FORT LEE, N.J. -- The advent of affordable high-definition home theater helped keep movie lovers on their couches, but Hamid Hashemi -- the mastermind behind Fort Lee's posh new iPic theater -- is trying to lure them back out.
At least those who can afford it.
In an age when people shout and use their cellphones throughout entire movies, Hashemi's iPic offers a swanky dine-in alternative.
"People respond to this high a level of quality," the president and CEO of iPic Entertainment told Daily Voice as he stood on the Hudson Street sidewalk after hosting an invite-only media screening of "Suicide Squad" Tuesday night.
Behind him and Senior Vice President Sherry Yard, a large crowd buzzed at City Perch Kitchen, the theater's restaurant, shortly after 10 p.m.
"We may say that we like to stay at home, but we still want to go out and have that collective experience," Hashemi said.
The ritzy, eight-screen, 528-seat Fort Lee iPic at Harbor Lights is the Boca Raton-based company's first in the Northeast -- with others in the works in Norwalk and Dobbs Ferry. It officially opened Friday.
The theater's top ticket is a rounded cublicle-like banquette (iPic calls them "pods") that comes with two or three electronically reclining seats, pillows and blankets. Between the seats is a table for food and refreshments, along with a service button. The sides hide pop-out cup-holders.
Like flying first class.
The "premium plus" pods are arranged so servers can approach only from the aisles. Dressed in black, they move quietly, almost stealthily -- iPic calls them "ninjas."
Egg carton-type lining warms a sound system that boats crystal clarity and rich bass -- not tinny or blaring. It also blunts any chatter as you dine in the dark.
Lower-priced sections require folks to get their food and drink from the lobby. These include a down-front row of chaise lounges for two -- which turn the "section-no-one-wants-to-sit-in" dynamic on its head (or, rather, its back).
Yard, iPic's culinary czar, prides herself not just on four- to five-star quality food. The choices makes sense, too.
"Not too smelly, not too crunchy, not too noisy," Yard said, beaming.
Adam Seger, the corporate sommelier and executive bartender, touted the company's homemade Cipi wine (iPic spelled backwards), its premium alcohol and craft beers, and various other ingredients made from scratch (ginger beer, maraschino cherries cherries, cocktail bitters).
A premium seat without membership starts at $15 -- add another ten bucks for the full treatment. Drinks and dinner (everything except dessert is priced in the teens) could push a date night toward triple digits.iPic encourages patrons to take full advantage of the free first level of membership, which offers discounts and first cracks at tickets.
It's worked so well elsewhere -- California, Florida and Texas, among other states -- that 11 new iPic locations are in the works, spokeswoman Michelle Soudry said.
"It's as much a market disruptor as Tesla and Apple," Soudry told media members who kicked back with margaritas, sangria, lemon drops and assorted other beverages, as well as sampler plates that included buttermilk fried chicken and pulled pork -- capped by cheesecake brulee and red velvet bread pudding.
The ninjas then dropped off warm, most towelettes.
Each iPic is designed specifically to fit its environment, Soudry said, "so if you've seen one, you haven't seen them all."
Fort Lee's theater also reflects the borough's rich "Hollywood on the Palisades" film history.
The facility hosts concerts and other events, including the increasingly popular Minecraft gatherings for young fans of the game ("while their parents hang out at the bar," Seger said).
Don't come on a Friday or Saturday and expect to get into a movie, Soudry warned. Seats are bought in advance -- and are often sold out for up to two weeks (Be sure to get the app, she said).
By Hashemi's estimate, most people spend up to four and a half hours at an iPic -- which includes getting there early to meet dates or friends in the restaurant and then doubling back there after the show.
"Come here once," he said. "You'll want to come back."