Flanked by a handful of dilapidated homes, discount liquor stores and the Dallas Police Department, the Cedars might seem an unlikely spot for a movie theater. A second glance, however, unveils a convergence of urban potential -- art galleries, music venues, bars, public transportation -- along the neighborhood's western edge. Besides, Alamo Drafthouse is no ordinary movie theater. With its soft opening Feb. 8 through March 9, the Austin-based haven for cinephiles looks to exploit The Cedars' budding potential for all its worth.
With the arrival of Alamo's first local outpost in 2013 -- Alamo Drafthouse DFW in Richardson -- most North Texans were soon made familiar with the brand's particular concept.
Alamo proves going to the movies doesn't have to be just about seeing a flick: There's live music, interactive programming, props and, yes, beer.
Delicious, rare, locale, higher-end craft beer, plus house made cocktails and food for a fully integrated evening in one spot. Whether there to simply see a first-run movie or to jump into a fully immersive experience -- think screening Jaws while floating on inner tubes ... on water -- guests expect more from their 90-ish minutes of celluloid.
But you might be wondering: Why is another location a big deal? What differences can you expect between the new Drafthouse and its northern sister? Is there anything of note that is new?
Location is everything
At first glance, a location that close to downtown might seem risky -- that area is not exactly known for its hopping nightlife or vibrant restaurant scene, at the moment. But, think about this: Alamo's most dynamic events involve not just film, but music, costumes, food, beer and dancing.
The new location is a stone's throw SouthSide Ballroom, Gilley's Dallas, the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, and two DART stations, not to mention a quick drive from Love Field, which management is hopeful will only increase the amount of VIPs they're able to bring in for special events like, for instance, director George A. Romero, who stopped by Richardson with the rest of the Dawn of the Dead cast during last year's Texas Frightmare Weekend.
Alamo D-FW COO Bill DiGaetano points out this access lends itself to seemingly limitless partnerships. Programmers say they are already making connections for before/after parties for the live music venues and rooftop pool parties at NYLO hotel. They foresee programming that includes local artists from South Side at Lamar and the Dallas Arts District, and they are already looking forward to the influx of geeky revelers at Comic Con and Fan Days.
There's potential for very intentional synergy within a small, walkable radius.
In fact, a central idea is to create for Dallas a festival like Fantastic Fest in Austin, but perhaps even bigger. With music venues and hotels nearby, DiGaetano says he envisions it fostering a multimedia festival not unlike a "mini South By Southwest" in coming years.
Smaller theaters, better seats
Management says they have learned a lot from the Richardson location, and one of the biggest things was seating. Unlike the stadium seating with long bars for tables you'll find up north, the new location has all reclining chairs with individual tabletops. This allows for a slightly more comfortable experience, especially when it comes to getting up. Another nice little feature: Each seat, as well as seats at the upstairs bar, comes with a purse hook on bottom to keep one's bag off the floor.
Find yourself in the front row? Those seats feature a "deeper recline and a footrest," according to a press release. "It's just a little way of saying thank you for taking the 'crappy' seats," creative manager and programmer James Wallace says, "We want to be the first theater in the world where people actually fight for front row." He was quick to also note that Alamo's front rows are a good 20 feet from the screen in the first place, unlike traditional movie theaters', which are generally 5 or 10.
On the whole, theaters within the new location are also cozier, with the smallest at 49 seats and the largest two at 153, versus Richardson's largest at 247. In all, Dallas has seven theaters with a total seat capacity of 700 versus Richardson's six theaters and 825 seats. Plus, there's potential for outdoor events with a 30-foot outdoor screen, which is not in use all the time. Like its sister locations, Dallas' theaters boasts 4K digital projection with 7.1 Dolby Surround Sound and 35 mm capability for classic and repertory screenings in select theaters. One thing that's new? Servers will take orders on iPads, which is expected to boost drink and food order efficiency, a feature that will be expanded to other locations soon.
