Interested in seeing a movie in Austin? If you’re not going to see it at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, you are truly missing out. One of the city’s beloved Austin originals, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas (or simply the Drafthouse, as many Austinite’s call it) have been around since the late 1990s, when the first opened downtown on Colorado Street, as a second-run theater. To date, there are nine Drafthouses in all, with four in Austin (the newest having just opened at the historic Ritz Theater on 6th Street), one each in Houston, Katy, San Antonio, and Rio Grande, Texas and even one in Winchester, Virginia.
While only nine Drafthouses have permanent addresses, the theater’s Rolling Roadshow takes their signature films and fun to locations worldwide.
But what’s so special about the Drafthouse, you ask? What makes it any different than your run-of-the-mill theater franchise? Well, for one (as the name implies), they serve beer. Not just beer, though the Drafthouse offers a full menu of delicious, reasonably-priced movie-themed fare. Sure, they offer a full range of the traditional movie staples popcorn, candy but how about an order of potato skins, red pepper hummus, or chips and salsa to nibble on during your favorite flick? If you’re in the mood for a full meal, pick from any one of their delectable sandwiches (the “Smoky and the Bacon” BLT is a great choice), pizzas (“The Godfather” is an Italian feast) or full meal salads they’ve even got a $5 Shake.
In addition to the regular menu, the Drafthouse also has frequent movie feast specials particularly to accompany new releases featuring prix fix gourmet menus matched specifically to the film in question. The Drafthouse is known for its outrageous events, but these film feasts are some of the most popular (take the Lord of the Rings marathon movie feast, which featured all three films and a full day of hobbit-themed fare including elevensies for a whopping $100+ per ticket).
Other must-see events at the Drafthouse are the infamous Master Pancake Theater, which features comedians commenting on a wide variety of films in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of way. They also host and annual Austin Air Guitar Championship, weekly prime-time TV nights for popular shows like “Lost” and 24, classic movie quote-alongs, and even music fests, like the “90s Alternative Sing-Along.” There is no limit to how far the masterminds behind Austin’s iconic theater will go to entertain (and sometimes shock) its loyal patrons.
Uniquely Austin, and decidedly more concerned with the customer experience than capacity, the Drafthouse does not allow children under six (except for designated matinees), and each Drafthouse theater is relatively small. The theaters are made smaller still, by the fact that every other row of seating has been removed to accommodate the scurrying waiters who run back and forth from the theater to the kitchen throughout the show, wining and dining each happy patron.
Anyone who lives in Austin will tell you, this town is one-of-a-kind, thanks in large part to the many original Austin establishments that help define the city and its character. Without these unique establishments the Drafthouse being near the top of the list Austin just wouldn’t be the same.
Photo by Eldriva