Holiday Inspiration

London’s top five independent cinemas

By Susan Ward Davies

By Frankie Mullin

The Rio, Dalston

The Rio was one of London’s first cinemas, beginning life in 1909 as the Kingsland Palace. Architecturally, the building has gone through several metamorphoses and was, at one point, topped with a tower and filled with neo-Grecian flourishes. The Rio’s present incarnation was created in 1937, when the current Grade II-listed Art Deco façade was built and, with its curved, moulded front, Art Deco-styled foyer and pink and blue auditorium, The Rio oozes period atmosphere. But it’s the cinema’s eclectic programming that keeps it in the game. Today, the Rio screens a mixture of new releases, classics and art house films with late night screenings and special events taking place all year round. In keeping with the area’s diverse population, the Rio holds annual Turkish and Kurdish film festivals and participates in Gay and Lesbian film festivals. And, most importantly, there’s a bar.

107 Kingsland High Street E8 2PB; Tel 020 7241 9410; ; Tickets from £6.50

The Electric, Notting Hill

For film-viewing in total comfort, Portobello Road’s Electric cinema is hard to beat. You can choose to sit in a leather armchair, replete with footstool and side table, cosy up in a two-seater sofa, thoughtfully placed at the back of the auditorium, or lie in splendour on one of six double beds in the front row. Since 1911, the Electric has been an integral part of Portobello Road, but it has not always been so sumptuous. Although the £2 million redevelopment in 2001 left Grade II-listed features such as the elaborate proscenium arch, long gone is the Electric which became so seedy it was known as the ‘bughole’. These days, the plush movie house, with its baroque interior, shows a carefully-selected mix of new releases, re-runs, cult and classic films. With the adjacent Electric Brasserie and private members club, this Soho House-run cinema takes movie-going to new heights.

Electric Cinema, 191 Portobello Road, London, W11 2ED; 020 7908 9696; ; Tickets from £15

Roxy Bar and Screen, Borough

Gloriously informal, the Roxy Bar and Screen combines eating, drinking and movies. Adjacent to the bar, the intimate screening room – which sits 100 – is enclosed by heavy red drapes and features a four-metre wide screen in HD with surround sound. Furniture is a mish-mash of sofas, armchairs, tables and stools and, when the place is packed, the floor doubles as seating space. The Roxy is not a cinema in the traditional sense, but rather an entire experience, in which indulgence in gastropub-style food, cocktails and wine are encouraged alongside the watching of movies. Along with a friendly crowd, you can enjoy a selection of recent releases, indie movies and horror classics or take part in the monthly film quiz as you work your way through the movie-themed cocktail list.

128-132 Borough High Street, London SE1 1LB; 020 7407 4057; Tickets from £4;

Prince Charles, Leicester Square

Apparently Quentin Tarantino’s favourite UK cinema, The Prince Charles is a mecca for London’s serious film-lovers. Slap-bang in the middle of the West End, the Prince Charles nonetheless manages to keep its prices astonishingly low, meaning buffs can take full advantage of the packed-to-the-gills programming that sees at least 10 classic, indie, cult, arthouse and Hollywood films a week shown on the cinema’s two screens. The bar and interior are unostentatious, but you’ll anyway be distracted by the inspired film events such as the raucous sing-a-longs to Grease, The Sound of Music, Joseph and the Rocky Horror Picture Show and quote-alongs to films such as The Big Lebowski and Clueless. On occasion, visitors are required to come dressed in part – as in the hugely popular Mean Girls screening which saw audience members dress as their favourite Lunch Table Group; Plastics, Freshman, Preps, Desperate Wannabes, Burnouts, Sexually Active Band Geeks, Fusion Nerds, Cool Asians or Varsity Jocks. This month celebrates David Bowie with a series of Labyrinth Masquerade Balls.

6 Leicester St, London, WC2H 7BX; 020 7494 3654; ; Tickets from £7.50

Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley

The kitsch and cosy Phoenix Cinema has been operating continuously as a movie theatre since 1912 and was so beloved by the community it was saved from destruction in 1985 and is now run as a charitable trust, of which Mark Kermode is the patron. The atmosphere is genteel and arty with live screenings of opera and ballet from the Bolshoi Ballet and Met Opera and a Thursday film classics course of screenings and seminars. Those serious about film will enjoy sessions with renowned film directors such as this month’s Q&A with Ken Loach, while Kermode sometimes appears to introduce movies. The Phoenix is family-friendly and there are regular kids’ events, but the upstairs bar and café and the cool, Art Deco interior, make this ideal for a date.

52 High Road, London, N2 9PJ; 020 8444 6789; ; Tickets from £6

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