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  1. Bars & Breweries

Drink, dine and recline at Tampa's Villagio Cinemas

One of the area's most fun annual events, without question, is the Gasparilla International Film Festival. Over the past eight years, it's grown quite popular, with excellent, exciting film entries from all over the world, discussion panels and appearances by filmmakers and cast members.

It's no coincidence that this is also the time of year when my movie-bug symptoms flare up most severely. All I can think about is movies — writing, directing, watching, dreaming of someday writing the next great screenplay.

The festival is over, but I'm still out there trying to satiate my freshly renewed thirst for cinema, which last week took me to a new theater in Carrollwood called Villagio Cinemas.

Villagio plays with a concept that Cobb CineBistro has all but perfected: an upscale movie experience, where moviegoers can enjoy a restaurant-quality meal, a full bar selection and in-theater comfort levels far surpassing those of the average multiplex.

The primary difference between ­CineBistro and Villagio is affordability and polish. Where CineBistro's Tampa location exudes Hyde Park swank and an opulent quality that extends from the lobby to the bathrooms to the theaters themselves — with prices to match — Villagio is a little rougher around the edges, and everything's a couple bucks cheaper.

Villagio is a six-screen mom-and-pop theater located in the back of a shopping center on the north end of Dale Mabry. It includes an in-house Italian restaurant, a full-service bar and extra-comfortable theaters complete with fully reclining seats.

The front lobby is a decent restaurant and bar in its own right — a roomy, classy lounge perfectly suitable for an afternoon lunch and cocktail, even without the movie. But to fully take in the Villagio experience, you should show up 30 minutes early, place your order, and enjoy it with the lights down and a movie on the big screen.

When you purchase your ticket, you also pick seats. Order food and drinks at the bar, and they'll deliver it before the movie. There's another really cool, useful feature: you can schedule mid-movie cocktail delivery in advance, saving you the trouble of getting up for a refill.

The six theaters are named after Italian cities — Milano, Firenze, Venezia and so on — and each features massive, fully reclining chairs that are operated by the touch of a button. A swivel tray extends in front of the seat, with plenty of room for food or a wine-chilling bucket. In the seat's fully reclined position, you're liable to fall asleep. It's that comfortable. The theaters themselves are very nice and are absolutely on par with other theaters specializing in this concept.

As far as the drinks go, there's nothing too far out of the ordinary, but the variety is good. There are a handful of craft beers available, more than 30 wines and a full liquor selection, including house cocktails with cinema-inspired names. I ordered an "Afternoon Matinee" — a Prosecco-based peach Bellini made with mint — but was told that the fresh mint was out of stock because of a lack of demand (mint spoils quickly). I hope it becomes popular again in the future, because this really seems like the perfect afternoon cocktail. I got an orange version instead, and it was quite good.

In addition to movies, Villagio has weekly entertainment, including live music on the weekends and NFL games on Mondays during football season. For this last one, the game is shown on the big screen with no cover, and there are drink specials and full service throughout the game. I'm no football fan, but that sounds like an unbeatable deal.

It's a bit of a drive for me, but I suspect the movie bug will bring me back to Villagio before too long. A snack, a cocktail, and a fully reclined seat is a pretty strong sell by itself; add a great movie and a dark, cozy theater into the equation and it's showtime.

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