The latest addition to the Picturehouse family officially opens its doors to the public next week, and it promises to be the pick of the litter. Nestled in the heart of London’s West End, Picturehouse Central will change the landscape of London’s cinema scene. With work very nearly complete, we thought it was about time we gave you a flavour of what to expect with a blog-form tour of the seven-screen cinema billed by TimeOut as “an antidote to West End multiplexes”.
A stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Circus, the entrance is located on Great Windmill Street on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue. The colonnade that links Coventry Street (the busy promenade that connects Leicester Square and Piccadilly) and the bright lights of London’s famous theatre district is being regenerated as part of the restoration. The walkway – which in recent years has become more and more decrepit – will be transformed into a corridor to one of London’s finest cinema attractions. The walls and floors are being retiled and new lighting fixtures installed, with an old-fashioned marquee presiding over the glazed entrance. Great Windmill Street will no longer be a greyish side street but a clean avenue sometimes adorned by a red carpet for the great and the good of the film world to grace.
Once inside, you will be greeted by a grand staircase and illustrations from renowned artist Patrick Vale decorating the wall to the right. Vale’s unique, quirky artwork will document the history of cinema from camera obscura to Jurassic Park. The ground floor café bar will not simply cater for cinemagoers but be a bustling place to pop in for a coffee, glass of wine or artisan pastry when you’re out around town. A cosy spot to settle will be under the staircase where booths are being fitted so you can while away the day – be sure to close your ears to avoid spoilers with the hum of film talk going on around you.
Before making your way to the second floor, you’ll notice an old-school style readograph with the day’s films listed for easy viewing. A Matter of Life And Death may spring to mind as you climb the timber-clad grand staircase with its beautiful dark walnut finish. Once upstairs, a plethora of assorted sugary delights will tempt the sweet-toothed with a boutique range of pick-and-mix and other treats. The kiosks, to the right, will be housed within steel-framed openings protruding from the building.
The restaurant and bar, overlooking the neon lights of Shaftesbury Avenue’s theatres, will have a huge selection of cocktails and spirits with our resident mixologist making delectable, boozy concoctions. Sixes And Sevens will run daily, where you can claim £7 cocktails from 6.00 with a ticket to a screening starting between 7.00 and 8.00 – it’s the perfect way to wind down in the early evening. Choose a delicious dish from the menu – proper nachos or a stonebaked pizza perhaps – and watch our head chef busying away in the semi-open kitchen. The decor will have a warm and homely feel with assorted boutique furniture complementing the timber floor and exposed ceiling. The restaurant will be a prime London eatery to have on your radar.
Past the kiosks, en route to the escalators, you will walk past a large window at the manager’s office where you may see our general manager Daniel André. Even the escalators are something to behold. Sublime friezes that will take you back in time decorate the walls and ceiling as you move up to the second floor. The original artefacts from the building date back to 1896 when the Grade II-listed building was a Victorian ballroom.
The second floor is home to two screens and the main entrance to the Members’ bar. Screen 1 will be Picturehouse’s jewel in the crown and will play host to film premieres and big-name Q&As. With 70mm film and digital 4K DCP video projection capabilities plus a Dolby Atmos sound system (you won’t just hear glass break but hear each shard fly past you), watching a film in this screen will be an unrivalled experience. All of the auditoria have been completely gutted with the old systems ripped out to be replaced with state-of-the-art screens, luxurious seats and bespoke wall paneling. Screen 2’s wall-to-wall floating screen is the biggest possible size for the room which will make for immersive viewing.
Picturehouse Members have something special in store for them. The glass door at the entrance to the Members’ bar will give you an alluring glimpse of the setting with its incredible views. The Members’ bar, due to open later this summer, will have a concierge cloak rack to greet Members on entry. To the right, giant uncovered steelwork gives you an impression of the startling framework of the architecture. Get in early to save a space in the turret-shaped nook that hangs over Piccadilly Circus and watch the bustle of one of Europe’s busiest streets below you. A specially commissioned Members’ Wall will feature, with the names of the first 2000 Members to join etched into the fabric of the building, leaving their mark in cinema history. There’s still time to add your name to the list. The fully stocked bar will also serve a mezzanine level and roof terrace (the Members’ area spans over three floors). The roof terrace, which is being built from scratch, will look down upon Haymarket with Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament breaking the horizon. It promises to be one of the premier social spots in the West End.
Continuing up the escalators is a gallery space and four screens which will boast a rich and diverse range of titles, from quality blockbusters to independent, classic, foreign-language and art-house films. Clare Binns, director of programming at Picturehouse, will oversee the selection of films. There will a core programming strand dedicated to championing documentaries, as well as live broadcasts of productions from the world’s best arts venues. Picturehouse Cinemas’ regular strands, including Discover Tuesdays and Vintage Sundays, will come to Central with discounted concessionary tickets available (£8 for a standard ticket, £6 for Picturehouse Members and a fiver for Central Members). Also expect film festivals galore with London Film Festival and Sundance London already confirmed.
The building, which has been in great need of attention for so long, is being radically transformed into the venue that the iconic location deserves, and there has been real joy at discovering the beauty of the architecture which has been hidden for many years. Walking around the cinema we hope you will appreciate the immensity of the project and the integrity of the restoration. Here’s to the opening of Picturehouse Central, the beating heart of cinema in London. We can’t wait for you to see it for yourself.
Picturehouse Central officially opens its doors to the public on Friday 19 June.
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