Dinner And A Movie At The Drafthouse
In an era where you’re more likely than not to have your theatre experience sullied by talkers and texters, the name Alamo Drafthouse stands as a beacon of sanity in a movie world gone mad. Founded in Austin, Texas in 1997 by Tim and Karrie League, and since franchised to over 20 locations (in Texas, Virginia, Missouri, Colorado, New York and California – some locations still under construction), the concept was to offer a movie experience for adult movie lovers. Old movie houses were renovated to include kitchens that offer a full menu of food and alcoholic beverages, each seat is assigned and has a countertop space in front of it to eat, servers dressed in black take orders written on paper, a no talking/texting policy is strictly enforced with patrons being ejected if they break the rules, and special programming is the order of the day, in addition to mainstream picks. The Drafthouse is known for hosting retro series, such as their Summer of ’82 one from this past year; premieres with cast and crew; all kinds of cult oddities and other types of movie geek programming.
When I found myself in Austin this New Year’s, there was no way I was going to miss a chance to attend an Alamo Drafthouse screening. There are several Drafthouses in Austin but I picked The Ritz, as it was close to my hotel and showing a movie that was shot, is set in and is about the city, called Austin High, a low-budget stoner comedy. The Ritz is on Austin’s famous 6th Street, near a variety of cool bars with names such as The Jackalope and Casino El Camino, cheesy tourist stores and the Museum of the Weird (sort of a tiny Ripley’s Believe It or Not). It's an exciting spot.
Beneath the nean Alamo sign, the lobby retains an old movie house feel, with vintage fixtures and low-key lighting, but with a window added in which to buy tickets and drinks. I get a cold pint and a seat (only $10) in row six. The theatre itself also retains a classic look with the exception of the counters that stretch across every row. Before the feature they play vintage trailers, viral YouTube videos, and ads for upcoming programing – including the original Django and Dial M for Murder in 3-D for Big Screen Classics, Purple Rain for Music Mondays and Dirty Dancing for Girlie Night. I settled into my comfy seat with the movable arm rests (nice touch) and watched the theatre etiquette warnings with a grin. Why can’t more movie houses take a hard line rude patrons?
There’s a menu tucked under the counter in front of each seat. Burgers, pizza, salads, wraps, seasonal beers, gourmet milkshakes (salted caramel, for example) and all-you-can-eat popcorn make the mouth water. I opt for pizza and Asian chicken salad, which is stealthily dropped off after the movie starts. The portions are generous and the quality is better-than-average – this isn’t the overpriced stale nachos and greasy hot dogs on most theatre menus.
The movie itself is solid little comedy that showcases Austin. The plot sees the pot-smoking principal of a high school (where everybody is, er, high all the time), see his world rocked when a strict vice principal arrives to clean the place up. As staff and students become casualties of the new regime, he must decide whether to sell out to help his own daughter go to a private school, or stay true to his pro-marijuana soul and embody the free-wheelin’ spirit of Austin. Along the way, there’s a pedi-cab war, a shady politician trying to “clean up” the city and plenty of teenage high-jinx. The screening, which was a memorial for cast member Andrew Dallas, featured several other cast members, including co-writer/star Michael S. Wilson, speaking after the film.
It was the kind of specialty programming that can only find a home in theatres such as the Drafthouse, and it made the entire evening such a departure from the usual multiplex experience. For about the same price as a mainstream movie with pop and popcorn, I had a movie, dinner and a beer. Given the growing popularity of the Drafthouse cinemas, hopefully this is a sign of things to come – reasonably priced specialty cinemas with good food and beer, that don't tolerate disturbances. The Drafthouse doesn’t permit anyone under six or any unaccompanied minors to its screenings, and as of Januray3, no one will be permitted into the theatre after the film begins; this is an experience for adult film lovers. It was also the first time in a while I was at a movie and didn’t see someone pull out a phone.
Who knows if the franchise will makes its way to Canada, but given the crowds that the Drafthouse is able to draw, there’s certainly a burning desire for an alternative to the standard multiplex experience. Will theatre owners here take notice? Damn, I sure hope so, because this is how it's done.