The Austin Chronicle

Tweaking the Model, if not the Mission

Alamo Slaughter Lane set to open mid-March

By Richard Whittaker, February 10, 2012, Screens

Goodbye, neck-cricking front-row seats. Farewell, head-butting the table on your way to the restroom. Yup, there are a lot of changes to the classic Alamo experience at its new Slaughter Lane site, but company CEO Tim League says the eight-screen theatre will still provide the same Drafthouse experience, only more so.

Originally planned for 2008 and delayed for four years by the recession, construction out at the Circle C site should finish by March 8, when the theatre is set to soft-open, with the grand opening scheduled for March 22. "Oddly enough, we're on time," said League, "partially because I'm no longer in charge of the construction process." Instead, he reassembled his regular team of architect Richard Weiss and project engineer Daniel Osborne to complete his, well, unique vision. League said, "I think I might bore easily, so I don't want to build the same theatre every time." That could explain the carnivorous plant tendrils ripping the Alamo logo apart in the lobby. Inspired by the alien invasion mural at South Lamar, League wants a sci-fi theme at each future site: This one also serves as a tribute to the nearby Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, where his wife and mother regularly volunteer. League said, "What better way to pay homage to one of Austin's greatest facilities than by having a mutantoid plant invasion?"

In the auditoriums, the Drafthouse equation is undoubtedly being refined. Gone are the old long tables, replaced with a small table for two people to share. As part of a "no bad seats" commitment, the design pushes the front row back farther than before. ("I apologize for the years where I didn't have this policy and there were some really crappy seats," said League.) On the technical front, Slaughter Lane will be all-digital, with two 3-D screens: That means the only 35mm film here will be samples from the American Genre Film Archive (see "Forgotten Films Find a Home," Dec. 25, 2009) on display in cases in the hallway.

League's favorite feature is actually a last-minute addition. With only two weeks between getting the green light to start work and breaking ground, his team decided to split one screen. One half became 400 Rabbits, the tequila bar named after the Centzon Totochtin, the Aztec gods of drunkenness, with a cocktail list from beverage director Bill Norris and menu by Executive Chef John Bullington. The rest became a 32-seat microtheatre, dubbed the MiniMo: That will host niche films, as well as provide a launch pad for local projects. League said, "Unfortunately, we make a lot of decisions of movies that on a Friday or Saturday night, 40 people come. That's pretty good, and we're pretty sure that next week 40 people will come again, but we have to make room for a movie that'll seat 80 people." If the MiniMo concept works, expect to see these microrooms as part of future Drafthouses, as well as bigger screens than ever. "Down the road you'll see the Alamax," League said. "That's my dream."

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