Don’t let the in-theater food-and-beverage service throw you: Alamo Drafthouse takes the movie-viewing experience seriously.
The Austin, Texas-based theater chain strictly enforces a ban on talking and texting (after a single warning, customers are given the boot without a refund). Moviegoers under 18 have to be accompanied by an adult, and kids under 6 are prohibited altogether (except during summertime kiddie screening). Running late? Viewers are barred from entry after the movie has started, so either plan for traffic or plan on eating the 17 bucks you spent on a ticket.
Angelenos will either adore that single-minded respect for cinema or balk. We’ll find out when Alamo opens its 40th location—and first in L.A.—at the Bloc at Flower and 7th streets on July 20 for a two-week “sneak peek” period.
Alamo specializes in genre movies (action, horror, sci-fi, etc.) which show on 4k projectors in a dozen auditoriums, one of which also plays 35 mm movies, all with full-size screens but only 40 to 60 seats.
CEO Tim League says they have a “protocol” for kicking out unruly patrons. It starts with “jokey style” pre-show announcements (there are no pre-feature ads), including one that warns incessant talkers: “Baby, get the fuck out of here.”
There is signage declaring the theaters “quiet zones.”
Each big, cushy reclining seat has its own tray to hold food and drinks, which are brought directly to moviegoers. Patrons submit orders on slips of paper; they can also use those slips to inform management if someone is talking too loudly, is on their cell, or is texting. Waiters hovering nearby then tell the patron causing a disturbance to stop or face ejection.
“Every year across the brand we kick out hundreds of people,” says League. “And we make it a safe place for movie fans. They can go find a theater somewhere else.”
Indeed, there are a lot of theaters in Southern California, a few of which also serve food and drink. However, Alamo has other ways of attracting audiences.
Their complex includes Video Vortex, a reinvention of the video store that includes 3,400 comedies and 2,600 horror movies that rent without charge for up to a week.
Video Vortex has a long bar that offers four dozen American craft beers on tap ($5.50 to $8.50 per glass), and a wide range of wine and liquors. Featured drinks are themed to movies, such as the “L.A. Confidential” cocktail (tequila, ginger syrup, cinnamon, lime bitters, and soda).
There are tables where customers can play games—not Monopoly or Scrabble, but themed board games about movies, many of them company originals. The theater has also hooked up with the fellow film fanatics at Vidiots, once a video store operator, now a non-profit. Their Video Vortex event series starts with Tales From the Video Store, where guests share video store memories.
Everything is made from scratch in Chef Hodo Houston’s kitchen, which features a Roto-Flex oven that can cook 40 pizzas at a time. Big metal bowls of popcorn can be refilled endlessly, including gourmet flavors like truffle. Meals include burgers made with brisket as well as chuck-grade beef.
For wine snobs, the choices include Bruno Paillard Bute Rosé Premiere Cuvee at $46 a glass and Trefethen Estate Chardonnay at $28 a glass. For everyone else, a margarita is a more manageable $12.
The Alamo is also counting on the appeal of a wide range of new and old movies, special events like filmmaker appearances, and unique programs.
“We’re going to do everything from tentpoles to art house to documentaries, foreign language films and repertory screenings,” says Rachel Walker, head of programming.
There are scheduled days for different genres: Terror Tuesday, Weird Wednesday, Champagne Cinema (romantic comedies), and their King Size Summer, a series of screenings of Stephen King movies. To attract people in the industry, Alamo offers discounted rates for cast and crew for technical screenings.
Will cinephiles on the Westside and in the Valley make the not-unsubstantial trek downtown for the Alamo experience? League says they considered lots of locations before choosing downtown, largely because the site includes underground access to public transportation.
“Downtown is in a great resurgence,” says League. “Lots of fun interesting things, restaurants, and culture happening down here. I love this neighborhood. But who knows? We are actively looking for other locations as well.”
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