It’s hard to remember exactly when I became a junkie of Alamo Drafthouse, the hip Austin, Texas-based movie chain that finally opened a nine-screen branch in Minnesota this past week.
It might have been that time they offered a meat lover’s pizza special during screenings of the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Or when they served a made-up version of Elsinore beer during a “Strange Brew” revival. Or when Quentin Tarantino set up shop there for five days to personally screen obscure exploitation films from his own collection.
Or it may have simply been that first time I sat in the original one-screen Alamo Drafthouse in 1997 (when I called Austin home) and enjoyed a bowl of real queso and a quality tap beer while watching a movie, any movie. That doesn’t seem so revolutionary now, but it did at the time. Maybe you have to try that queso to believe me.
I’ve been such a longtime believer in the Alamo Drafthouse brand, in fact, that I’ve mentioned to anyone who would listen over the past decade-plus how sorely we needed to open one in Minneapolis.
But I meant Minneapolis specifically, a city that prides itself on indie culture and foodie culture, a city that’s shut in six months of the year — and yet a city that is sorely lacking in a movie house half as cool as an Alamo Drafthouse.
So you can imagine how uptight I got in my tight hipster jeans when I heard the news that Minnesota’s first Alamo outlet would be opening in (of all places) Woodbury.
I know Woodbury. I grew up nearby on the East Side of St. Paul. I have relatives and friends living there now. I am not going to slam Woodbury just because it’s mostly a sea of chain-store retail and franchised restaurants. As if Minneapolis’ Uptown area — a likelier location for an Alamo Drafthouse outlet — is all that much different from Woodbury nowadays anyway.
Seriously, hats off to the landlords at the Woodbury Lakes outdoor mall — and all Woodbury residents — on landing Minnesota’s first Alamo Drafthouse. You’re gonna love the place once you “get” it.
And there’s really not all that much to understand. You don’t have to know Richard Linklater’s entire filmography or the lyrics to a dozen Spoon songs to appreciate what Alamo Drafthouses have to offer — or Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, as they’re now called, the “cinema” added outside Texas to avoid being mistaken for a brewpub.
So what makes Alamo Drafthouses so cool? In a nutshell, they offer savory, mostly made-from-scratch food — from fried pickles and froufrou salads to unconventional pizzas and the locally added Jucy Lucy burgers — alongside clever craft cocktails made by real bartenders and tap beers made by someone other than Miller or Budweiser.
You don’t have to wait in line for any of that, either; it’s all discreetly delivered to your seat during the movie. Or you can get it preshow in the adjoining bar and grill, the Vetted Well. What’s not to love about all that?
Granted, there are things about the Alamos that might make some people think they’re trying too hard to be hip. Like the preshow video with actor Jeff Goldblum at his smarmiest telling you not to talk or text during the film. Or the fact that usually at least a couple of the Woodbury Alamo’s nine screens will be dedicated to lesser known indie movies or themed cult classic screenings.
If you just want to go see the latest Marvel movie, though, this is still the place to go. In fact, most Austinites I know, including my non-cinephile father-in-law, don’t go to any other movie theater besides their local Alamo.
What if you don’t live in Austin or Woodbury, though? Is our new Alamo Drafthouse worth the trip if you live 25 minutes away in a swank new overpriced condo in the North Loop?
I’d say so, yeah, and not just for the selling points listed above.
There really is nothing comparable in Minneapolis or St. Paul. Forget the old, crusty strip-mall “cinema grills” like the one still open in New Hope. Forget the recently or soon-to-be renovated Uptown, Highland, Grandview, Heights, St. Anthony Main and Trylon theaters. (Get back to us when you have queso and 32 tap beers on your menus, folks.)
And definitely forget the fancy new CMX Cinema at the Mall of America, where pizza slices still taste like last night’s SuperAmerica leftovers, and a box of candy that’s $1 at an SA is priced at $5. And you still have to wait in line for any of it.
Some better comparisons to consider for Woodbury’s cool new movie house: There’s also a new Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Kansas City. Also downtown Omaha. So why isn’t there an Alamo Drafthouse in or near downtown St. Paul or Minneapolis?
Maybe if Alamo representatives had used the name Alamo Sports Stadium or Alamo Boxed-Shaped Condo Units, or if they had somehow offered free money to the NFL, they would have gotten immediate support from either city hall.
Minneapolis especially could’ve used it. The last time the city courted a new theater downtown was the ill-fated Block E complex in the early 2000s, when civic leaders seriously thought that urbanites would appreciate such bastions of suburban culture as Applebee’s and Hooters.
Fortunately, Alamo reps themselves know that our downtowns could use the movie houses. At a media preview two weeks ago, they said they do have their eyes on more central/urban locations.
“We absolutely want to be in or near downtown,” Alamo Drafthouse Chief Operations Officer Bill DiGaetano told me, explaining that a suburban location such as Woodbury provides “a less expensive introductory phase.” They can take advantage of cheaper suburban rent while locals get hip to their brand, which softens the blow of paying downtown real estate prices.
So we city kids just need to be patient, apparently. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take Minneapolis as long to get an Alamo Drafthouse as it did for the city to “renovate” Nicollet Mall. And in the meantime, how about somebody offering a new bus service from Uptown or the old Block E location to Woodbury?
5 reasons to join the Alamo Drafthouse cult:
The food and drink: It really is good, and there’s a lot of it; four pages’ worth on the food menu, and 32 beer taps’ worth at the bar. Also, two words: adult malts.
The service: It’s all done low-tech to be unobtrusive during the movie, but it works. Write your order down on a card that you place atop the table adjoining your seat, and usually within a few minutes — and without a single spoken word — your food and drinks arrive.
The cool programming: Some Alamo outlets are showing classic “summer jock” movies for August, including “The Karate Kid” and “Bring It On.” Special events such as singalongs, trivia contests, visits from filmmakers and “feasts” — special menus based on a certain movie — are also on the docket. At least a couple of indie movies are usually on the schedule each week, too.
The added social factor: Alamo brass make a big show of their no-talking policies; indeed, a staffer will come calling if you’re bothering your neighbor. But during comedies and horror flicks, there’s often more of a rowdy group vibe that’s almost concert-like. Not to mention that you can meet before or after the movie in the neighboring bar to talk all you want.
The prices: Even with all these extras, tickets are cheaper than at a lot of the other modern cineplexes ($11 nights, $8 matinees), as is the cost of traditional refreshments such as popcorn, candy and soda (with free refills, by the way).