I’ve heard a lot of good things lately about Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a small chain of movie theaters that screen independent and Hollywood fare, classics, and cult movies. The chain has a reputation for first-class projection, excellent food, a strictly enforced no-talking or texting policy, and (as the name Drafthouse suggests) good beer.
I’ve been wanting to see an Alamo Drafthouse theater open up in the Bay Area for years. And as of next Thursday, we’ll have one. The company has restored the New Mission, a San Francisco movie palace that’s been dark for more than 20 years. They’re opening it on December 17 with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
This morning, along with other members of the local movie press, I got a tour of New Mission–still very much a work in progress. We had to walk around workers and be careful about cables.
Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League led us through the tour. Stopping in the lobby, he explained that the room needed a thorough seismic retrofit, which required removing the art deco décor and putting it all back.
League discussed the company’s policies. All seats are reserved, and using a cellphone while the movie is running is strictly forbidden. “We kick out about 120 people a year system-wide.”
Then he brought us into Theater 1, a huge room with all the markings of an old-fashioned movie palace. You look at this auditorium and assume that it most fit at least 1,000. But it only has 326 seats.
Why so few? Because the New Mission will be a restaurant as well as a movie house. The rows of comfortable seats are far apart, and everyone has a table for their food.
The food is served by waiters in the theater. You write an order on a piece of paper, and put it in a slot that makes it visible to the waiter, who will take your order (no talking needed) and bring you the food.
That big, downstairs theater’s projection room contains Sony’s new SRX-R515DS set of two 4K projectors. Projecting them together should provide an extremely bright image–and excellent 3D–on the theater’s very large screen. Also in the booth: Two 35/70mm film projectors. The theater isn’t all digital. (Two projectors are needed for archival prints.)
I asked League if the 70mm projectors can handle magnetic soundtracks (standard on 70mm prints until 1997–an no longer supported at the Castro). He said they can’t yet, but if they book such a print, they’ll do the upgrade.
When Star Wars opens next week, only Theater 1 will be open. The four smaller theaters, which can seat from 94 to 37 people, were not ready to show the press. They too will have 4K projectors, but apparently no film.
The tour also included the bar, called the Bear Vs. Bull, and the kitchen. Expect California craft beers, a lot of American whiskeys, and adult milk shakes. The kitchen will provide salads, sandwiches, pizzas, “larger plates,” and fresh-baked cookies. Also three specially-seasoned popcorns.
I’m looking forward to it.