To drive in Emeryville this holiday season is to be involved in a vast game of "Uh-Oh." As in, "Uh-oh, where did all those cars come from?" Followed by: "Uh-oh, there's no way out of here. I'm trapped."
That understood, once you arrive there are worse places to be trapped than the new AMC Bay Street 16. The new plex has all the fripperies 21st-century moviegoers demand: stadium seating in all its 3,300 seats, 46-inch-wide rows for lanky patrons, digital surround sound, extra-large screens, and cupholder armrests, which AMC claims as its "signature." When audiences streamed in at midnight last night to see the first showing of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, they were greeted by a lone movie-fan touch: On the marble terrazzo floor of the entryway are carved memorable lines from famous movies of the past. The concessions, however, are strictly from contempo dullsville -- Coca-Cola products, Orville Redenbacher popcorn, nachos, hot dogs. Not a buffalo wing or piece of Cajun popcorn shrimp in sight. No wine or beer, of course.
The AMC plex anchors the south end of the new Bay Street "mixed-use urban village." It's a pretty classy village. The upscale shops -- Coach, Godiva Chocolatier, Aerosoles, Ann Taylor Loft, and the ubiquitous Victoria's-Pottery-Republic troika -- line a sub-Disney "Bay Street" meant to replicate the boring old main drags of the communities the shoppers have driven miles from to get to the shopping complex. The fact that this sublime consumer experience sits alongside railroad tracks and atop a former Indian shellmound isn't mentioned much in Bay Street's literature, but you'll have plenty of time to muse on that in the traffic crawl. The parking garage charges $1 for four hours (with validation), and there are a few freebie (for now) parking spots "on the street" of the complex for early birds.
The Bay Street 16 is AMC's first thrust into the East Bay market, a fact certainly not lost on the competition. "We've aspired to be in the East Bay for a long time," said AMC senior vice president of corporate communications Rick King from his office in Kansas City, "and it was a matter of waiting for the right time." King sees only one rival plex within his five-mile trade area -- United Artists' shabby Emery Bay. As for potential gridlock in E'ville, King points to future "signal modifications" on surrounding streets, but his biggest selling point kicks in after the car ride: the convenience of parking once for a movie, dinner, and a drink for $1, a price King says is "a long-term proposition." Whether movie patrons agree remains to be seen.
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