El Cerrito’s Home Town Movie Theater
(PS: Have you SCENE their Wine Bar?)
By Vickie Lewis
If you’ve been looking for a place (other than your family room!) where you can enjoy dinner, a movie, and even a pleasing glass of wine to end the evening, here’s a perfect suggestion! Rialto Cinemas® Cerrito, conveniently located on San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito between Central and Fairmount Avenues, offers much more than standard theater concession fare to enjoy inside the theater while watching movies. Afterwards, patrons can conveniently enter SCENE, a petite, classy wine bar, directly from the theater lobby. There, they can enjoy a night cap, and even a late night snack.
Rialto Cinemas® Cerrito was opened in July 2009 by business partners Ky Boyd and Michael O’Rand in July 2009. Formerly known as the Cerrito Theater, the building originally opened in 1937, but went out of business in the 1950s. For some years thereafter, the theater building was used as a storage warehouse for nearby Kiefer’s Furniture store, until it also went out of business. In 2006, the theater was revived through the collective efforts of the City of El Cerrito Redevelopment Agency and the Friends of the Cerrito Theater. As a result, the original art deco murals, mirrors, etchings, and artwork from the original theater were restored. Soon after the restoration, the theater reopened as the “Cerrito Speakeasy”, but closed again in May 2009. A few months later, the theater reopened once again as the Rialto Cinemas® Cerrito. Boyd and O’Rand also own the Rialto Cinemas® Elmwood in Oakland, and plan to open a new Sebastopol venue in the near future.
In May 2013, the SCENE Wine Bar was opened as an extension of the theater. Although the wine bar is located within the theater building and can be accessed from the theater lobby, it is a separate business conveniently accessible to movie patrons, but also open to the general public. SCENE boasts a variable selection of fine wines and draft beers, most of which are locally sourced. An assortment of espresso drinks and non-alcoholic San Pellegrino beverages are also available. SCENE also offers a separate menu of sharable plates, appetizers, paninis and desserts—lighter bites to enjoy while sipping a glass of wine or beer and mingling with friends or fellow movie-goers.
For those who haven’t been to a dine-in movie theater, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised when visiting the Rialto Cinemas® Cerrito. Traditional movie-goers can still buy the standard popcorn, candies, and soft drinks from the concession stand. However, customers who arrive at least 20 minutes before the start of the movie can also order from a full menu featuring various types of pizzas; hot and cold appetizers; sandwiches and burgers; and a generous salad assortment. There are also separate kids’ meal selections. All menu items are freshly prepared when ordered at the on-site kitchen, under the direction of Kitchen Manager, Jonathan Hicks, with assistance from a full staff of cooks. After ordering, customers may be seated inside the theater, displaying their order number, and wait for their food to be delivered to their seats by theater staff. Long tables positioned in front of theater seating make it convenient to eat while watching the movie. Motivated guests may also choose to arrive early to get to the limited comfy couch seating near the front of the theater, each with small round tables on which to place their food and drinks. Also noteworthy is that in addition to soft drinks and bottled water, an assortment of up to 10 draft beers, as well as red or white wines by the glass or by the bottle, may be ordered from the concession stand for consumption in the theater.
SCENE Wine Bar offers customers different selections of wines and beers than what is available at the theater concession stand. The menu includes Red, White, Rose, and Sparkling Wines. As previously mentioned, the wine and beer selections offered at SCENE vary frequently as management continuously works to bring the finest wines to patrons at reasonable prices. While many are procured from local sources, SCENE also feature imports from areas such as Spain, France, Italy, Argentina, and New Zealand—all available by the glass or by the bottle. Three draft beers from local breweries are also always available on a rotating basis.
SCENE’s interior is small and intimate, with table and bar seating that can accommodate approximately 20 people. The tasteful décor features large framed movie posters on the walls, and soft, suspended lamp lighting. Bottles of wine are neatly arranged in wine racks extending nearly to the ceiling. Soft, tasteful music plays in the background, allowing for easy, casual conversation. Lead bartender, Eric Bryant, who has worked at SCENE since it opened in 2013, tends bar five days a week, helping customers and offering his recommendations and expert knowledge of the wines and beers he serves. Eric takes great pride in his work, is dedicated to providing excellent customer service, and clearly enjoys his job.
During our visit, we had the opportunity to sample several of the menu items from the SCENE food menu. The items offered at SCENE are savory and delectable choices–similar to appetizers that would be available at upscale restaurants. (Items from SCENE’s menu may also be ordered by movie-goers and delivered for consumption inside the theater.) The items we sampled included: Heirloom Tomatoes and Burrata Cheese; Artisan Cheeses and Charcuterie; Kale Caesar Salad; and a flatbread pizza made with thinly sliced tri-tip, mozzarella, pepper, onion, mushroom, and cilantro-jalapeno aioli. Every item was freshly made, beautifully presented, and was delicious. The tomatoes with burrata were served with large slices of lightly toasted, locally procured ACME bread, which we greatly enjoyed! The meat and cheese tray included such items as goat cheese and a four-year aged cheddar, and Italian salami and Soppressata. My guest enjoyed consuming most of the cheeses and the flatbread pizza which was a bit spicy due to the cilantro-jalapeno aioli. My favorite item of all was the Kale Caesar Salad. I don’t usually eat eat Kale, but this salad looked appetizing, and included beets, shaved parmesan, pine nuts, and house made croutons. I was intrigued enough to try it, and found it to be delicious! The dressing was wonderful, and the combined tastes of the salad ingredients definitely complemented each other. When you visit SCENE, I highly recommend the Kale Caesar as a prime choice for a shareable plate! (Personally, I am looking forward to returning to try the roasted Brussels sprouts, bacon, and Siracha aioli!)
SCENE features Happy Hour Mondays through Fridays from 4:30 PM to 6:00 PM offering reduced prices on some wines and food items. And if you’re looking for a quiet place to study or work, free Wi-Fi is available for customers. There is an “overflow” seating room across the lobby of the theater entrance if the wine bar gets too crowded. There is ample room in this area for small group meetings such as book clubs or community group gatherings. SCENE takes orders for food from their menu until 10:15 PM, after which the kitchen closes for the day. SCENE is open nightly until 11:00 PM except for Sundays when it closes at 9:00 PM.
Rialto Cinemas® Cerrito and SCENE Wine Bar offer a “one-stop shop” for quality food and entertainment, as well as the opportunity to enjoy the nostalgia of this beautifully restored venue. There are two separate theaters in the building which feature a mix of first run films, as well as independent, foreign and classic films. General Manager, Eric Edwards, and his staff are dedicated to delivering high quality service to their customers, as well as offering excellent food and beverage selections for their enjoyment. Stop by for a movie and dinner and/or visit SCENE Wine Bar to enjoy a glass of your favorite beer or wine. I’m sure that you will enjoy the atmosphere, and most notably, the quality and variety of the freshly prepared foods and beverages offered.
10070 San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito | 510-273-9102 (Theater) 510-528-8759 (Wine Bar)