Fashion Statement

Bow Tie Cinemas Revises Elegant Family Tradition

"Bow Tie Cinemas returns style and elegance to the moviegoing experience," declares co-owner Charles B. Moss, Jr. "There is a group of people who are, frankly, displeased with the current moviegoing experience as it is presented in a mall-like environment. We are convinced there is a resurgence of people returning to live in the downtown as opposed to the suburban areas. And, in general, they are people who are educated, more affluent, older, who are looking for pleasurable experience..."

At the company's Criterion Cinemas and Movieland theatres, there is no onscreen advertising, for instance, but "real butter on your popcorn," he offers as an example. You will find "auditoria that look more like you are in a performance space rather than a movie theatre," and encounter a "highly trained, polite and respectful staff that knows what the films are about that are playing."

If the family name sounds familiar, it is because Charley, as Mr. Moss prefers to be called, is the grandson of legendary impresario B.S. Moss, an Austrian immigrant who started the century-old real-estate and entertainment company with storefront nickelodeons and a New York-based vaudeville circuit. His father was Charles B. Moss, Sr., a radio and television producer and exhibitor, as well-known as he was well-respected. When Bow Tie Partners was founded in 1998, "the goal of continuing a long tradition of successful entrepreneurial ventures in the real-estate and entertainment industries" was accomplished as Charley's son Ben began the fourth generation.

"People like to see good-quality films in a good-quality environment," Ben declares. The history of the company and "all that we've learned in years of experience is entirely integral to our cinema brands and makes them what they are. The philosophy of our organization is to bring back to the public the type, style and quality of presentation that existed at an earlier point in time."

The Criterion and Movieland names have a long-established history. B.S. Moss Enterprises originally introduced the latter in 1977 in Yonkers, New York, while the Criterion was located in the family's flagship property in Times Square. Manhattan's Broadway and 7th Avenue also gave the building and company their names, as the intersection looks like a bow tie when viewed from above. Not to mention the fact that Ben's grandfather always wore bow ties.

Given this loving connection, it comes as no surprise that "Bow Tie Partners specializes in the redevelopment of historic and architecturally significant properties by adding value through a combination of physical redevelopment, creative change of use, financial restructuring and market repositioning." Further to its mission statement, Bow Tie Partners also "owns and operates properties for its own account." Although not all of them include movie theatres, Charley and Ben revived the family tradition with the 1993 opening of the first new Movieland. Located in Basalt, Colorado, about 25 minutes from both Aspen and Glenwood Springs, the seven Roaring Fork Movieland Cinemas' 1,500 seats feature "first-run commercial, art and family-oriented films" and attract "a loyal and predominately local repeat audience."

Given the "same philosophy of excellence in operations," Charley draws a distinction: "The Movieland plays slightly more commercial product," while Criterion has artistic aspirations. Since Criterion Cinemas at Temple Square in downtown New Haven, Connecticut, opened in November 2004, they have indeed become a celebrated venue for the best in first-run art-house, foreign, independent and upscale Hollywood films. Rather than taking our word for it, here are the ever more important opinions from actual moviegoers who posted their reviews on
"I went to two films at this spiffy, brand-new cinema yesterday and I must say it is a very comfortable and pleasant place to visit, and New Haven is lucky to have it... Sound, projection, seat comfort are all terrific, and there was no obnoxious slideshow before the movie!" (Gerald A. DeLuca, November 2004)

"I just want to express the wonderful service I received at this theatre. When was the last time the staff actually open the door when you enter the cinema? I hope all the other cinemas will follow suit." (Fred, February 2005)

"Very very nice place. I went with a friend last night. It certainly lived up to my expectations and-yes!-there was real butter on the popcorn. Parking was very convenient, across the street in a well-lighted garage. Seats were very comfortable, and the size of the auditorium was just right. A winner!" "Just can't say enough about this terrific place. What a gem. I joined the membership club and go there quite regularly. Saw Hitchcock's The Birds. The place was packed! This place is G R E A T !! (Zardoz, February and October 2005)

