A New Night-out Option
The Violet Crown Cinema brings the arthouse ethos to Downtown
Two weeks shy of its opening date, the Violet Crown Cinema didn't look a whole lot like a cinema. Not yet at least. As owner and operator Bill Banowsky walked me through the space located in the 2nd Street District, he motioned to where leather banquettes will eventually be installed in the two-level lounge and to where the custom theatre seats, en route from Australia, will take their places inside the four 50-seat, stadium-style theatres. Along with the closet-sized digital projection unit, an ICEE machine, not yet installed, was the most identifiably movielike thing about the space. But even under construction, it's easy to see that the bones of the place – well, they're gorgeous.
One week out from its grand opening on April 29, the pace has noticeably quickened inside the theatre. Gleaming subway tiles line the walls, the cushy theatre rows are now bolted down, and there's even a technician tinkering with the ICEE maker. Still, there's a lot to do till opening. I ask Banowsky if he's in the scary place. "I've been in the scary place." He smiles. "I'm beyond the scary place."
A key player at the Landmark and Magnolia theatre chains, as well as the owner and operator of the North Carolina-based Carolina Cinemas, Banowsky has spent 10 years hatching a plan for an arthouse theatre in Central Austin. (A few years back, there was an aborted effort to open a theatre at the corner of Sixth and Lamar.) "A lot of great films don't play in Central Austin," he says, alluding to the north-dwelling Regal Arbor Cinema's lock on a good chunk of the arthouse, foreign, and documentary titles that pass through town. Banowsky doesn't see his new theatre as necessarily at odds with the Arbor; rather, he's aiming to create "a second zone of arthouse film in Austin." He also doesn't anticipate much crossover between the Violet Crown's slate and that of the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz on Sixth Street, the only other Downtown option.
In a crowded entertainment district, where parking comes at a premium and the hassle of just getting around means once you park, you plan to stay, Banowsky hopes the Violet Crown's added perks will convince moviegoers to make a night of it: Four hours of free parking in the connecting AMLI lot are provided to ticket-buyers, and the theatre offers an extensive beer and wine list, mixed drinks, and an eclectic, upscale snack menu that runs from a cheese plate to pizza to cake balls. (See "Violet Crown Cinema," Food, for more about the menu.) It all comes at an upscale cost, too – matinee tickets run $9, Monday through Thursday night shows are $11, and Friday through Sunday, $13 – but $3 Pabst proves Violet Crown knows how to court the hometown crowd.