The indie cinema operated in Civic from 1979 to 2006, and the bookstore, which first opened in 1987 and had a second life on a new site in Braddon, closed in April this year.
For a while after the cinema closed, Dendy filled that gap for me, with Borders downstairs in the Canberra Centre for post-film book-browsing, and the added benefit of a licensed bar on site. But then Borders closed down and the selection of films on offer seemed to veer more to the mainstream.
Enter Palace Electric at New Acton, with its name reminiscent of its much-loved predecessor. It seems hardly a week goes by without an international film festival underway at Palace, and while there is no bookshop in the vicinity, the arty surrounds of the precinct almost make up for that. There are world class bars, cafes and restaurants a few steps from door, and there is always enough parking right underneath the cinema. Like Dendy, it offers a glass of sparkling or wine in the on-site Prosecco bar (pictured above), and the circular alcove in which you can sit with a friend and enjoy a drink or snack before the film is more enticing than its Dendy counterpart.
Palace is my choice for Best of Canberra – Cinema for all of these reasons, but also because of the service. The staff at Palace Electric remind me of hosts at a private dinner party rather than people hired to dispense film tickets and ice-creams. Last week, I arrived with a spare ticket and tried to give it to a passing cinema-goer. The bloke behind the counter called me over and offered to take it back and provide me with a complimentary pass valid for a year at any Palace cinema in Australia. There are some limitations (not for use on a Saturday after 6pm or during film festivals among them), but he made my day.
We need to give Tuggeranong favourite Limelight a special mention. It scored a couple of recommendations from readers responding to our callout, including this one on Facebook from Tammy Wolffs: “Limelight for mainstream releases; Palace for almost everything else (but a bit wary of overcrowded opening night festival screenings). Dendy where a Premium screening is called for.”
She’s right, of course. Different cinemas suit different purposes. I love taking the kids to Hoyts at Belconnen and Woden, but for a night with a girlfriend or for date night, I’ll see you at Palace Electric or Dendy. Sometimes Manuka works better for geographical reasons, and there is the added benefit of being able to visit Paperchain for some book browsing there too.
The next cinema-going dilemma is where to see the upcoming Star Wars film. We will have kids with us, and given Hoyts are in the process of upgrading their seating and adding vino to the candy bar menu, it might be the perfect compromise for a family outing.
Oh, just remembered one more special mention, especially for the budget-conscious: the ANU Film Group, which has operated in Canberra since 1966 and offers memberships to everyone, not just those connected with the ANU.