Things You Didn't Know About the Alamo Drafthouse
By now almost everyone in the Magnited States of America knows that you aren't allowed to text in an Alamo Drafthouse, but the company's rich, 18-year history holds much more interesting trivia than you can pack into a minute-long, pre-film PSA. Read on to find out 13 things you didn't know about the Alamo Drafthouse, unless you're currently in one of its theaters, in which case turn off your damn phone.
The Drafthouse wasn't the Leagues' first theater
Prior to transforming a parking garage on Colorado St into the original Alamo, Tim and Karrie League had already had cut their teeth in the movie business with a small theater in Bakersfield, CA, called the Tejon. Armed with engineering and microbiology degrees and little practical experience, the founders learned the business the hard way: by failing. After the Tejon didn't work out, they packed up the projector, moved to Austin, and opened the Alamo.
Its policy on no talking during the films stems from a screening of Blue Velvet
It's common knowledge that talking in a Drafthouse will get you thrown out (potentially by former Texas governor Ann Richards), but the origins of the rule are less well-known. In an interview with Today, CEO Tim League explained that they arrived at the policy after a particularly rowdy screening of Blue Velvet fueled by $1 PBRs.
The theaters are 18 and up, but they make exceptions for young Godard fans
Keeping unaccompanied minors out makes for a better movie experience, but when a 17-year-old posted to Reddit about how badly he wanted to see Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language 3D but couldn't convince his parents to take him because it was the day of the Superbowl, the Drafthouse creative director stepped in and offered him a free ticket. Now thanks to one kid's desperate Reddit plea, the Drafthouse is starting a program to allow movie nerd teens to earn the right to attend without a parent.
The Ritz has a long history that includes porn, punk rock & complicated racial policies
The Alamo took over its Downtown location in 2007, but before the two-screen theater was hosting Quote-Alongs it was showing “talking pictures” as early as 1929. The Chronicle published a thorough timeline of the building, noting that it was originally the only theater to allow African Americans (in the balcony), served as a XXX theater from '70-'75, hosted the likes of Black Flag during its '80s punk rock incarnation, and operated as a bar owned by the same guy behind J Black's and The Ranch.
The first Rolling Roadshow was a Deliverance canoe trip
Part of the Drafthouse's magic is its one-of-a-kind Rolling Roadshow experiences, but before legendary events like Jaws on the water or Goonies in Longhorn Cavern, the company's first roaming experiential event took place along the banks of the Colorado River where a group of 70 canoed to a remote location for a screening of the film Deliverance.
Tim League sold the brand in 2004... but reclaimed the title of CEO in 2010
When franchising opportunities began to arise in the early aughts, the Leagues sold off the Alamo Drafthouse brand name and focused on running the three original locations (Ritz, South Lamar, and Village). The national expansion between 2004 and 2010 was a huge success on some levels, but creative differences between League and the new management led him to reclaim the reigns to the company in 2010. Now Alamo's currently on track to have locations in 20 different cities, all under the watchful eyes of the original owners.
The cocktails are legit and the wine is inconceivably good
With a name like Drafthouse you know it's serious about beer, but the cocktail program is also on point thanks to beverage director Bill Norris, an alum of FINO who was awarded best mixologist honors by the Austin Chronicle in 2009, 2010, and 2011 and has competed in the Cocktail World Cup Finals amongst other prestigious competitions. And for those with wine on the mind, they've released limited-edition wines inspired by The Princess Bride and The Silence of the Lambs.
... And it also makes posters, music, and toys
What began as a small T-shirt shop in the lobby of the original on Colorado St has grown into a massively successful business of its own called MONDO, which commissions and distributes limited-edition posters, vinyl reissues of classic scores, and even unique, meticulously-sculpted TMNT toys.
The pre-show footage is the same at all the theaters across the country
Aside from special one-off events, the bizarre clip compilations played before the films are uniform across all the franchise locations thanks to the work of found footage archaeologist Laird Jimenez.
It's finally headed to New York City
After an unsuccessful attempt at opening a location on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 2013 (pictured above), this summer, the NY Times announced that the Alamo will have a foothold in City Point complex in Downtown Brooklyn alongside a mall and a food hall for “start-up restaurateurs.” It's expected to open in 2016 to the chagrin of the Nitehawk.
The founders are advocates for the homeless
Community involvement's a big part of the Alamo's mission and that includes Austin's most needy. Founders Tim and Karrie League work with several different homeless non-profits around town, from serving on the board of ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition), to hosting the Art From The Streets show at their MONDO Gallery, to partnering with Mobile Loaves and Fishes to install an outdoor theater at the soon-to-open Community First! Village.
It knows how to throw a food fight
Fantastic Fest is the Drafthouse's yearly film festival centered around the type of genre films you'd never see anywhere else, but the highlight of 2014's fest took place off-screen fueled by 320 gallons of organic firepower that was unfit to sell in grocery stores.
In addition to showing films, it also distributes them
Drafthouse Films' current roster clocks in at 36 massively strange independent movies ranging from rediscovered exploitation classics like Miami Connection to The Act of Killing, a powerful Oscar-nominated documentary about Indonesian genocide. If you trust its taste (which you should), you can join The Alliance to receive a year's worth of new releases.
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Dan Gentile is a staff writer at Thrillist. The first time he went to the Drafthouse was when he snuck into Quentin Tarantino's QT Fest at the age of 15. Follow him to more Old Austin nostalgia at @Dannosphere.