Oh, right. Parking downtown can be a nightmare. Alamo has 400 dedicated spots on-site and the lot will be fenced before the grand opening. On dates when there are especially big events at the nearby venues, DiGaetano says they might consider hiring attendants to ensure spots are available for Alamo customers or, if needed, add free valet, but that's not expected. Not driving? There's a DART station at the nearby convention center and DiGaetano says they're working on becoming an official Uber stand.
The food situation
Alamo's focus has always been on scratch food from locally sourced ingredients, and the Dallas location is no different; in fact, they've hired a new executive chef and expect serious menu updates in the near future.
While that's on the horizon, for now, Dallas customers can also expect to see items from local companies like Empire Baking Company, Dude Sweet Chocolate and Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters on the menu.
More rare beers
Craft beers are the name of the game at Alamo -- quite literally, as the website points out, "Drafthouse" is its middle name, after all. Richardson's Glass Half Full Taproom features a solid list of locals and nationally praised options for the serious beer drinker, as well as craft cocktails, and the new Dallas location is expected to boast a similarly elite list.
"With 32 taps at Dallas, we'll now have the volume at the two locations combined to bring in some really rare stuff, kind of what you might find at a place like the Meddlesome Moth," director of operations Bryan Penley says.
The beer list is expected to "separate us not just from movie theaters, but other bars in Dallas."
Speaking of beer, tell us about the bar
We wish we could say more, but Vetted Well is mostly top secret at the moment. Located upstairs, theater's adjoining bar is a totally separate entity with its own concept, and it won't open for several more weeks. Don't worry, you'll still be able to order drinks from the kitchen; you just won't be able to party upstairs just yet.
It makes sense: You don't have to see a flick at Alamo to enjoy hanging out on-site; some folks come just for the drinks, eats, live music and karaoke. The theater -- and most of the bottom floor -- closes after the final screening, while the bar remains open until 2 a.m. When it's completed, the bar will feature two patios with remarkable skyline views and four private, themed karaoke rooms.
Scroll through for photos of Vetted Well:
Whenever Alamo moves into a new neighborhood, it can take some time to determine that area's preferences and vibe. Initially, the programming in Dallas may be very similar to Richardson's, but management expects that to evolve in time. For now, the good news is that if there's a really cool event on a particular date but you have to, say, work that night, there's a good chance you'll get another opportunity to rap like Ice T or feast like a hobbit at the other location in a few days or weeks.
Interestingly, Wallace says Richardson has already become an interesting test market for the D-FW area. When they opened in 2013, there was of course a bit of stigma in the suburbs so they started right off the bat, he says, with some of their "most ballsy programming."
"More screens means ability to be even more rebellious and punk rock," Wallace promises.
When can we go?!
Feb. 8 - 11: It's 50 percent off food/non-alcoholic beverages while they get going. DiGaetano puts it best: "Training kids to carry food upstairs in the dark takes awhile, so it's our way of saying thanks for your patience."
Feb. 12 - Feb. 14: 30 percent off food and non-alcoholic beverages
Feb. 15 - Feb. 21: 15 percent off food and non-alcoholic beverages
Feb. 22 - Mar. 8: Free order of cookies per party
March 9: Grand opening
Cost: $11.50 for evening adult tickets, food $5-15, drinks $5-10; here's the menu
The future of Alamo Drafthouse in D-FW
In a word, bright. New locations are coming soon in Las Colinas and Little Elm, and DiGaetano says he has his eyes on six more potential spots in Dallas county, as well as ones in Tarrant County -- though don't get too excited; land prices are much steeper and population less dense, making it a less feasible business decision at this time. However, DiGaetano says as the local market strengthens with four eventual locations, they may be able to revisit the area with their sights on a smaller, art-house-style outpost, but that's speculative at this point.
Scroll through for a first look at the new Alamo Drafthouse near downtown Dallas: