Posted on Friday, October 28th, 2016 by Angie Han
It’s been about six years since we first got word of the Alamo Drafthouse’s plans to expand to New York. They technically succeeded in 2013, if you count Yonkers as part of New York; most New Yorkers do not, and so this week we’re celebrating the fact that the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn is finally, at long last, in business. /Film got a tour of the facility earlier this week, just ahead of the theater’s official launch, and we’ve got all the details on the new location below.
Welcome to the Alamo Drafthouse
If you’ve been to a Drafthouse location before, much about the Brooklyn location will seem familiar, right down to the Overlook Hotel carpet in the entryway. Like the other locations, Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn prides itself on its strict “no talking, no texting” policy, its eclectic mix of blockbusters, indies, and repertory screenings, and its gourmet food and drink offerings (which can be served right to your seat during the show).
But also like the other locations, Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn has its own idiosyncracies. One of the first things you see in the lobby is a giant blown-up photo of New York City as seen in King Kong, complete with an Empire State Building prop piece and a Fay Wray doll for photo opportunities. It’s meant as a nod to the theater’s location; never mind that the Empire State Building is in Manhattan and the Drafthouse is in Brooklyn.
Entering the House of Wax
Further down you see the entrance to the House of Wax, the theater’s on-site bar and museum. It’s completely unique to the Downtown Brooklyn location of the Alamo Drafthouse, as well as completely unique, period. Lining the walls are glass display cases showcasing waxworks from Castan’s Panopticum, an exhibition from 19th century Berlin. You’re greeted by rows upon roads of death masks (wax models of corpse faces) upon entry, and further in you’ll find wax replicas of diseased body parts, modified body parts, and more. My personal favorite is one in the back corner of a woman in the midst of a C-section, the baby halfway out of an incision in her belly. She’s positioned right next to a wax statue of Fritz Haarmann, a serial killer nicknamed “the Butcher of Hanover.”
It’s an incredibly odd theme for a bar, and it’s exactly what makes the House of Wax worth a visit even if you’re not in the mood for a movie. There’s an extensive selection of craft cocktails and a rotating menu of 39 local beers, all the better to keep your hands busy while you wander around gazing at the curiosities and flipping through the small selection of records. If you’re lucky, you might be able to catch a live event at the small stage area in the back. Brooklynites with a taste for the macabre can make a full day of it, with the Morbid Anatomy Museum and Green-Wood Cemetery just a short train ride away.
What Makes Alamo’s Movie Theater Special?
But the real draw of the Alamo Drafthouse, of course, is the movie theater. New Yorkers are already spoiled for choice on that front, and lately we’ve even seen a rash of Drafthouse-style theaters that serve food and drink during the show (e.g., the Nitehawk in Williamsburg and Syndicated in Bushwick). So what makes the Drafthouse special?
Well, for starters, there’s the vibe of the place. The Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn just feels like heaven for a certain kind of film geek — the kind that loves the fact that the theater hallways are decorated with LP covers and vintage Turkish movie posters (some of which are ridiculously, endearingly inaccurate for the movies they’re purportedly promoting). It’s hip in a way that makes you feel hipper for being there, quirky in a way that invites endless exploration, and above all, it’s inviting. At a recent event, I heard more than one person joking that they could happily live at the Drafthouse forever. I may even have been one of them.
That comfortableness extends to the theaters themselves. There are seven in all, with capacities ranging from 4o seats to 188, some outfitted with RealD 3D and one capable of 35mm projection. All seats are leather and generously sized — those who suffer from a lack of legroom at other theaters should find themselves able to relax here — and tables are outfitted with bag hooks in addition to the usual pile of menus, pens, and paper pads for ordering. It’s fair to say there’s not a bad seat in the house. The front row is still less than ideal, as it is in most theaters, but at least at the Drafthouse the front row consists of soft, wide recliners to help you get a better angle.
Then there’s the selection. In its first couple weeks, the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn plans to show everything from blockbusters like Doctor Strange, to acclaimed arthouse flicks like Moonlight and The Handmaiden, to real oddities like The Greasy Strangler. Again, though, this is New York: we can find that stuff anywhere. What makes the Drafthouse worth going out of your way for is its repertory and specialty programming, carefully curated by Cristina Cacioppo.
We’ll get the usual Drafthouse series like Girlie Night (slumber party faves), Terror Tuesday (self-explanatory) and Weird Wednesday (offbeat genre picks). But there’s also Cherry Bomb, the “punk rock sister” of Girlie Night, highlighting bad-girl flicks Times Square, Ladies and Gentlemen, and The Fabulous Stains. And Shouting at the Screen, a blaxploitation and black cult cinema series with Wyatt Cenac and Donwill on hand to comment on the action.
What’s Next for the Alamo Drafthouse?
Even with everything the Alamo Drafthouse has going for it, though, New York could prove a tough market to crack. CEO Tim League is well aware of the special challenges of the New York scene, as he told us:
Well, it’s bigger. I mean, it is movies, right? So it’s intimidating, honestly, coming into a market like New York and there’s already so much great work being done. I mean, we’re a testament to the fact that it’s really hard to open a theater in New York. But for the size of the population, it’s still pretty underscreened. I think there’s always room for people that are doing good programming and good work, so we’re very much an “all ships rise” type.
New York already has plenty of movie theaters, including others that offer in-cinema dining. But League is not worried:
It’s not vexing. If they do it well, then it’s great. I’m in full support of everyone putting together good cinema experience. A lot of the traditional movie experiences that aren’t really trying hard enough anymore, we need to make sure that people are excited about coming to the movies. So I think this small sector of dining and cinema can be good. A lot of those concepts do a great job. I think iPic does a really good job at what they do. It’s different from us, they have a different personality, but their presentation’s great, the food’s pretty good. We’re just aiming for a different demographic.
Part of Alamo Drafthouse’s strategy will be to make sure that their Brooklyn location is, well, Brooklyn-y. Much of that, League explained, will come from local employees like programmer Cristina Cacioppo and promotions manager Mike Sampson:
I think our philosophy, wherever we go, whether it’s a market as important as New York or moving into a smaller market, it’s really the same in that we hire local people to do it. This isn’t being controlled out of Austin. Cristina and Mike [Sampson] have almost complete autonomy to do what they want to do and program to their sensibilities.
[…] Cristina lives here, this is her neighborhood. It’s Cristina’s voice, largely, that’s going to be reflected in the programming. So I think that’s the biggest indicator that, yes, there’s a lot of Brooklyn in this space because we’ve given voice to Brooklynites.
Although Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn is the theater chain’s outpost in New York, League hopes it’ll be the first of many:
We’re certainly looking for projects. We don’t have anything in the pipeline. I kind of wanted to get this open and make sure that what I think is right is, that we can work in the market, and if we do, certainly we’re going to be looking at other spots. There’s plenty of great opportunities and neighborhoods. As you guys know, it’s so segmented. There’s lots of places that could use a movie theater.
Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn is open now. Head over to the official website to buy tickets or get more details.Cool Posts From Around the Web: