. The seating is new this year. Patrons can purchase tickets for single or double (loveseat) Adirondack chairs.
Screenings before 4:30 p.m. are all ages. Later shows are strictly 18-and-older. Concessions are available for all shows. The 18+ plus shows have service from a full bar.
Cottle says his key demographic is aged 25-34.
“That’s about 60 percent of our customers,” he says. “We get a lot of date nights, and a lot of bigger groups that come together.”
Viewers listen to the movies via wireless headphones. Note: It can get chilly after the sun goes down and guests are encouraged to BTOB (Bring Their Own Blankets).
Rooftop Cinema Club doesn’t show first-run movies. Cottle says great thought therefore goes into selecting the lineup. It’s definitely creative. UIpcoming highlights include: the 2022 sequel Top Gun: Maverick, The Fablemans, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, The Hunger Games, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, E.T., Nope and more.
Themed screenings and special events are planned for 2023. Those include:
- Hollywood on Hollywood. The Oscars are March 12. The month will include showings of La La Land and Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood.
- Women’s History Month. March offerings will also honor cinema’s pioneering women both in front of and behind the camera, with Domee Shi’s Turning Red (March 18), Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Love & Basketball (March 21), Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia! (March 24), Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde (March 26) and Alicia Silverstone in Clueless (March 29).
- “Wooftop” Cinema Club. For these dog-friendly screenings, guests are invited to bring their furry friends. Expect a special relief area and respect the leash rule for: Puss In Boots: The Last Wish (March 19 and April 30), Pretty Woman (April 1) and Encanto (April 15).
- 4/20 Day. It’s California and it’s 4/20, so inhale a double-hit of classic stoner comedies in Dazed and Confused and This Is The End.
- Record Store Day. On April 22, watch the needle lay down on vinyl-loving nostalgia movies High Fidelity, Almost Famous and 500 Days of Summer. SD Sun