A shameless endorsement of Alamo Drafthouse
America, currently, is a clogged toilet at a party. Full of shit, on the brink of overflowing, but not enough of a disaster yet that everyone in the house can appreciate the full extent of the problem.
“Josh has been gone a while,” someone near the fridge might be noticing for the first time.
“The toilet sounds like it’s running,” someone in the hall might be saying. But no one really has access to the full picture—except for Josh, but he’s locked in the bathroom saying, “Oh god, oh god, oh god,” and checking the cabinets for a plunger.
If the stress of living beneath a government that lends itself so easily to a house-party poop metaphor is stressing you out the way it is for me, maybe you want to spend 90 minutes thinking about… not that. Here in New York, we recently got our first Alamo Drafthouse movie theater, and I’d like to recommend that you go. I have been twice in the past few weeks, and both visits were internal noise-canceling events.
Alamo Drafthouse is a chain that originated in Texas, and their big claim to fame is that they offer a full casual-dining menu as part of your moviegoing experience. For every two large, leather seats in the theater, there is a dining table to share. To order off the menu, you just have to write what you want on a little slip of paper and stick it in a holder on your table. Within a couple minutes, your server will come pick up the slip, and then return with your meal when it’s ready. It’s like a drive-in, but inside. It’s like Outback Steakhouse but at the movies. It is, in so many words, a very specific kind of comfort fantasy.
If you’re not sold off the concept alone, let me walk you through the pros:
So many options.
You still have the choice to order movie theater favorites like popcorn and Sour Patch Kids, but maybe you’d also be interested in a cocktail? A warm peanut butter banana cookie? Something called a wild mushroom flatbread? All of these are available to you at Alamo. Plus, the sodas are bottomless, so you also have the option to order one of those and crank through as many refills as you can fit inside of your one mortal digestive system if you’d like. There are a million routes to take.
I’ve been to Alamo ripoff theaters in the area, and one of a few things they get wrong and Alamo gets right are the plates and cups. There is no porcelain or glass at Alamo; your cup is plastic and enormous like you’re at a diner, your plate is made out of that A ’70s wood that looks quilted. Is it the chicest New York City aesthetic? No. But imagine caring about that. Everything is silent while you eat—there are no clattering forks on the floor because they’ve fallen out of a wrapped napkin, no scraping spoons in coffee cups during a sex scene—just good old fashioned muted ingestion.
Ample space for one adult to quietly seethe.
I once heard someone describe Alamo’s seats as “midwest size” and I’d like to confirm their assessment. Everything about the theater feels suburban. In the bathrooms, you’re greeted with a comically long corridor of glimmering stainless steel stalls. In the theater, rows of seats are spread extra wide apart to accommodate a scurrying waitstaff. The best part is all of this seems to be done with the movie in mind. Your server never blocks your view of the screen because there’s dedicated room for them to stand. You never wait in line at the box office because your seat was assigned when you purchased your ticket online. Once you have a ticket, your primary objective at this place is to have a good time. It rules.
Instead of Maria Menounos and Fathom Event trailers, Alamo plays a reel of clips tailored to your movie’s themes before the show starts. For Arrival, a movie about space and love, they played clips from Contact and Abbott and Costello Go to Mars. This is a sweet treat on its own, but at the end of that reel is when I get really horny. The theater also plays an informational message for all of the customers, and in that message they really let you have it re: your phone and voice. “There is no reason for your phone to make a sound ever,” the video purports, a claim I have been making separately for years. “Please be normal and have a fun time, or else we’ll kick you out.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point. Punishment dad. It’s important to them that you remember we’re all here to watch a movie.
Go, if you get the chance, is what I’m saying. It will feel like you are someplace where rules still matter and systems still work. If I think about this any longer I’ll probably realize how bleak it is, but for the time being I am very soothed by capitalism’s magnanimous embrace. That and storytelling. And American casual cuisine.