For anyone who's lived in or spent time in Dublin - specifically, Rathmines - The Stella has featured in there in some way.
Just across from the Swan Centre, the building languished for several years and changed hands and purpose throughout. Many believed the Stella was soon to pass into history and be reborn as some soulless fast-food outlet or, worse, a Starbucks. However, the moment you step across the mosaic floors and into the gold-drenched lobby, it becomes clear that The Stella was meant for nothing but one thing - being a grand, ornate cinema.
"Most people mention Cinema Paradiso when they first see it," says Karl Geraghty, the director of The Stella Theatre. "Or Inglorious Basterds!" Comparing it to Cinema Paradiso might be somewhat cliched - dusty, decrepit cinema reborn into the new era - but it's actually pretty apt. The original building was made in 1923 and named so, as one local told us, after the owner's wife. Much of the lobby was lost in time, however using archive photos and local knowledge, it's been rebuilt to some approximation of what it would have looked like. As Karl excitedly points out, they even pop their own popcorn in the lobby.
Much like the lobby, the cinema itself has been painstakingly restored. Construction and repair began back in March of last year, with a significant portion of the work dedicated to the removal of concrete from the cinema room itself. Once this was done, the original roof was exposed and the restoration work could begin in earnest. All told, the Stella Theatre has a capacity for 216 seats and the cinema is expecting up to three showings per night. Midnight screenings are planned in the future, as well as a weekend matinee / kids club screenings and afternoon / brunch screenings as well. Although we didn't get a chance to see a film on the screen, Karl explained that the theatre will be showing screenings of classic films, as well as the major releases of the day.
The cinema was originally split into two screening rooms, with a false concrete roof to allow for it - however the restoration now means that it's one room with a screen to match it. In fact, even the pillars behind the screen have been restored. Karl admits that running a one-screen cinema is going to be a challenge, but he says that the Stella Theatre is the place for people who want an experience. "Friends of mine, for example, would only go somewhere they can get a cheap ticket. That's not going to be here. There are others who want a 35mm projector. This is history. We've got a modern projector, but if you're looking for somewhere that's incredibly comfortable, a piece of history, this is the place." Cinema tickets are €19.00 each, with tickets available to purchase either online or from the bar or kiosks in the lobby.
Even when you sit down in the plush leather seats, taking in the room is as much an experience as watching a film is. There's so much to see in the room that focusing on the screen is a task in and of itself. There's a mixture of seats and couches, with each seat coming with its own ottoman and a cashmere blanket. On your way in, you order food and drinks - cocktails, beers, whatever - and it's brought out to your personal table. Right up at the front are a row of beds, complete with blankets. Above is the balcony, which Karl explains is still being worked on to ensure that sight lines to the screen aren't an issue. Again, the level of detail that has put into restoring the balcony is breathtaking. Karl explains that the original art deco staircase was restored, along with marble flooring leading up to it.
Along with the cinema itself, The Stella Theatre also boasts The Stella Cocktail Club. Karl describes it as the sister club to the Vintage Cocktail Club, and the same art deco-inspired features can still be seen. There's a back entrance to the cocktail club for those who want a drink and not a cinema screening too. The full cocktail menu includes everything from French Martini, Vesper, Bloody Mary, Amaretto Sour up to Comspolitan, Brandy Crusta, Hemmingway, and Mojitos. There's a sixteen-page drinks menu, with American whiskys, craft beers, red and white wines, vodka, gin and everything else you can think of included.
As we're lead out of the cinema, a local publican is being walked around by one of the construction people. "It takes you back in time. It looks almost exactly like it was."
The Stella Theatre is scheduled to open on October 31st.