With the onset of autumn, Sydney's warm and cosy cinemas beckon more than ever, particularly the city's independent and boutique ones. Once you get away from the multiplexes with overpriced tickets and sticky floors, Sydney has some amazing cinemas screening the best new release indie, arthouse and classic films in atmospheric theatres with excellent beer and fancy ice cream. Unfortunately, independent cinemas are, like live music venues, facing tough times of late, and the city has lost some of its loveliest to financial struggles and renovation. That's why it's more important than ever that we support the amazing independent venues that we have left.
Here we present our pick of Sydney's best boutique cinemas, from the velvet-upholstered art deco kind to the sleek and modern, and all are set to please any ardent cinephile or those just looking for an easy date option. Whatever you're keen on, Sydney's boutique and independent cinemas are some of the best around and well worth checking out.
The Chauvel has been operating in the old ballroom of Paddington Town Hall since 1977. With a fully sprung dance floor beneath its comfy seats, the Chauvel has by far the most tightly curated selection of current release and vintage films as well as old-timey ambience and the convenience of being in Paddington.
Around five years ago, its future looked mighty grim, and like it could go the way of Glebe's Valhalla or the nearby Academy Twin. But a campaign to save the Chauvel saw it rescued by Palace. Now fighting strong, the Chauvel is a destination in and of itself, with a cafe and bar on the second floor of the beautiful old building. The Chauvel is also home to the city's only dedicated film club, the Chauvel Cinematheque, a curated program of arthouse classics for seasoned cinephiles and their friends for a very reasonable price indeed.
The Orpheum is a heritage art deco cinema which has been around since your grandparents day, a claim very few cinemas left in Sydney can still make. Housing six theatres, a Wurlitzer pipe-organ played at selected sessions and a foyer pianist, the Orpheum is the kind of place where you could catch a Vera Lynn tribute or swing band sessions on a given night.
The selection of films is strictly along independent lines - arthouse and foreign films are the only ones you'll find on the program, but the glass light fittings, velvet curtains and seats, terrazo floors and fresh flowers make the decor alone worth the trip. While it was left to fall apart during the middle of the twentieth century, restorations got under way in 1986 to restore the Orpheum to its former glory; the kind of place that makes you feel as though you should be wearing furs with a cigarette holder dangling languidly between your fingers.
The Ritz is, alongside the Orpheum, the only original art deco cinema left in Sydney, and one of the few remaining independent cinemas. Built in 1937, the cinema is still family-owned and runs your typical selection of current-release arthouse films.
The Ritz also boasts the cheapest tickets around: $13 for an adult. With an extra five auditoriums added over the last fifteen years, the Randwick Ritz has cemented itself into the heart of Sydney film culture and regularly plays hosts to events like the Australian Film Festival and one-off nights like The Big Lebowski Bash and infamous Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings. A traditional candy bar, red velvet upholstery and bright lights gilding the cinema's exterior all make the Ritz one of the best experiences of old-timey nostalgia you can get in Sydney.
The Palace Verona is a stone's throw away from the Chauvel on Oxford Street, and is a sleek and modern cinematic alternative hidden amongst the leafy trees and bookshops of lower Paddington. With an excellent cafe and bar serving wine, beer, Lavazza coffee, popcorn cooked in olive oil and fancy ice creams, the Verona does its best to bring arthouse food to the arthouse films it screens.
Renovated a couple of years ago when its neighbour the Academy Twin was shut down, the Verona has expanded its screens and taken up the slack in the wake of the Academy's demise, kicking up its selection of quality and edgy films from around the world.
Possibly the best art house cinema in the inner-West, the Dendy lies at the heart of the King Street hub and is popular with the night-owl crowd. With an impeccable selection of current release art house cinema, the Dendy is also in easy browsing distance of Fish Records and Better Read Than Dead, as well as a merry walk away from good coffee, food and plentiful alcohol.
The Dendy also regularly hosts special events like the Hola Mexico Film Festival, Queerscreen and one-off film nights. Given its proximity to all things fun, the Dendy Newtown is a perfect way to start or finish a night out on the town.
Govinda's is a bit of an odd one, yet a true Sydney institution. Govinda's is actually a vegetarian restaurant in Darlinghurst, which is at once a boutique cinema and a quiet space dedicated to yoga, chanting and 'uplifting the consciousness'.
Open every day but Monday, a proper evening at Govinda's is a culinary as well as cinematic experience. The gourmet buffet was named best vegetarian restuarant in Sydney in 2011, and at $29.80 for dinner and a movie it's one of the most whimsical and cost-effective date options on offer. The movie room is upstairs, and patrons are invited to kick off their shoes and recline on floor cushions, couches or tub chairs. There are generally three films to choose from each night, all at different times, and generally cover the current release art house range pretty solidly.
Bondi OpenAir Cinema is seasonal, from late January to early March, and our pick as Sydney's best outdoor cinema. Even though it's a summertime-specific event, Bondi OpenAir is a cinema experience unequalled anywhere in Sydney.
Located on the Dolphin Lawns beside the Bondi Pavilion, the program is a fairly eclectic mix of retro classics, art house and Australian new releases. Patrons can chill out on a bean bag with a drink, gourmet treats from the likes of Sonoma and Ben & Jerry's, and check out some of the best acts emerging on Sydney's live music scene all before the film even starts.
Situated along the promenade from Circular Quay to the Opera House, the Dendy Opera Quays cinema is the best art house cinema in the city, and probably the most scenic. With an impeccable range of current release art house films alongside some middlebrow fare, the cinema is also home to classic film screenings, Met Opera and Ballet screenings and special events like the Sydney Film Festival.
With reasonably priced ticketing, a luxurious fit-out and boutique wine, beer and snacks available, the Opera Quays makes movie-going very pleasant indeed.
Mount Victoria is a bit tricky to get to at the best of times, but if you make the trip to the top of the Blue Mountains you'll find a whimsical high-altitude answer to art house cinema. Run by couple Ron and Diane Bayley, Mount Vic Flicks is advertised as 'cinema, the way it used to be'. All films are carefully selected - generally a mix of indie and classic stuff - with Ron managing the technical side of things while Diane ensures the candy bar is stocked with a variety of delicious handmade cakes and scones.
Housed in the former local community hall, Mount Vic Flicks has an intimate community vibe to it, with a foyer barely big enough for two people and tea and coffee served in mugs. While it's a little out of the way, Mount Vic is worth it if you want to re-experience the old world ritual of going to the pictures.
The Norton Street Palace is smack bang in the middle of the Leichhardt restaurant strip, conveniently close to the best pasta and gelato Sydney has to offer.
Not only does the Norton Street Palace screen an excellent range of new-release art house cinema, and house a fully licensed bar and cafe, but it also plays host to Sydney's French, Greek, German, Brazilian, Spanish and Italian film festivals, making it perhaps the most international of Sydney's cinemas.