By Abigail Wetteroff
Cynics may say that movie theaters are on the outs, a passé relic from the era where one had to bear the inconvenience of leaving the house to watch a newly released title. We have fallen out of practice as moviegoers in post-Covid years.
How do modern theaters fight their supposed irrelevance and the indifference of the masses? They strive to be the best versions of themselves and create an ideal moviegoing experience. This is the niche that Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, an Austin-based chain of just short of thirty theaters, aims to occupy. They have recently opened a location at St. Louis’ City Foundry.
“Alamo is a theater that caters to movie lovers,” says Jennifer Johnmeyer, Communications Director of St. Louis and Springfield locations.
This ethos is evident upon setting foot on the Kubrick-inspired Overlook Hotel carpeting. An Instagramable pop-art mural of movie scream queens, heroes, and monsters greets all who enter. Prop replicas adorn an accent wall: a “Vote for Pedro” tee from Napoleon dynamite, a pair of door knockers from Labyrinth, a Handbook for the Recently Deceased from Beetlejuice, and a smattering of other easter eggs appealing to various levels of film nerdom. There are movie posters in excess, most of which are mainstays of the St. Louis locations genre theme, absurdist comedy.
This is not supposed to emulate a dated, sticky-floored stereotype of movie theaters that homebodies shudder to imagine. This is an elevated, “next-level” moviegoing experience. Given that fact, I was surprised to learn that ticket prices here are comparable to that of an AMC or my local Marcus theater, and they likewise offer a discounted rate on Tuesdays.
There is a full bar, craft beer on tap, and a restaurant-style menu with everything from churro popcorn to avocado toast to buffalo cauliflower. There is a strict no-talking and no-phone policy in the theater, and I am told that they will kick you out for causing a disturbance. This sounds like a millennial hipster’s dream, but I have to admit that it appeals to me too.
That sense of elevation also applies to the social aspect of moviegoing. Alamo hosts “movie parties” with props, guest speakers, and other perks. They love cosplayers and invite other local businesses and organizations to participate.
“We do live Q&As, anything where we can elevate it to an interactive experience,” says Johnmeyer.
In the past, the Scottish Society has spoken at a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Greg Sestaro has appeared for a The Room event, and St. Louis’ Altered State Comics store has hosted a table at an Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania premier.
“Just really digging into where we are and learning about the people around us,” Johnmeyer describes it. “That’s one of our core values, fostering community.”
To Johnmeyer, who grew up working in a theater run by her family, there’s something special about the “movie magic” of seeing a film in the theater.
“Every time I’m in a theater and the lights are going down and our trailers are coming up, I still get goosebumps… because I know how much care goes into everything that we do here,” she says. “It’s so easy to distract yourself if you’re just sitting at home. It is truly an escape to be able to go into a movie theater… Just me and the movie.”
Despite many setbacks (a period of production hell, to put it in movie terms) Alamo Drafthouse St. Louis finally had a soft opening of its City Foundry location last December. The pandemic, a lack of theatrical releases, and supply-chain issues all contributed to delays.
Things now seem to be in full swing. There is a full list of first-run, indie, classic, and cult films now playing at Alamo. Ongoing series include this month’s pick “Keanu Forever,” which focuses on the career of frontman Keanu Reeves, from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to John Wick Chapter 4. There is an ongoing “film club,” which like a typical book club, curates topical movie picks that inspire a discussion. For the premier of The Super Mario Bros Movie, there will be a kid-friendly themed party. And, they are open to suggestions of doing even more. According to Johnmeyer, there is “always cause to celebrate.”