Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Enters New York Region

By Robert Marich
   Aug. 5, 2013—The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema opened its first theater in the New York City area, and here are my observations since it’s in my backyard in suburban Yonkers, NY. The six-screen cinema follows the Austin, Texas-based chain’s recipe of offering in-cinema dining and quirky humor.
   Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers opens in a former United Artists cinema building, which has been overhauled and redecorated. The revamp includes installing a large commercial kitchen within the cinema complex, where it’s said that breads are baked from scratch for freshness. The theater also offers booze, including local beers from Yonkers Brewing and Captain Lawrence. The menu priced beers at about $6 each, or $25 for a pitcher. The food menu is extensive with pizza about $12 for an individual size.
   Seating is pre-assigned and moviegoers order food/beverages either when they come in or by filling out forms to reduce talking noise. Each row of richly-appointed seats has a long table (each auditorium reconfigured by taking out every other row of seats to make way for the long tables).
   Despite serving food, the Alamo Drafthouse chain is a stickler about maintaining in-theater audience silence and its policy is to give noisy patrons (“no talking, no texting”) one warning before ejection without refund. Reflecting its quirky humor, the chain is famous in cinema circles for an audio advertisement that plays a real-life phoned-in complaint from an indignant moviegoer who had been bounced.
   Movie projection at the remodeled Yonkers auditoriums are Sony 4K electronic units, and one of the six screens also has a traditional 35mm film projector for older films not converted to digital. The chain plays older movies in thematic clusters as well as current releases.
    The site of Yonkers is a town with a population of 200,000 and is the largest city in suburban Westchester County, with 950,000 total population that is mostly affluent and located immediately north of New York City. There is a four-screen Clearview theater within walking distance of the Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers, but otherwise competition is distant in the suburban New York City exhibition zone.
   Behemoth circuit Regal owns the Regal New Roc Stadium 18 in New Rochelle (six miles east) and AMC has a 14-screener in Port Chester (12 miles north east). Both of these have big screen Imaxes. National Amusements operates a 15 screen multiplex in White Plains (10 miles north). There are several smaller theaters too, including the non-profit and arty Jack Burns Center with a three-plex in Pleasantville.
    The opening of the Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers was an event attended by local dignitaries and circuit chief Tim League was on hand to accept welcoming proclamations from city, county and state governments. The Yonkers theater is projected to support 150 jobs, so local government is accommodating.
   Reflecting the circuit’s quirky character, CEO League arranged for tops of champagne bottles to be popped off with a sword, which he said is a good-luck ritual dating back to Napoleon (see photo below). League and his wife began the Alamo Drafthouse chain in Austin Texas with no prior entertainment background, but simply a love for movies. The parent is closely held, though it partners with outsiders for individual cinemas, according to League. The parent also distributes independent films, in what is a nascent business.
   Alamo Drafthouse has 17 theaters in operation, and another seven on the drawing boards. Those planned theaters include two in New York City—the City Point at Fulton Mall in Brooklyn and the Metro Theater on Broadway in Manhattan.
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BELOW-Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League presides over the opening of the circuit's Yonkers, N.Y. theater.
BELOW-The lobby of the Yonkers theaters has a life-size recreation of the cowboy-rides-the-bomb scene in movie classic Dr. Strangelove, which moviegoers can mount. The arial photo in the background--the bomb's target--is of the location of the theater.
BELOW-Intrepid Marketing To Moviegoers author Robert Marich "rides the bomb" in the lobby of the new Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers.
Photo by Marie Silverman Marich