A Theater Chain Grows in Brooklyn

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Inside Alamo Drafthouse’s first New York City location, slated to open on Friday.

Alamo Drafthouse finally rolled out its orange, ‘Overlook Hotel’ carpet at its first New York City location. And it’s looking impressively distinguished in that good ol’ hipster way, but with shinier edges, a contemporary flair and plenty of on-tap craft beer to go around: 96 ‘unique’ taps in 2 separate bars to be exact. The lobby welcomes you with the geometric patterns of the aforementioned rug (bring your own tricycle if you wish, as the lobby sports a bike rack) and leads you into the 40,000 sq ft, multi-level complex with 796-seats across 7 screens. But not before you fight your way through the sterile high-rises, ever-expanding construction sites and overstocked chain stores of Downtown Brooklyn. Just step in the City Point to escape from all that, climb up the escalators to the top floor past the city’s “best kept secret” discount department store ‘Century 21’, and revel in this cinematic playground.

Along with Nitehawk, Metrograph and iPic, Alamo is the newest welcome addition to New York City’s continuously growing theater scene and will show new releases as well as a rich repertory program throughout the year. The location is equipped to screen both 35mm and digital formats, but the main selling point that sets Alamo apart is its strict ‘no texting & talking’ cell phone policy. A bunch of strong-willed, tough New Yorkers doesn’t seem to intimidate the chain’s CEO & Founder Tim League, as he defiantly pledges to stay true to his brand’s policy in Brooklyn. As it is also the case across all its 25 locations and 190 screens (7 more will be added next year, including one in Los Angeles), you will get one warning at Alamo Brooklyn for breaking the ‘no cell phones for any reason’ rule. Repeat your offense, and you’ll be shown the door with no refund. Behave, and you’ll get to stretch your legs, order your food and beverage from the comfort of your leather seat, from a menu created by the East Harlem-born-and-raised chef Fernando Marulanda.

During yesterday evening’s private media tour, League seemed exhilarated to be a part of this growing community, and observed there is even room for a lot more in the city. “I respect anybody that is doing good work in terms of great presentation and programming. Cristina [Cacioppo ‐ Creative Manager & Programmer] knows the Metrograph guys really well. She took me to a screening there once and it was awesome,” said League. “It’s an all ships rise situation for us. There is no conflict or animosity. I love The Nitehawk and have been there many times. They’ve supported a lot of the Drafthouse film releases and I hope they continue to do so.”

On a personal note, I felt right at home as soon as I arrived at the media tour, as I was, to my great shock and pleasant surprise, greeted by a plethora of Turkish one-sheets (of both Turkish and international films) decorating the lobby and beyond. As I walked by the posters of Yaz Bekârı (starring Gülşen Bubikoğlu and the recently passed away Tarık Akan), and Yılmaz Güney’s Silah ve Kanun, I noticed that many of the countless posters were of films starring our inimitable leading man and action hero Cüneyt Arkın. The posters were brought from the infamous genre film festival Fantastic Fest, held every year at Alamo Drafthouse in Austin (its 2015 slate included a large collection of Turkish exploitation films of the 70s.) During a Q&A session later in the tour, League saluted this scrappy and deliciously schlocky segment of Turkish cinema that (illegally) thrived due to lack of copyright laws. “When a popular movie came out in the United States, there would soon be a Turkish version made at a very different budget,” League said, proudly bragging about the fact that the only 35mm copy of the Turkish Star Wars is in his possession. “It’s a fantastic film. Because they were limited on budget, to get the space battle scenes they actually bribed a projectionist, stole a print of Star Wars, cut out all the scenes with space battles, and spliced them into their movie. It’s a work of broad genius, completely illegal. Cüneyt Arkın starred in 1600 feature films in his life. He is the most prolific actor in the entire history of film.” League continued that they’d treat the hallways of the complex as a gallery space. Next up would be a poster collection of Indian Films, programmed as part of this year’s Fantastic Fest. In the future, they plan on finding ways to bring more of the Fantastic Fest vibe to Brooklyn, not just with artwork, but also with programming.

One of the theater’s main attractions is surely its lobby-level restaurant and bar House of Wax, boasting an extensive display of waxwork sculptures inspired by the Panopticum touring attractions of 1880s. It wouldn’t be a stretch to claim that House of Wax might just be the only spot in the entire universe where you can enjoy your vintage, 1880s-inspired cocktail while staring at the original death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte. There are various categories to feast your eyes on throughout this unique, soon-to-be hot-spot. “At the back, there is Cultures of the World,” said League. “We have a lot of pathological, disease pieces. This predates popular photography and definitely predates film. This was the only time outside of lithography and film that you could see representations like this.” He continued, “We like this in the cinema space, because we almost look at it like proto-cinema. Ideas of exploitation film started with the guys here and continued till the exploitation cinema of the 1960s.” Because these panopticums were put out of business due to competition from movies, League said it was only right that they were preserved in a movie theater setting.

Despite being an Austin-based organization, League stressed their commitment to locality, driven by his general opposition to the “chain” mindset. “The only thing that’s consistent between the Austin Menu and here is the queso, because people have been demanding it. This will be very much a Brooklyn theater and not programmed or driven out of Austin.”

Images courtesy of the Alamo Drafthouse. Photographs by Victoria Stevens.

Freelance writer and film critic based in New York. Bylines at Film Journal, Time Out NY, Movie Mezzanine, Indiewire, and others.