Spotlight Movie Theater / Bistro: First Business To Open For Front Street Project
Restaurant-Cinema Complex First Business In Front Street Development
By SUSAN DUNNE
November 16, 2012
Hartford's newest movie theater, the four-screen Spotlight, and the Front Street Bistro inside its lobby opened on Friday, the first businesses to open in the otherwise vacant development on Front Street in Hartford. The bar in the bistro was hopping all early evening, the dining room and theater less so.
But manager Steve Menschell wasn't worried. "It's about what we expected. It's the first night," he said. "Things will pick up."
Customers for the most part seemed pleased with the accommodations in the 19,000-square-foot complex.
"It's wonderful. I love it," said Suzanne Santangelo of Wethersfield, who carried her leftovers in a cardboard box. Her companion, Frank Newman of Colchester, added, "we're excited to see Front Street coming alive."
"It's a nice place. I hope it sticks around," said Grant Campbell of New Britain, who ate a turkey burger in the bistro and then went to see "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."
There is one "perk" of being a Spotlight customer that many took advantage of: bringing alcoholic beverages into the movie. Drinks from the bar and restaurant are allowed, as are bottles of Long Trail Ale, Michelob Ultra and Barefoot cabernet and chardonnay sold at the snack bar.
The crowd was largely late 20s or older, with a few teens scattered in. Many were dressed casually, but many others wore work clothes. The most frequently seen accessory was a laptop bag.
A group from nearby Travelers insurance spent happy hour at the bar and said they'd be back to go to the movies. "People are excited about it," said Salvatore Morello of Cromwell. "Working here and seeing it empty all the time was disheartening."
His friend, Ryan Jaswell, agreed. "This will be nice place to go after work, a nice little date night."
A few customers had complaints. "I don't know if the restaurant is good. I had to send my food back. It took too long," said a man rushing in to see "Argo" one minute before showtime. He waved off the inconvenience. "That's OK. It's their first night."
Marcia Banach and Pam Downs didn't see a movie, but came from Tolland for a cocktail to be supportive of the new business. "We'll definitely be back," Banach said.
Menschell said the first customer was there when the cinema opened at noon. "It was a guy whose hobby is to be the first customer at restaurants and other places on the day they open," he said, laughing.
Michael Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, said that the location, across the street from the Connecticut Convention Center, will be especially appealing to conventioneers looking for something to do. That appeal will be enhanced next year, when the Infinity Music Hall and Bistro will open across the street from the cinema.
The Front Street complex is the first New England venture for the Atlanta-based Spotlight Theaters chain.
Menschell, a graduate of Manchester High, has cinema management in his blood. His family once owned or co-owned the Star and Parsons theaters in Hartford, as well as cinemas in Berlin, Plainfield and Vernon and drive-ins in Manchester and Newington. He is former president of the Connecticut Association of Theater Owners, as was his late father, Bernard Menschell, before him.
The Hartford Flick Fest will be held at the Spotlight on Dec. 6, 7, 8 and 9, and the Hartford Jewish Film Festival will open there on April 4. The theater also wants to hold screenings to lure varied audiences.
"We want to show French movies and tie it into the restaurant by serving French food," he said. "We want to have college-themed movies, midnight movies," in addition to possible champagne matinees like the "Movies and Mimosas" series at Criterion Cinemas in New Haven.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at