What is it about Alamo Drafthouse Cinema that people like so much? "We toe the line between indie and mainstream," says James Wallace, creative manager for Alamo Drafthouse DFW.
The dine-in theater chain will go big on wide-release movies such as Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One, turning the brand-new Lake Highlands location into a pop-up mini arcade with old-school Atari and Sega games for moviegoers to play. Then, maybe, it'll invite children of the '80s back to watch a screening of Say Anything.
Well, is the other movie theater across town going to think of that?
"We like to think of ourselves as a movie theater for movie lovers run by movie lovers," Wallace says. Even senior concierge Javier Medellin, standing in the lobby during the final week before Lake Highlands Alamo Drafthouse opens, is a self-described movie nerd.
Alamo slow-played its expansion into Dallas-Fort Worth, first with a theater in Richardson in 2013, then with a more urban offering in the Dallas neighborhood of the Cedars in 2016.
But 2018 will be Alamo Drafthouse DFW's biggest year by far, as the local franchise jumps from two to five theaters in North Texas in four months. On March 20, the theater in Lake Highlands opens at 6770 Abrams Road. In April, it's Las Colinas, in the Toyota Music Factory complex. June is expected to see a debut in Denton, at Rayzor Ranch.
For a business with an indie personality — and fronted by some guys who just really like movies — that's a stout real estate strategy.
Alamo Drafthouse DFW chief operating officer Bill DiGaetano acknowledges it didn't exactly unfold as planned. "They were all spaced really nicely apart," he says, from 2017 through 2018. "But as anyone who is in real estate development and construction knows, 'Best-laid plans...'"
What's more, Alamo DFW will blaze into 2018 after Bloomberg reported in January that moviegoing in the U.S. and Canada was lower than it had been since the early '90s.
"It's the era of Netflix," says Bryan Penley, president of Alamo Drafthouse DFW, "and here we are, growing."
The Lake Highlands movie theater, just down the street from Top Golf in Dallas, looks like a pretty typical strip-mall spot from the outside: a vacant grocery store converted into an 8-screen theater. The better views are out back, where DiGaetano and his team took the risk of putting the company's Vetted Well restaurant and bar instead of placing it near the front door.
What they're going for is "a little Katy Trail vibe in Lake Highlands," Penley says. "To the people on the trail, this is the front."
He's talking about the White Rock Creek Trail, a green space behind the deck of Lake Highlands' Vetted Well. On a pleasant day, patrons could bike to Alamo, lock up out back and walk in for dinner or drinks. "We hope races and 5Ks end here," Penley says. He pictures lawn games and a kids' playground out there someday.
Inside, the 45,000-square-foot movie theater doubles as a "1,000-seat restaurant," the way this team thinks of it. There's the restaurant, but moviegoers can also order pizzas, sandwiches, milkshakes and cocktails while sitting in reclining leather seats in a dark theater.
All the theaters will abide by the famous no talking, no texting policy. (And if you're wondering if they really kick people out, DiGaetano confirms: "Our managers probably do it a few times a week.")
Let's call roll. Alamo Drafthouse will count Richardson, the Cedars, Lake Highlands, Las Colinas and Denton home by mid-2018. And there's more on the way: DiGaetano says "our No. 1 priority is Fort Worth." He's also focused on north Tarrant County and the Frisco/Plano area.
See? There really might be an Alamo Drafthouse headed in your direction.