10 Pins and a Dream
The Alamo Drafthouse empire expands to include bowling, karaoke, and cocktails
"What do you do for recreation?"
"Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback." – The Big Lebowski
Alamo Drafthouse kingpin Tim League has big balls. We mean huge, swirly 12-pounders. And he can't wait to show them to you. But you already knew that, didn't you? No? Okay. We'll back up, lest you get the wrong idea ...
Several tantalizing rumors have been running rampant on a number of fronts regarding various Alamo doings of late, but as our recent powwow with League revealed, not all of them have their basis in actual facts. Here's the skinny thus far:
Rumor: The Alamo Drafthouse is opening a new location on the site of the old Concordia University campus.
Fact: "We have spoken to the owners of the property," admits League, "but at this point, that's just a rumor and nothing more."
Rumor: League and his wife, Alamo co-founder Karrie League, are engaged in a lawsuit against Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas Ltd., the company that purchased the Alamo brand name several years ago with the intent of creating a chain of Alamo Drafthouses across the nation.
Fact: "Here comes the judge!" as Laugh-In would put it. It's true, the Leagues are suing ADC Ltd.'s president and CEO, John Martin, in what is essentially, from the Leagues' point of view, a case of fraud.
"Almost five years ago," Tim explains, "[Karrie and I] ostensibly sold the company and then licensed back to ourselves the name and kept the original locations, meaning the Village, the Lake Creek, the South Lamar, and the Ritz. So there are essentially two Alamo Drafthouse companies. There's been some maneuvering to edge Karrie and I out of the picture, and then on top of that, they haven't really done what they promised they were going to do, which was open more Alamo Drafthouses while maintaining the strength of the brand. That never materialized, and the relationship has become strained. We really don't care for the direction that they're taking the company in." Hence the lawsuit, which is ongoing.
Rumor: In addition to badass cinema, Tim League also loves bowling, karaoke, and cocktails and plans to make you love them, too, and damn the economy.
Fact: Too true, and too cool. Dig this:
You know times are tough when the Salvation Army retreats. But William Booth's loss is Austin's gain: The former Salvation Army thrift store at 1142 S. Lamar, all 14,000 square feet of it, has been leased to its neighbor, the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Construction is under way on what Tim is tentatively calling "the Palace," to be open this fall.
Incorporating a bowling alley, with the actual Fifties-era lanes bought from legendary New Orleans bowler nirvana Rock 'n' Bowl, private karaoke rooms, a cafe, a bar, and oh so much more, the Palace, overseen by longtime Alamo architect Richard Weiss, with interior design by Joel Mozersky (Uchi, the Belmont), is a natural, fittingly organic outgrowth of both the Alamo brand and the Drafthouse's South Lamar location, specifically. And if you've been to just about any Friday or Saturday evening screenings there lately, then you've most likely already experienced the serpentine waiting lines that were the first inspiration for an expanded Alamo South Austin.
"After the Salvation Army closed," explains League, sitting in the Alamo's newly refurbished offices, "we did four or five little makeshift parties in that space, and we thought: 'You know, it's kind of a nice place to have available. Maybe we can make something more of it.' The thing was, one of the problems with this center is that there's very few uses for a 14,000-square-foot space that we could park appropriately. But something like a bowling alley, which is kind of a space-hog – the lanes themselves take up half the square footage – isn't so much of an impact on the already slightly crowded parking.
"As for the lanes themselves, there's this company that specializes in vintage bowling equipment in New Orleans, and, apparently, Rock 'n' Bowl had just moved locations and upgraded their equipment, which was a stroke of luck for us. We bought their old, classic-style lanes. ... This is equipment that was originally installed in 1950, actually.
"It's not just a bowling alley," League emphasizes. "It's multiuse. Moviegoers from the Drafthouse will be able to hang out here, grab a cocktail, and then we'll do Southwest Airlines-style boarding for the films. 'Now seating group one for Up.' We're going to try and get rid of these film lines altogether. And then it's going to also be a stand-alone space where people can come to bowl, grab a cocktail, maybe play Skee-Ball, or go for late-night karaoke.
"[Alamo Creative Director] Henri Mazza and I are both absolutely obsessed with karaoke, and I promise you we are going to have the most badass private karaoke rooms in town. Each of the rooms will be themed to a different style of music, so there'll be a punk room, a metal room, what have you, all of them with a superhuge song selection. So depending on what you're feeling like ..."
Is the ever-stylish Tim League a karaoke master?
"I'm not very good," he deadpans, "but I do it with vigor."
And as for the bowling? Better than Bedrock Barney, as the Dickies would say?
"Ah, I'm not a very good bowler, either, but I am looking forward to having 24/7 access to bowling lanes."