Cinema Theater reopens Friday with full bar, fancy eats, and no cats 

click to enlarge The Cinema Theater marquee has been foreshadowing a reopening of the landmark movie house for weeks, despite headlines in February 2021 that it would be closed for good.


The Cinema Theater marquee has been foreshadowing a reopening of the landmark movie house for weeks, despite headlines in February 2021 that it would be closed for good.

A renovated Cinema Theater is scheduled to reopen Friday with a first-in-Rochester food and drink service during its screenings.

Regulars of the old Cinema will hardly recognize the new interior. Patrons are greeted at the entry with a full bar stocked with beer, wine, cocktails, and mocktails, alongside more traditional theater candy and treats. Walking toward the theater, they will find a concession that serves more upscale versions of staple theater snacks.

The theater layout is unlike any other in the Rochester area. Seating is made up of black leather rolling office chairs placed in front of long, shared bar table tops. Every two feet or so is a small lamp, allowing movie-goers to gently illuminate their food and drink in the dark. Overhead are sprawling squares fitted with pinpoints of white light, mimicking a night sky.

“It’s been a process,” said Cinema co-operator Kristina Dinino-Jeffords, who took over theater operations alongside her husband, Damon Jeffords, last year. “It’s been a full year of just trying to get this all together.

The Cinema Theater, located at the intersection of South Clinton Avenue and South Goodman Street, has been a big pink Rochester staple for generations. It opened in 1914 as The Clinton, and featured a dirt floor and bench seating. In 1949, it was rebranded as The Cinema, and introduced its distinctive art-deco interior. At some point, its exterior was painted hot pink.

The theater was beloved for its bargain ticket prices for second-run films and house cats prowling the aisles. The cats belonged to the former operators of the theater.

With the renovations comes a rebranding. The Cinema will be showing mostly first-run blockbusters at $11.50 per ticket. The first film, set for this Friday, will be “Top Gun: Maverick.” Due to the food and drink service, the cats are no more.

Dinino-Jeffords, who also owns the Mad Hatter Restaurant and Bakery with her husband, said the Cinema also plans to host special events, but will likely not screen independent or small-budget films, noting the Little Theatre has already staked out that market in Rochester. CITY is a member of the WXXI Public Media family, which also owns The Little.

She hopes a draw of the revamped Cinema will be its novel — at least locally — bar-restaurant-theater structure. At an invitation-only soft opening on Tuesday, the Cinema served a variety of three cocktails, a mocktail, two kinds of flatbread, elevated hot dogs wrapped in pastry with queso, pulled pork sandwiches, and a mix of sweet and savory popcorns.

Vegan options will also be offered through a partnership with Monroe Avenue’s Grass Fed vegan butcher, Dinino-Jeffords said.

A favorite of the audience was the Junior Mint Grasshopper, a milky white concoction infused with chocolate bitters and creme de menthe.

All these features add up to a very different Cinema from years past. Jim Lewis has worked at the Cinema since 1987, doing what he described as just about everything, from projection to concessions. He most recently offered his assistance getting the theater up and running prior to the Tuesday screening.

He sees the changes in the Cinema as breathing new life into the century-old institution.

“I’m excited, I think they really transformed it, reinvented it,” Lewis said. “As much affection as I had for the previous business, this needed to happen.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or
[email protected].
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