Nevada City’s revamped indie movie theater sets sights on Grand Opening

The Union | 12/20/2017

Last year, the Danish concept of “hygge” — which means comfort, warmth or togetherness — was all the rage.

Next year — if the owner and staff of Nevada City’s Onyx Theatre have their way — the Dutch version, “gezellig,” will become part of the lexicon for Nevada County residents.

Gezellig suggests a spirit of comfort plus friendliness, fun and togetherness, explained Onyx manager Celine Negrete.

And that concept is one that informed the entire design process behind the new theater, which will expand and improve on the independent art-house cinema formerly on the site, the Magic.

“Gezellig was our guiding design principle, what we want everyone walking through the door to feel here,” said Negrete. “We do not want this theater to feel exclusive.”

It’s been a long road for the major update of the single-screen Magic, which closed in May after 25 years to expand into the two-screen Onyx.


Once the remodel is done, the Onyx will boast extra-roomy seating, a redesigned concession area and high-end digital projection and Dolby sound.

“For our small town, it’s a cultural institution,” Negrete told The Union earlier this year. “There are people who grew up going to the Magic Theatre back when it was above a storefront in Nevada City with a sheet on the wall and a portable projector.”

In the last six months, the proposed completion date has been pushed back several times, but now stands at mid-January.

“Back in May, we thought we were going to open in July,” Negrete laughed ruefully. “It was totally unrealistic.”

After all, she noted, the project took the building down to “bare bones,” with new plumbing and electricity being installed. The soundproofing, which extends from the floor through the attic, was a very time-consuming element, Negrete added.

“The truth is, there is so much attention to detail — you can’t just hand that off to anyone who can swing a hammer,” she said. “There haven’t been any big snafus — it’s just the fact that what we’re building is so complex. We have three highly skilled people in here, but they can only work so much a day.”

Negrete said the theater is cutting its construction crew loose for the holidays in order to give everyone a break.

“Call Me By Your Name” is slated to start on Jan. 19, Negrete said, adding, “We’re really trying to make that happen.”

As part of the revamping, the Onyx is working toward obtaining a beer and wine license; Negrete hopes in the future to be able to add on a small cafe.

She stressed the Onyx will have all the same staff with some new faces, saying, “Jeff (Clark) is still the owner, I’m still the manager, my staff is all coming back — I have added five great new people.”

If fans of the old Magic are wondering what the deeper meaning of the Onyx might be, Negrete swears there really isn’t one.

“We spent months working on a name,” she said.

Bijou was an early front-runner, but ultimately it was decided the word had too many connotations already, Negrete said.

“With Onyx, you have no idea what that’s going to be like,” she explained.

This week, the seats were set to be installed — 28 in each screening room, down from the old number of 62 because they are wider and larger.

One of the rooms, the Magic, will honor its predecessor with updated red velour paneling on the walls; Negrete wants to assure fans that the beloved-by-many “Amelie” poster is coming back.

Instead of the infamous bathroom that was in front of the audience to the side of the screen (Negrete jokes about wanting to install a plaque), now there will be two gender-neutral single bathrooms, one on each side of the theater.

In the Dream room, the velour on the walls is a deep blue, and both rooms feature ceiling murals painted by Sarah Coleman. And each screening room features graduated seating that is not quite stadium-style.

“We worked hard on the sight lines,” she said. “There won’t be a bad seat in the house.”

The Onyx now will have 21 screenings a week in each room — an early matinee will be added every day of the week.

“Our programming won’t shift,” Negrete said. “There just will be more of it.”

In the past, she acknowledged, the Magic had a lot of practical constraints on the number of films it screened and how long they ran at the theater.

“‘Moonlight’ is a perfect example,” Negrete said. “We couldn’t keep it longer, even though people still wanted to see it, because we had already committed to the next film. Now we can keep films around longer.”

Negrete is especially happy to be able to welcome the Nevada City Film Festival back this coming year, now that they can dedicate a screening room to the fest, which is Sept. 7-14 next year.

“It started here,” she said. “They’re coming back to their roots.”

Festival Director Jesse Locks said the Onyx will screen some of the same films that will be showing in downtown Nevada City — just in a smaller, more intimate setting.

“The Onyx’s tag is ‘The way movies were meant to be seen,'” Locks said. “We want to provide that viewing experience to film lovers.”