For the past 25 years, I have been a regular at the Renoir Cinema at the Bloomsbury Centre; it’s really my local and has been there since the ’70s.
But a year ago, just after I had renewed my membership, it closed for a £6 million renovation and expansion. It was supposed to be finished in December 2014 but dragged on until March 2015.
Now, I would be the first to say that the old Renoir was clearly losing money hand over fist – you’d be lucky to find six other people in either of the two screens on any night and the loos were disgusting – but even so, it was like a comfortable old slipper and I was used to it.
Now all is squeaky clean, with pink polished plaster walls inset into brutalist concrete to accentuate its ’70s architectural heritage. It now boasts six screens, which can be found by negotiating a labyrinth of corridors.
One of several creepy corridors below stairs
There is a whole new subterranean floor to contain these extra screens. And you’ll find a bar on each of the three levels but, oddly, there is no longer a box office (not a good move).
On two recent visits and running late, I wanted to swiftly buy my tickets, which you now have to purchase at any of the three bars. So I’m on the ground floor and the person in front says: “… and can I have two diet Cokes, a brownie and a slice of carrot cake, that’s it – er no, sorry, and a cappuccino.” The clock is ticking away and all I want is my ticket. The guy serving behind the bar turns to me and says: “It might be quicker if you go to the bar on the lower ground floor.” I rush down the stairs (the film had already started). Now at the downstairs bar. Yet another person in front: “… and two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and two of those flapjacks.” I zip further down to the bar below and at last am able to buy my ticket.
Doing away with a box office at a cinema is very unwise. Anyway, I have been there three times since, and there has been no change on being able to buy tickets speedily.
I’ve also had time to experience the new boutique-hotel-style interior. It was designed by Takero Shimazaki, new to me but the Curzon has made great play on the fact that he designed Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck Restaurant in Bray. The ground floor has a vast bar spanning the full width and seating areas peppered with Eileen Gray sofas, which are positioned to look out of the Panavision sliding windows that open out onto the main exterior spaces.
You descend the pink polished plaster walled stairs to find two other bars set against a backdrop reminiscent of sets from a David Lynch film – chairs parked in murky underlit corners, where you could imagine a vertically challenged man appearing through a radiator accompanied by a sinister throbbing ambient hum. Apparently, Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’ inspired Shimazaki, but I think he must have muddled his DVDs?
One of the new lower ground seating areas
A scene from David Lynch'e Eraserhead
And Lynch's Mulholland Drive
I think David Lynch would like these new spaces
On the recent occasions that I have been there, no one seems to sit in these lower ground rather oddly disturbing spaces. I am always amazed at how few interior designers really understand how people like to ‘feel’ in interior space, like so many restaurants with flat walls and ceilings creating unbearable noise levels so that you and everyone around you need to shout at the top of your voices, plus the harsh downlighters (especially in the loos), where you are reduced to the look of a mass murderer on the run.
It was sad to see the removal of the old Renoir sign to be replaced by the ‘on brand’ Curzon. It is now called Curzon Bloomsbury. But it could have easily been called Curzon Renoir. Oh well, I guess I’ll get used to it and will allow more time to buy my ticket. And I’ll watch to see how the people who use the spaces force change: it’s how buildings learn. But I have to say the loos are great.