The wooden sign surrounded in lights hanging on Macešková Palace clearly stands out amongst its dull plastic neighbors. Walking in, you don’t realize the fun you are in for; both in terms of design and entertainment possibilities. Welcome to Royal Theatre – a mix of 1920s Czech First Republic and Hollywood, fabulously refurbished and with an entertaining line-up of films and performances.
Opened in June, the Royal is the brainchild of French businessman Jean-Christophe Gramont. Gramont had dreamt of opening a cinema for a while, but it wasn’t until his honeymoon in Argentina that the idea was finalized.
“In Buenos Aires we visited this old theater that had been turned into a café,” he said. “I wanted a cinema and thought, this is it.”
When Gramont discovered Macešková Palace was available for rent, he wasted no time making it his own – seeing it on a Monday and signing the contract on Tuesday.
“I had ‘my’ cinema in mind – a mix of history and culture, it was love at first sight,” he said.
The theater is a wonderful mix of old and new. Every original detail that could be kept or refurbished was, and furnishings were painstakingly sourced to match both Gramont’s and interior designer Renata Slámková’s vision.
Red velvet curtains in the lobby set the dramatic scene, there are 50 Persian rugs covering the floors, period furniture reupholstered in a mix of dark wood and a vibrant red. Many of the original directional signs, railings, and light fixtures were miraculously intact. The seating is comprised of fabulous chairs, sofas, and tables from the 1930s-1950s giving the place a stylsih retro living room vibe.
“We had the space and wanted to set the atmosphere,” Slámková said. “We looked for Czech designers, and copied many original details in other areas.” Molded tassels on the balcony and walls for example were replicated for real in the mini-chandeliers hanging above the bar. The bar is a decorator piece itself, long, fronted in red velvet and backlit with two original bird motifs. The First Republic theme extends to the delicate china chosen, much of it from the historic Czech company Thun. The contemporary though can be found in the French Kusmi Tea and the special Royal coffee blend created for the theater by Coffee Source.
“We wanted one step in the past, one in the future,” Gramont said. “Everything we do, we try to do it differently.”
And that certainly applies to the programming. This cinema is more of dinner theater, with special theme nights making up a lot of the schedule. A recent French evening featured a wine and cheese tasting to begin the evening, a live concert connected to the film of the night, followed by a screening of the French movie Amélie Poulain. Films are screened in their original language with Czech subtitles, making it an internationally friendly form of entertainment. A Cuban evening Salsa party, spaghetti Western nights featuring cowboy movies, and spaghetti, and screenings of Charlie Chaplin movies with live pianist accompaniment are just a few of the fresh ideas that have come pouring out of Gramont.
“I love the cinema but it’s not an event anymore, you can make so many great connections,” Gramont said. “It’s about immersion and interaction.”
The upper floor of the theater has been transformed into an exhibition celebrating the First Republic’s cinema years with photos, clothing, and other items from noted Czechoslovak stars such as Zita Kabátová and Svatopluk Beneš among others. It’s free to visit, and the café is open daily from 11am for an Art Deco inspired bit of caffeine and cake.
The theater (and building) was originally built by successful butcher Emanuel Maceška. His last name translates into “pansy” and he whimsically incorporated his namesake into various elements of the theater, especially the pansy motif on the lights. The building was taken from the family under Communism and various cinemas and theaters were housed there until the Maceška family received it back in restitution. Several theatrical tenants rented the building in the ensuing years, but it was last home to a disco before Gramont refurbished it. That so many original pieces survived and in comparatively good condition is quite impressive.
“I wanted the focus to be on the space, the space speaks of Art Deco history and we wanted to shine a light on it, find the First Republic in its atmosphere,” Slámková said. “We wanted it to be sexy, charming, a space that takes you away.”
The team had 2-3 stressful months to get the theater ready – and Slámková spent most of that time on Aukro and in bazaars looking for the chairs, tables, and carpets they wanted. The result is an elegant space set for an audience looking for a distinctive evening out.