O ye of little faith! I’ve bored everybody to death this year by telling them that the new Tivoli cinema at the back of the Regent Arcade in Cheltenham would a) never open and b) be crap.

It opened this week. Yesterday, I wandered in to have a look. It’s rather nice. It is a bunker, being underground and devoid of natural light, but more Terence Conran than Albert Speer. There’s a slightly bleak entrance foyer, smelling of new paint, in the universal style of hotels and health clinics, but spacious and not unwelcoming. Then you go down some stairs that suddenly curve round to the right and place you on a melodramatic cinema staircase like those in the classic MGM nightclub musicals (which were thrown together).

At the bottom is a bar/restaurant area: open, spacious, in relaxing white or off-white, with a bit of generic artwork of the sort you might find on the shelves of The Range. At the far end is a long bar with all the usual accoutrements. On the left is a door to the Directors’ Suite (or something), which is more expensive (I’ll come to that). Further down that wall are the toilets. I didn’t go in, but I expect they have the modern gigantic unisex cubicles for the convenience of disabled people and recreational drug users.

There are lots of small tables, for couples. I didn’t really see the large tables for family groups and ad-hoc parties that are a future of classic London arts/dining venues like Kettners or the Cafe de Paris. There are lots of staff, and the people I met, a lad in his first job and Steve, the manager, were enthusiastic and pleasant.

To the right are the actual cinemas. There are four. I think three of them seat about 30 and the other one is a bit bigger (hard information is difficult to come by). They have two sorts of seats: soft sofas for couples, and at the front, weird cushioned deckchair things. The screens are not big (some people have bigger systems at home), but they are bright and sharp. There is an immense amount of legroom, because they have to make space for the staff to keep the customers constantly plied with nutrients while they let the magic of cinema sink into them or wash over them.

The whole experience reminded me of the Soho screening rooms of the 1980s: absurdly luxurious (although we had leather seats, not fabric) and calculated to create an ‘insider vibe’ while dulling the critical faculties. We journalists loved them. There is also a touch of the Hollywood pool about it all. No-one in the British film industry in the 1980s lay on a recliner.

Having been around in the 1980s, the last era when Greed was Good, the bar area itself does not come as a surprise. It really is like one of those Conradian gastrodomes. They were a bit of a joke then: one, called, I think, the Canteen, had such appalling acoustics that all the conversationalists the design entrepreneur had shipped in to give it a ‘buzz’ couldn’t actually talk to one another. There were lots of better places to go: clubs like Zanzibar, the Moscow, the Colony Club, the Coach, the French, etc, where you could actually rub shoulders with artists, directors, dancers, actors, and so on. Even the awful Groucho Club was quite good if you wanted to see people you’d seen on the telly coming to blows (or coming for their blow). Oh yes. The tales I could tell. Will tell, possibly. Not everyone has been punched in the face by Jeffery Bernard.

At the same time, though, there were also ersatz places designed to milk the drug-addled, the money-addled and the gullible tourist. The Limelight club was possibly the worst, but I would also count The Fridge in Brixton and, of course, Heaven. That had the added frisson of close involvement in the homosexual subculture, then a dangerous pursuit.

Anyway, back to Cheltenham. There a number of problems with The Tivoli, not so much as a venue but as a business venture. The films are boring and are centrally selected. Steve gave me the name of a man at Empire Cinemas HQ to talk to, but he confirmed that he has no input into what is show. They only show films with a digital key, so there is no possibility of using the venue for interesting foreign/indie/work-in-progress film: I asked about that. In any case, if you did want to hire a screening room, you’d have to have a ‘package’, which would mean their expensive drinks and dreary food.

A seat costs £20 at the times you’d want to go. That’s even for children. The Directors’ lounge is another £2.50 per person, as are what are called the ‘day beds’. Nurse! He’s out of his bed again!. Event cinema, which means all those ‘live’ relays of West End events, concerts, plays, etc, is another £5 per person.

The food and drink are not exactly affordable. A plate of nachos will cost you £7.80. A falafel burger (equal opportunities for vegetarians) is £10.30. A large glass of white wine starts at about £7.55. They don’t appear to sell red wine, for some reason. Probably worried about damage to the paintwork.

If people want to pay that money, that’s up to them. I went on Friday at about 5.15 and there were probably fewer than 20 people in the whole joint (there may have been some in the Directors’ Lounge or in the other screens). They were running The Alpinist for precisely no-one. Except me.

I don’t get it. They seem to be so wedded to the notion of exclusivity that they haven’t bothered to tell anybody they’ve opened. The website was only properly assembled after the opening, and it still isn’t exactly informative. There has been no publicity. Empire Cinemas’ marketing department couldn’t be bothered to contact me. I had to wander in and see for myself. I’m glad I did.

6 thoughts on “The Tivoli

  1. All a bit “Doom & Gloom” instead of encouraging peeps to visit and make their own minds up!
    It’s got to be better than Cineworld (before Covid) – why did they change the Screening Rooms layout – it was
    good before with the front reception & bar plus film posters – we loved going there to the good
    – a really good experience.
    But the VIP lounge was like a Network Rail waiting room – very uncomfortable and unfriendly. A
    great shame – so that’s why I’m looking forward to checking out “the competition” at the Tivolli.
    I’m sure their website will improve as 007 hits our screens with a bang!

    1. I was being a bit controversial, Dave. It is much more comfortable than Cineworld. Just wish they’d put as much care into the films as they have into the soft furnishings. At the moment you might as well go to John Lewis with your laptop.

  2. Nice to see you sprawled out John 🙂

    1. Just testing the facilities. I would never watch a film from a recumbent posture. Although, never say never.

  3. For those less than 5ft 7ins or so the seats are too deep nd the cushions not bi enough…..

    1. I can imagine. There’s a reason why traditional cinema seats are the shape they are and it’s not just so they can fit a lot in.

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