Flix Brewhouse answers the question “Is it possible to combine a meal, beer, wine, and a first-run movie?” The answer is yes. I certainly had my doubts as I headed to the new Flix Brewhouse in the Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines, Iowa in December, 2014. Will there be hundreds of kids throwing food? Will the cost be outrageous? Will the seats be comfortable? What will it be like to sit next to a stranger and eat? Will the screens be big enough? Will the sound be loud enough? Will the beer be just Bud Lite? Will the food be chain-store bland?
The owners of Flix were obviously thinking about all of these questions as they worked out the details. A lot of thinking went into this venture and it really shows. I’ll cut to the chase and say that you should go if you want to see a movie and have some beer, high quality appetizers, or even a full meal while doing so. Here is a rundown of what Flix does to create a surprisingly nice atmosphere.
- Kids. After 7 pm attendance is restricted to adults for R rated movies and ages 17-21 with a responsible adult. PG-13 movies can include younger kids. I did not experience any kids or problems watching two PG-13 movies.
- Beer. The brewery is still getting up to speed, but until it does you can choose from a handful of their own beers (a saison, a red ale, a wit beer, and a golden ale) or a number of other craft beers from Iowa and elsewhere. I am looking forward to the Scottish Ale.
- Food. Food costs match the higher-quality food, with most dishes starting at about $10, from generous appetizers to a variety of entrees.
- Pricing. Ticket prices are comparable to other first-run movie theaters, $9.75. Matinee pricing is lower, $7.50.
- Seating. Seating is where the rubber meets the road. I’m guessing that Flix only gets one-third as many seats into the same space as the typical cinema. The seats are a huge step up from the usual fabric cineplex. A sliding table brings the food toward you and moves out of the way so you can get into your seat. There is a wall set behind your reclining chair and a little shelf in front.
- Sound. The sound was above average (Dolby). I’ve seen a distinct drop off in sound quality among multiplexes to the point that I can’t even make out the dialogue.
- Picture. Picture quality can vary depending on where you are seated. I advise against the front row as the screen is too high for comfort. .
I visited Flix Brewhouse twice, once during a slow Sunday evening and once during the busy 5:00-6:00 time on Saturday afternoon. Definitely get your tickets early (there is an online purchase option) and choose your seats on weekends. Seats fill up fast and you may not have a seat if you just show up right before the show. You can buy and pick your seat from a screen available in the ticketing area. If it is busy, your row gets called in a fashion similar to an airport. You sit down and the waiter takes your order and it is wirelessly called into the kitchen. We had a full meal arrive within 10 minutes on a busy weekend. Need more food or a beer? Fill out an order form and hit the button and the waiter arrives to take the order. Bills are settled up twenty or so minutes before the end of the show.
If you have time to kill before the show, you can order from a large number (up to thirty) of draft beers (up to thirty) available from the truly massive bar at the top of the escalators. You can also find a table and order food from the menu in the adjacent restaurant area. Eleven large tanks loom over the bar area, illuminated by shifting red, blue and green lamps. They are real (I just got confirmation from the company and an industry insider who helped with the installation). There is another brewing area visible right outside the main south entrance to Flix. I could see a bearded gentleman, who I assume was Mike Gauthier, getting a tun ready for action. The kitchen is not visible but in a Des Moines Register article the manager claimed that the restaurant can serve a huge number of customers in a two-hour shift.
This is only the second location for the owners, with another Flix in Round Rock, Texas, so Des Moines should count itself as fortunate to have this new option here. The owners have also hired local talent to help run things. Lead brewer Mike Gauthier was head brewer at Court Avenue Brewing and most recently was helping to manage El Bait Shop.
Given the outrageous prices for popcorn and pop offered by the usual multiplexes, the price for a movie and beer at Flix is not that different. But you get beer. Or wine. And for a few more bucks you can get a full meal. There is no more worrying about whether your restaurant will get you your food quickly enough to make it out to a movie afterwards. Flix Brewhouse is clearly positioned to compete against the increasingly attractive option of watching a Blu-Ray at home. As the Terminator once promised: “I’ll be back.”