March 19, 2011

Theater Review: The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

Combining dinner and a movie is tough to do well. How do you offer table service without disturbing the movie experience? How do you eat without getting ketchup on your shirt? How do you enjoy a meal which you literally never see 'cause it's so dark? I have been to three or four different eat-in movie theaters over the last fifteen years. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has perfected it. The Alamo Drafthouse combines an ideal chew 'n view experience, with specialty events, and blockbuster movies. Texans don't know how lucky they are. In Boston, you have to choose from these three, never all at once.
The Theater Itself
The actual design of the theater is a huge factor. The Alamo has stadium seating, with a continuous "bar" in front of all the seats. Between rows, there's a mini aisle for the servers to deliver food. They can come and go during the film and not obscure anyone's view. This is the only chew 'n view theater I've seen which has figured this out. The Keystone in Portland had a flat floor, with repurposed Lincoln Town Car seats on casters. The screen was mounted pretty high on the wall, which helps, but this is clearly the cheaper choice when building the facility.
Eating in the Dark
Humans were not meant to eat a juicy bacon cheeseburger in complete darkness, while reclining- at least not without a bib.The Alamo's seating is upright enough, and the bar is close enough, to minimize the drip factor. Also, there's very dim lighting on the bar only- not enough to distract from the movie. The Cinema Du Lux in Dedham's ceiling-mounted lighting is glowing at 20% all the way through the movie, effectively illuminating all your fellow moviegoers, basically distracting everyone the whole time.
At the Alamo, you fill out a paper form with your food and beer order. During the pre-show, the wait staff will actually interact with you. During the movie, all you have to do is clip the order slip upright, and this flags your waiter. This worked perfectly for us. At the Keystone, the waiters used electric ordering minicomputers- I think they were supposed to make the service more effecient, but our service was slow. At the Cinema Du Lux, you have to speak to the waiter, so anyone who orders during the movie annoys everyone else. At the Framingham Premium Cinema, there's no "table" service during the movie.
The Charm Factor
The Alamo goes to the trouble to screen pre-show entertainment. Our feature film, Paul, stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The pre-show included a selection of their pre-Hollywood sketch comedy from British TV, plus scenes from their previous films. Some care and effort went into this, care and effort which I think pays off.
Special Events
Singalongs, Snark-Alongs, Special food events- check out their website for all the movie loving details.
UPDATE: The story of a texting customer who was ejected- and the idiotic rant she left on the Alamo's answering machine. Thank you Drafthouse, for defending the quiet customers from the D-bags!