Sunderland Empire theatre-goers will be able to wine and dine at the venue from next week ahead of seeing a show.
Work has been completed on the creation of the Garden Place Bistro in the former back bar at the theatre, as well as the renovation and refurbishment to the Dress Circle bar.
The new bistro, which is named after the side road next to the Empire, and new look bar have a decor inspired by the theatre’s Edwardian heritage and are part of a £500,000 investment programme at the Grade II-listed building.
The new bistro and renovation of the bar area, which includes new furnishings, is the biggest development at the High Street West theatre since the addition of the fly tower in 2004.
Though there have been some trial runs at the 45-seater bistro, it will open for walk up bookings from Wednesday to coincide with One Night of Elvis. And from Monday, March 20, to coincide with The Full Monty, bookings can be made in advance.
Empire general manager Ben Phillips says the menu, which features a range of burgers, pizzas and sharing platters, has proved popular already.
“We’ve had a few dummy runs and the baked Camembert is proving most popular for starters, with burgers being the number 1 best seller on the mains list,” he said.
He added: “There’s something on there for everyone. This isn’t a premium offering so we’ve got two courses for £12.95. It’s aimed at people who want to come in, have a lovely meal and see a lovely show.”
The colour palette of greens and gold was inspired by the original Edwardian design, while the period parquet flooring was discovered once decorators ripped up the carpet.
Ben say he’s delighted with the result of the work.
“The look is very sensitive to the theatre’s history and it actually looks a lot more Edwardian than I expected,” he explained. “I think it looks beautiful, I can’t fault it. Some of the colours in the ceiling were a bit garish, so we’ve toned that colour down. It really opens up the space and makes it look a lot brighter and lighter.
“The back bar was a very under-used part of the theatre, so the bistro fits perfectly in there and makes us more of a one-stop shop for our customers instead of them going elsewhere to eat before a show.”
Garden Place Bistro will offer pre-theatre dining, including a children’s menu, on performance nights from 5.30pm and on matinee days from 12.30pm.
The bistro and bar renovations complement other initiatives at the venue as part of a capital improvement plan, which included the Ambassador Lounge and box refurbishment and the rolling out of the successful Ordertorium facility.
Externally, the reinstallation of the iconic Terpsichore statue atop the 90ft tower took place last month, following dislodgement during high winds.
Scaffolding has now been removed following the completion of works to the tower which included the addition of a new advanced lighting system, which allows lighting changes linked to the colour scheme of a production.
Ben added: “The renovation work ties in with the developments of our new neighbours at the Old Fire Station in the creation of a cultural hub around the theatre.
“It’s important to continually attract people into the city via the cultural offer, especially as we work towards the City of Culture 2021 title. “Sunderland Empire is just one cultural element of the offer available across the city, but we believe these new developments at the theatre will help drive footfall and people into our city, which is instrumental.”