New Tampa cineplex's request to serve adult beverages goes to a vote Thursday

NEW TAMPA — Pale ale with your popcorn? Chardonnay with your cheese pizza?

That could be possible if the Tampa City Council allows beer and wine sales at New Tampa's Starlight 20 movie theater, which hopes to join a long list of Tampa Bay movie houses embracing the blockbusters-and-beer trend.

But council members aren't sold on the idea. Some are uncomfortable with introducing alcoholic beverages to a theater complex that's a hangout for teenagers.

Lisa Montelione, whose district includes New Tampa, said she understands Muvico's attempts to broaden its customer base by adding beer and wine sales. But she doesn't like that adults would be allowed to purchase alcohol for any show and drink it while sitting next to children and teens.

"It's how we separate the adults from the underage drinkers, and that's my issue," she said.

Muvico's application for permission to sell beer and wine only narrowly passed its first procedural vote with the council last week when Mary Mulhern, Mike Suarez, Yvonne Yolie Capin and Harry Cohen voted for it, while Montelione, Charlie Miranda and Frank Reddick did not.

A final vote is set for Thursday.

Starlight 20's main competitor is the Grove 16 in Wesley Chapel, which offers beer, wine and liquor at its CineBistro. But the setup differs from what Muvico is proposing. At CineBistro, liquor is sold inside an upscale restaurant and lounge area that admits only guests who are 21 and older. The lounge — set apart from the regular theater area downstairs — markets itself as a fine-dining approach to moviegoing.

"Our guests are welcome to come upstairs from downstairs and enjoy a cocktail at CineBistro, but they can't take their drinks with them downstairs," said Fred Meyers, who works for Cobb Theatres overseeing its chain of CineBistros.

At the company's other local theater, CineBistro at Hyde Park Village, adults can enjoy alcohol throughout the building, but people younger than 21 aren't allowed inside.

In its petition to the City Council, Muvico argues that its plan for Starlight 20 is similar to the setup at sister theater Centro Ybor 20. There, patrons can buy beer, wine and liquor and take their drinks into any theater on the premises.

In a letter to council members, Muvico stated that it has never been charged with any alcohol violations, including serving to minors, in the three years since Centro Ybor began serving adult beverages.

Calls to a Muvico spokesman for comment were not returned.

Several other Tampa Bay movie houses also offer beer, wine or liquor. The Imax Dome Theatre at the Museum of Science and Industry opened Bar 1570 two years ago. Adults can order beer, wine and liquor during all show times.

Zarth Bertsch, director of theaters for MOSI, said there have been no alcohol violations and the program has been successful in attracting patrons. Like Centro Ybor 20, adults who purchase drinks at MOSI can take them into the theater and consume them anywhere they choose.

To cut down on the possibility of adults sharing liquor with underage drinkers, MOSI has some safeguards in place.

"If somebody orders two drinks at the same time, we request seeing two IDs," Bertsch said. "That covers that we know we are serving two drinks to two people that are over 21."

Told about council members' concerns, Bertsch said movie theaters are not the only place where alcohol is available to adults in the presence of minors. Some clubs that serve alcohol allow patrons as young as 18 inside, where, he said, concerns about underage drinking are more valid than at the movies.

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

New Tampa cineplex's request to serve adult beverages goes to a vote Thursday 05/26/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 26, 2011 5:30am]

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