"Tried the new theatre-all I can say is Wow!! It is comfortable, stylish, and has a great staff. The real butter on the popcorn is quite a treat. They also had a great variety of specialty items at the concession stand, a selection of wines and a tasty snack called s'nuts, well worth trying when you go." (Robbie Torres, May 2005)

Devised by Bow Tie Cinemas' general manager Joe Masher-"He's really a master at this," says Charley-specialty programming includes "Movies and Mimosas" on Sunday mornings (for more details, please refer to our "Concession Promotions" report in this issue) and "Insomnia Theater" on Friday and Saturday nights at 11:30 p.m., featuring cult Brain Candy and Spaceballs along with a more classy Raging Bull and classic Raiders of the Lost Ark. The five auditoria-two to the left, past the lounge area with tables and chairs, and three to the right of the spacious lobby-offer some 860 high wood-backed NaugaSoft seats with pleather piping from Seating Concepts and equally plush bow-tie woven Mohawk carpeting, Dolby Digital sound coming from QSC amplifiers and JBL speakers, with pristine pictures projected by Christie, all installed by Long Island, NY-based All Cinema Sales.

The spacious lobby is "a nice amenity to have in general," says Ben, "but it also serves as a gathering place for people who are at the theatre and for special events. It's very valuable on a multi-functional level." For example, Criterion Cinemas hosts a group of enthusiasts who watch a film together and have a discussion afterwards. "One of the greatest items of interest in the lobby is the mural that we created," he continues. "Chronicling and highlighting some of the family history, of the circuit and the industry in general, as well as the history of New Haven, people find it fascinating. They are always asking questions and have their picture taken in front of it."

Located in the former headquarters of The United Illuminating Company-what a bright idea and enlightened choice!-the redeveloped mixed-use project also includes 44 luxury rental residences and spaces for two restaurants. The building opened in 1938, two years after Benjamin S. Moss celebrated the original Criterion Theatre in Times Square, then known as "The Theatre of Tomorrow" and, after a dozen years under the management of United Artists Theatre Circuit winded down in 2000, now known as the world flagship store of Toys "R" Us with additional showcase locations for the Swatch Watch Company and Foot Locker. Entering on 45th Street, the new Bond 45 Restaurant, named after the clothing store housed in the building, is located in the Criterion's former orchestra section, Joe Masher tells FJI. Though retro-beautiful in its design, none of the original theatre accoutrements remain, as the former stage area is now a Starbucks.

Tazo iced teas, Lavazza coffee and Stewart's old-fashioned bottled sodas are on the menu of the Criterion café in New Haven, along with Coca-Cola beverages and "an enticing selection of beers and wines," as Bow Tie Partners set out to satisfy the audience's thirst for more entertainment. Within seven months of the New Haven opening, Bow Tie Cinemas announced two more upscale venues to be completed by the end of this year. In downtown Schenectady, New York, Bow Tie will build anew and operate a deluxe stadium six-plex, just down the street from the legendary 1926 Proctor's Theatre. With an anticipated fall opening under the Movieland name, the project has replaced a previously planned and probably much too big 14-plex.

The second confirmed Criterion site is in the center of West Hartford, Connecticut, where Bow Tie Partners is one of "several flagship tenants" and will offer another "luxurious" six-screen cinema complex art house as part of Blue Back Square, which according to the development's website will include luxury condominiums, Fleming's Steakhouse, Whole Foods market and other retail and office space. "It is a great addition to a very vibrant town center," enthuses Ben, "that incorporates a lot of the historic substance. If properly preserved and presented, historically and architecturally interesting buildings can really create added value to new projects in ways that cannot be duplicated with new construction. It is something the experience and people really appreciate that in many diverse communities."

Furthermore, Charley notes, "We have several promising propositions under consideration. We're interested in expanding into revitalized downtown areas in midsize cities, particularly in the South. If you combine the resurgence of an urban lifestyle with the desire of the public to have a pleasant experience that shows them respect," he concludes, "we have the kind of product that accomplishes all that."