Swords & Leisure Suits: Alamo Drafthouse Grand Opening Reply

The Alamo Drafthouse – that iconic Austin temple of cinema and cuisine – officially opened its fifth location Thursday morning with a ribbon cutting ceremony in South Austin (executed with a sword prop), at Slaughter Lane and MoPac South, in Circle C. The ceremony was officiated by Drafthouse founder Tim League and his friend, movie producer Robert Rodriguez.

“More than anything, we are still just movie fans,” said League, with wife Karrie and 6-month old twin daughters, Cassidy and Calliope, nearby as their hubby/daddy talked about failing at the League’s first theater venture 15 years ago in Bakersfield, CA.

The couple left the west coast back then and headed for Austin, loaded to the gills with salvaged theater parts and “very little money.” Fast forward to 2013, when Tim League will no doubt triumphantly bring the Alamo Drafthouse to San Francisco, with a newly announced location planned for the Mission District.

Attending the premier alongside League, his longtime friend, was film director, Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl). Rodriguez told premier-goers that his lifetime movie memories started in his San Antonio childhood when, as one of 10 kids, his mother would take him to a local revival theater to see old movies.

“Some of my best memories now are at Alamo Drafthouse, ” Rodriguez said. “I bring my kids here. Movies are like time machines that make memories to last your whole life.”

For the fashionistas and the Red Carpet record, Rodriguez wore his uniform black ensemble, while League – speaking of time machines – took a fashion risk with a mint green shaded leisure suit (truly a man who loves things retro).

The leisure suit wasn’t the only departure from convention. The ceremony consisted of League quoting an obscure (if not completely fabricated) ancient culture legend about decapitating the cork off a champagne bottle with a sword (Rodriguez did the honors, quite effectively), before attempting to hack the ceremonial ribbon in two with a dull-edged Lord of the Rings prop sword (it took a few tries but it got the job done).

All of it was fittingly entertaining for the popular, kitschy entertainment venue that has finally made its way south of Austin.

“We have wanted to put a location out here in South Austin for at least four or five years,” said Chief Operating Officer Mike Sherrill.

So, what’s to see this grand opening weekend at the now-closest entertainment venue to Dripping? All the glorious details can be found online in the weekly newsletter:

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New Alamo Drafthouse: Sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight Reply

“May we have your attention, please? Now boarding Group A priority seating in Theater Four.”

And so begins the theatergoer’s experience at the new and improved Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at Slaughter Lane & MoPac South in Circle C. The new location launched its “soft open” on Friday. Welcome to the iconic theater’s latest – and closest to Dripping Springs – location. Here, the motto for the unusual ticketing process takes its cue from the movies: “Lines? We don’t need no stinking lines.”

Instead of standing in lines, patrons can relax and text on comfy couches lining both sides of the lobby to await their call to seating – a good solution for Group A ticket holders, who must arrive 35 minutes prior to their showing for first choice of seats.

The line-free ticket grouping for seats is modeled after the Southwest Airlines boarding process and is testing its wings as a model for Alamo patrons at the southwest Austin location. Just like the Southwest Airlines process, being a Group A ticket holder at the Alamo Cinema means first choice of seats once you enter the aircraft…er, theater. But you have to get there 35 minutes ahead of the scheduled showtime and pay $2 extra for a Group A priority seating ticket.

Priority seating is on a first come, first served basis and limited to the first 20 ticket purchases per showing – also similar to the Southwest model of being among the first group of passengers to confirm a seat online to get into the limited A group for boarding. Fortunately, there are no overhead bins to deal with once ticket holders are seated at the Alamo Cinema, and carry-on bags are still free. And, like Southwest, theater ticket prices are reasonable: $7 for matinee seats before 6pm, $10 after 6pm, $10.50 for matinee 3-D showings, $13.00 for 3-D after 6pm (add $2 for each priority seating ticket).                                                                                                      

Once the Group A priority seating tickets are gone, all tickets for a showing are Group B general seating. Group B ticket holders can mosey on into the theater anytime after the Group A folks have found their seats.

The Group B seating selection is not necessarily a second-best option. Unaware of the new ticket selection and seating process, we sat in what is historically considered “bad” theater seating – that is, the front left corner facing the screen. No complaints here. The view was great, the picture was perfect, the sound was exceptional, and the comfy leather seats reminded us a little of our late, great mini van’s captains chair. Even the very first row down front is far enough back from the screen to be perfectly acceptable seating.

Probably the best seating improvement in the new Alamo environment is the table for every two seats design. The configuration of seating rows is still stadium style but we’re talking actual tables, that don’t require you to lean forward to reach your food like the full length wood counter that runs along the front of each aisle at the Lamar location. The tables include low lights underneath so patrons can see their menus and, coming soon, hooks under the tables to hang purses above the theater floor. Holler!

Another seating bonus solves a big problem at other locations. As any Alamo Drafthouse groupie already also knows, the long Lamar food counters make it nearly impossible to exit your row without stepping over other patrons to get out. The new stadium seats with tables design at Slaughter Lane enables patrons to independently enter and exit seating without disturbing their neighbors on either side.  One more reason, as General Manager Bryan Penley puts it, “There isn’t a bad seat in the house.”

Actually, that would be more like eight houses. The huge, spiffy, brand-spanking-clean, new Alamo theater complex houses eight screens with more than 900 seats – including a micro theater seating 32 for private showings – along with three bars, and a giant state-of-the art kitchen that includes a “food lab” for Executive Concept Chef John Bollington to create his fresh, cinema-themed culinary concoctions to satisfy every picture show palette. 

