Poor University Mall. The most heartbreaking thing in the world is watching shop after shop shut down, move out, and abandon their once profitable storefronts. Having grown up in Tampa Bay, I’ve watched as the University Mall went from the dirty place I played endless hours of Dance Dance Revolution at, to the dirty place that doesn’t even have a Starbucks. It has truly fallen on dark times. Is the mall doomed to befall the same fate as the Tampa Bay Center? Probably.
…but what if I were to tell you there’s still hope? A shining light at the end of the never-ending corridor of shuttered stores. Hope, in the form of an in-theater dining experience and bar!
That hope calls itself Studio Movie Grill, an established chain that stretches across 8 states and 18 theaters – the 18th of which now occupying the coveted 16 screen movie theater space in the University Mall. The formerly vacant theaters have been given a top to bottom makeover, complete with a sexy full-liquor bar and sexy full-leather seats. The result is an atmosphere that feels entirely out of place adjacent to the mall’s empty food court, a bit too jarring a difference to likely attract foot traffic.
However, the movie theater itself has much more to offer than its upscale lounge exterior lets on; boasting ticket prices under $10, Studio Movie Grill is charging less than most regular movie theaters per seat. Better yet, their menu prices are similarly reasonable, with one appetizer, two entree specials coming to a lean $25. Compare that to the $500 Popcorn & Grits Bucket Special at Cinebistro, and the difference is clear: in-theater dining places like Cinebistro charge a premium for their tickets and food because they can, whereas Studio Movie Grill is run by people who aren’t assholes. On top of that, Studio Movie Grill features special screening series with themed films, films for young children, screenings for charity, and special needs screenings all at discounted prices.
The in-theater dining experience at Studio Movie Grill is quite nice, with an excellent staff responding to your every beck and call with the push of a button (installed at every seat), making you feel like some sort of pharaoh or god. The food itself is good, though nothing exceptional. The menu is, at times, a bit more ambitious than their execution, as with the fairly inspired Steak & Balsamic flatbread pizza that had great toppings but a lackluster crust, or the much touted Coconut Chicken Tenders that were pretty underwhelming. But their drink menu is impressive, and their cocktails are exceptional, with favorites including the Spiked Cherry Limeade that tasted like candy, and the Texas Doctor, which was essentially a cherry Dr. Pepper that gets you drunk. Comfortable seats with plenty of space, and in-flight entertainment provided by these fellows:
*Your experience at Studio Movie Grill may or may not feature the above music video(s) before the movie.
I cannot say whether this will be the miracle that saves University Mall – my heart hopes so, but my mind says “ehhh probably too late for that”. The price is definitely right, and the experience is solid, but I don’t know that it is enough of a draw to bring new people to the dying mall.