A Look Inside Brisbane's Decadent New Elizabeth Picture Theatre

The CBD has its first new cinema in decades — complete with five screens, two bars, a candy nook, stained glass windows and leather couches.
Sarah Ward
Published on October 05, 2017

For the first time in two decades, a new cinema has opened in the Brisbane CBD. And yet, the Elizabeth Picture Theatre is steeped in the past. Turning the heritage-listed Tara House building into a movie-going destination, there's no missing the venue's gloriously old-world interior, ranging from timber aplenty to stained glass to vintage movie posters adorning the entry staircase. There's no missing its vantage opposite the hole-in-the-ground that was once the Regent, either.

It's actually a case of history repeating for owners Peter and Stephen Sourris, the brothers not only keeping the drive-in experience alive down at Yatala, but also responsible for the revamped, reopened New Farm Cinemas. When that beloved site welcomed its first customers back in 2014, it was the culmination of a massive refurbishment and rebuild, turning a two-screen venue into six, and restoring a place that had been dormant and decaying since 2003. The Elizabeth Picture Theatre hasn't ever projected flicks onto silver screens before, but readying it to step into that arena was also a considerable feat.

"You should've seen it!" exclaims Stephen on a tour of the venue a week before it's scheduled to open the doors, when the fixtures are shining but there's still a few last-minute finishing touches to be made. Thankfully, there are no signs of a building that was previously left to fester or a leaking roof, making the transformation to gleaming retro cinema all the more impressive.

Kicking off its new life on October 5 with sessions of Blade Runner 2049, Battle of the Sexes, It and more, the place that was previously the Irish Club now boasts five quiet and inviting theatres ranging from 22-seat to 150-seat capacity, including the showpiece space that is the Tara Room, plus three gold class-style cinemas called Royal Rooms. In the former, patrons will find ample remnants of its last guise as a ballroom, such as the ornate original ceiling and the aforementioned windows (which are covered by curtains when the film rolls). In the latter, expect a VIP experience with reclining seats, food and drinks delivered while you watch, and a separate, newly installed bar.

Two more cinemas might be added to the basement level in the future; however the Elizabeth Picture Theatre already has plenty to keep audiences interested. A ground-floor ticket booth and candy bar area sits in front of a towering staircase, while the first storey features lush carpets, a cabinet full of nostalgic curiosities — mementos and advertisements from the CBD's bustling, picture palace-filled heyday, in fact — plus the site's old bar serving up boozy and non-alcoholic drinks, popcorn, choc tops and the like. Function spaces for hire, complete with portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Paul Newman, glistening chandeliers and old leather couches, are also available. Head to the rear and back downstairs for the deluxe cinemas, as well as a bright, grassy outdoor entertainment area.

If it seems like the type of place you don't usually see these days, that's because it is; Stephen remarks that it reminds him of the old Regent, which stopped operating across the road in 2009. If it seems like a mammoth endeavour, that's because the Sourris' have "spent millions of dollars and the best part of two years refurbishing the building, which needed lots of attention." Understandably, they'll be hosting an official grand opening on November 8 to celebrate.

Indeed, the Elizabeth Picture Theatre marks the address' first significant change since 1919, when the Irish Club first moved in. Prior to that, it housed produce merchants and warehousing firms, with the building initially springing up in 1878.

As well as nodding to times gone by, the Sourris' efforts are part of a surprisingly cinephile-embracing Brisbane that just keeps attracting new movie theatres at the moment. While closing up shop was common in the past — at the Regent, the CBD's two other now-demolished spots around the corner, the dormant Tribal Theatre, and with the Schonell in St Lucia stoping its regular screenings earlier this year — setting up new ones is the current trend. The new Dendy will open in Coorparoo in November, Reading Cinemas are coming to Newmarket by the end of the year and a dine-in cinema is slated for Woolloongabba by 2022.

Find the Elizabeth Picture Theatre at 175 Elizabeth Street, Brisbane CBD. Head to their website for session times and tickets, and their Facebook page for further details.

Images: Anwyn Howarth.

Published on October 05, 2017 by Sarah Ward
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