Beverage Director Bill Norris’s proving ground at the new Slaughter Lane location is the 400 Rabbits bar. Norris has won numerous awards and cocktail competitions and brings his signature style to the 400 Rabbits tequila showcase. Of the 140 handcrafted cocktails offered, 70 are made with tequila – the “hottest selling liquor in Austin,” according to manager Penley.  

Per Penley, the name 400 Rabbits is directly related to the myth of the “goddess of agave” who is said to have nursed 400 young rabbits from her 400 you-know-whatsis, and then dispersed the bitty bunnies to spread “the gift of drunkeness.” Drunk or sober, the central Mexico decor in 400 Rabbits is appealing. Intended to also be a neighborhood bar, as much as a place for patrons to await their cinematic boarding call, the bar will soon feature an outdoor area, as well as monitors mounted on the walls to let theater goers know when it’s time for their seating.

For beer lovers and last-minute ticket buyers, the lobby bar is another option. Penley says the box office concept has been completely removed from the new complex and replaced by a bar and ticketing counter, that features 30 beer taps (20 on display here with another 10 on the other side, just around the corner), so guests can buy a beer or craft cocktail at the same time they buy their tickets. The lobby bar also offers a menu of quick appetizers for movie goers in a time crunch to get to their showing.

A third beverage bar on the premises is strictly for the wait staff to serve in-theater patrons. Penley says the genius of the three bars at the new Alamo location is the elimination of chaos for patrons and servers ordering drinks from the same bar. The new Drafthouse design on Slaughter also features a separate service hallway on one side so that servers are not sharing the same access used by ticket holders to some of the theaters. 

There are other options for ticket holders waiting for priority seating, like meandering down the hallway on both sides of the building, past towering cases of archived film reels. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s huge and valuable collection of 35mm reels is near and dear to the heart of CEO Tim League. The reels are also a part of the Drafthouse identity, famous for featuring classic films paired with themed food and drink menus. The reels on display in the case pictured above feature Asian movies (think, Kung-Fu) and stand in sharp contrast to the state-of-the-art digital projection technology in use on the floor above at the Slaughter Lane theater. 

Digital movies now arrive in bright orange plastic cases for projection using the latest technology. The new Alamo theater installed Sony 4K digital projectors and uses QSC digital surround sound. The huge projector machinery is a sight you won’t see from the theater level floor, but what you do see on the screen in the theater is a crystal clear, rich picture that comes from one of the eight hi-tech projectors, like the one pictured below.

But not to worry about technology replacing the job of a projectionist. Human hands and talent are still required, as evidenced by a peek into the projectionist’s room, below. 

 

There’s undoubtedly a lot to see and do at the new Alamo complex in Circle C, even if you don’t get to go upstairs and gawk at the projectors.

If you have tiny kids in tow when you go, there are fun and affordable screenings just for you. During spring break week, the Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter is offering FREE KIDS CAMP screenings between March 10 – 18, including movies like The Wizard of Oz and How to Train Your Dragon.

Out of town that week? No worries. Every Tuesday and Wednesday is “Baby Day” for shows that start before 1:00pm. Kids under 6 are free – and have the freedom to be noisy in the theater – and adults enjoy matinee prices. Be aware that Alamo’s policy for all other times and showings is no kids under age six.

For the hipsters in southwest Austin, convenient and exclusive showings of SXSW films are also featured at the Drafthouse complex on Slaughter Lane. The theater showing the SXSW 2012 presentations seats 130. Check out listings online: http://drafthouse.com/austin/slaughter_lane

Speaking of SXSW hipsters, in other Alamo Drafthouse news, the cool retro-feel franchise just announced its first west coast venture with plans for a location in San Francisco. We think the message here is that Austin – with several Drafthouse locations already – has officially surpassed the Bay Area on the scale of hip.

Overall, we give the new Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at Slaughter Lane our highest “What’s not to like?” rating. The experience was refreshing, relaxed, and friendly.

There were a few overcomeable annoyances – like food runners still having to duck and run back and forth in front of you during the movie, and having to share an armrest with the stranger to your right despite the roomy, cushy leather seating. And the previews are apparently not all formatted for the hi-tech projection and can look blurry. But once the feature starts and the picture and sound are absolutely perfect, and you’ve grown accustomed to the runners bustling by, and the cush of the chair has conformed to your tush, and you and your new neighbor have come to unspoken terms over the arm rest, it’s all good. In fact, it’s great!

Don’t worry about remembering all the details about the new ticketing and seating process. Meet John Walker, pictured here at the lobby bar (cue the Johnny Walker joke). John is one of the many friendly faces on hand to greet and guide guests through the ticketing policy.

It does take some getting used to and we think the Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter should consider handing out little Alamo-styled pins like pilots wings during the grand opening week to patrons who have mastered the system. The grand opening events and hoopla start the week of March 22nd at the new location.

Two things for Dripping Springs residents to know before they go. One, there is plenty of parking in the huge parking lot in front of the theater but be prepared to hike to get to the door. We went on Friday night – just one day into the “soft open” – and the theater was already operating at 70% capacity, despite the weather. Translation – we had to park nearly a tram ride away. On a positive notes, there are a few thoughtfully placed walkways through the parking lot.

The other thing is to come in on Slaughter Lane heading east, and turn right after Escarpment, onto either Beckett at the light, or directly into the Alamo parking lot after Beckett. Leaving the theater, you must return to the light at Beckett in order to turn left back onto Slaughter; or, turn right out of the front of the Alamo parking lot and right again onto MoPac South, to get back around to 1826. There is no entrance or exit to the Alamo parking lot from MoPac.

The new Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on Slaughter Lane at MoPac is worth the trip from Drip, with many happy returns. This location will do well and is a welcome addition to entertainment options for Dripping Springs area residents. Enjoy! 

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