In the age of cinema seats often fat with padding and so cavernous you could squeeze in a body double, the slightly scratchy, 1940s-era chairs at Golden Age have a bracing kind of rigidity about them. Especially for a cinema-goer whose main impediment to enjoying a film is (indiscriminately) falling asleep halfway through. It’s the kind of chair, in the kind of room, that you want to watch an indie French flick about a lover and her donkey riding through the Cévennes in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, or a Turkish horror flick from the ‘70s, or a vintage-era Meryl swishing her feathered blonde locks on screen.
And it's just these types of flicks that you'll find on the small but perfectly formed silver screen of Surry Hills' Golden Age Cinema. The 60-seat picture house shows cult classic, independent releases, with the occasional newcomer or two. Decked in moss-green velvet and polished wood with a leveled stage at its front, this cinema forces you out of the unthinking, easy comfort of your average multiplex – just like its (mostly) indie, (mostly) critically acclaimed movie offerings.
Since 2013, the Golden Age Cinema and Bar has been the much-loved basement occupant of Paramount House. The building was constructed in 1940 as the offices of Paramount Pictures, with a basement theatrette for the previewing of movies to cinema owners. During World War II, it was used to screen news reels and informational films for the military.
The creators of Melbourne's Rooftop Cinema – Barry, Bob and Chris Barton – tried for years to launch an open-air project on top of the Paramount building but were met with objections from local residents. So, they went instead for the polar opposite: a retro, underground fit-out with post-war seats from Switzerland and two vintage projectors (which remain on the premises, though the screenings now use a digital projector).
A historical thread runs through the space, from its structural, low-hanging bulb lights to the glowy, golden floor lighting and the patter of footsteps walking past at your head height through the wall-length window that looks out over the end of Commonwealth Street.
This isn’t the kind of cinema that shows blockbusters, so there’s no reason you should expect your average candy bar. Here popcorn is freshly tossed with rosemary and parmesan; salted maple; wasabi pea; schezuan chilli or just a shake of sea salt. For another riff on a snack bar classic, get a choc top: here, the chocolate dome cracks to reveal a scoop of gelato from Messina.
At the bar – which you can drop into just for a drink, without booking in for a film – you'll find a curated mix of locally sourced and international drops – but its cocktals are where it's really at. Golden Age's Negronis have gained a reputation that extends far out of Surry Hills: get yours with your choice of gin, from navy strength to Noosa-born. The bar space as a whole is a lesson in the dramatic power of a pair of jewel-bright velvet drapes.
Plush and high-end as it may be, don’t expect the VIP Gold Class Cinema variety of luxury. What you’ll find at Golden Age is something different entirely – something intimate, glamourous and in a league of its own.