Alamo Drafthouse Raleigh Review

In November 2013, after seven years of managing one of the busiest movie theaters in North Carolina, I lost my job. Officially, I quit, but that was only after a horrible ordeal that left me completely bitter about not only the movie theater business, but the companies that ran them here in Raleigh.

If I had to be honest, I was pretty much done with the entire movie going experience before I lost my job. I hadn’t watched a movie with an audience in years. Cellphones, tablets, and laptops had ruined that for me. I can’t tell you how many times I had to fight with someone about turning off their phone during a film or dealing with a parent who insisted they had to do work on their laptop instead of watching Shrek 3 with their kids. My everyday frustration, as a manager, wouldn’t allow me to actually relax and enjoy a movie when someone three rows in front of me decides to text on their cell phone for an hour of the movie. So, I did what many Americans are doing nowadays and I stayed home. I waited for movies to hit blu-ray or digital and I enjoyed them in the comfort of my own home without rude people surrounding me.

In the four and half years since I last walked out of a movie theater, I’ve seen six movies at the drive in, which I have to drive over an hour to get to. Two of them were double features, so I’ve gone to the movies just four times in five years. In comparison, in 2003, I went to the movies thirty-six times. I love movies, but the audience and companies have soured me on the whole experience. I honestly didn’t expect to ever step foot inside a movie theater again.

Then last year it was announced that Raleigh was getting its own Alamo Drafthouse. The Alamo Drafthouse is a theater chained based out of Austin, Texas and are known their amazing movie going experience and great food. Over the years, they’ve hosted all sorts of cool movie screening experiences (you may have seen the Jaws on the water picture before) and they seem like the type of company that goes all out to ensure that their customers have a relaxing, enjoyable time.

They are so serious about creating the optimal movie going experience, they even turned a customer’s complaint into a commercial.

See, the Alamo Drafthouse has a couple great rules in place.

  1. They don’t allow anyone showing up late to attend the movie.
  2. They don’t allow talking or cell phone/electronic usage in the theater.

Now all theaters “don’t allow cell phones” but it’s rarely enforced. Warning after warning is given and only under extreme circumstances are a customer removed. And while I got your attention, I’ll explain why.

At the national theater company that I used to work for, I was sent to a week-long “college” to prepare managers for a long future with the company. Ten hours a day, for five days, I sat in a classroom and watched Powerpoint presentations discussing the ins and outs of the theater business. One of the more memorable presentations was about difficult customers and how to handle them.

One the screen, a large equation was set up. I don’t remember all the numbers, but I do recall the total. It went something like this.

The average movie goer will go to the movie theater X amount of times, and will spend Y amount of money while at the theater. And let’s say the average person goes to the movies for sixty years of their lives.

(X * 60) * Y = $12,000

In a nutshell, the average movie goer will spend $12,000 at the movies over their lifetime.

We were then informed, “We will not risk losing $12,000. Every manager is replaceable and we will find someone to handle customers without losing them to another chain if you cannot find a way to deal with every situation without losing a single customer.”

It was then suggested that we carry a Q-tip in our pocket and that when dealing with an annoying customer, we grab that Q-tip to remind ourselves to “Quit Taking It Personally.” Yeah, it was a classy corporate environment.

In conclusion, theaters don’t want to lose any customers if they don’t have to, but for some reason, they’d rather take the side of the obnoxious customer and keep them, instead of concerning themselves with the other 100 people in the auditorium who are irritated and annoyed by the cellphone usage.

Back to the Alamo Drafthouse, the one theater company who is concerned more about the 100 people in the auditorium than the one idiot who doesn’t follow the rules. Their stance on cell phone usage is the only reason I dared step foot in a movie theater. Today I decided to check out the brand new Alamo Drafthouse Raleigh, and let me tell you, it was amazing.

The wife and I saw Ready Player One. I read the book a few years back, and loved it. I figured this was the perfect movie to go check out the new theater and it truly was. Alamo Drafthouse really has a retro vibe to it. The outside is painted with a beautiful mural and once you walk inside, you enter the Video Vortex, part bar/part video store.

And when I say video store, I mean video store. There are over 30,000 VHS, DVDs, and blu-rays, all available to rent. Heck, they’ll even provide you with an adapter to convert your old RCA cables to HDMI if you need it for your VCR.

Not only do they have movies to rent, they also have movies, records, t-shirts, and other memorabilia for sale. I was particularly smitten with this awesome Gremlin-tiki and Phantasm orb ornament.

I don’t drink, so the bar didn’t do anything for me, but it looks amazing and they have a huge selection of all sorts of alcohol, including over fifty local craft brew beers. They also have a huge VHS boxes and tables that look like VHS tapes which actually have VCRs hooked up to them so you can watch a movie while sitting around it.

We arrived early, because another thing that the Drafthouse is known for is their pre-shows. Each movie has a custom thirty minute pre-show that is catered to that film. No more sitting through boring ads and bullshit trivia while waiting for more ads to start. This also gives you time to find your seats since it’s not general admission and you actually choose and pay for a specific seat. Once you get comfy in your snazzy recliner, you have time to browse the incredible menu the Drafthouse has. I mean, they got food for everyone. It’s pricey, like all movie theater food, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the menu. My only complaint is there aren’t enough basic foods for us picky eaters. It was probably for the best, I’ve been watching what I eat and movie theater food isn’t known for being all that healthy.

I was greeted by a waitress almost immediately who offered to bring us water while we browsed the menu. I ordered a Diet Coke and Brittni took her up on the water. We eventually decided on a bowl of popcorn, and let me tell you, it was the best popcorn I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. As I mentioned earlier, I worked at a theater, I’ve eaten it straight out of the kettle while I popped it myself, but it tasted no where near as good as this popcorn did. It was fully popped, kernel free, and delicious.

Everything is done with the ease and convenience of the movie goer in mind. When you are ready to order you simply write down what you want and flip up a little flag. A little while later, a waiter/waitress comes by and picks up your slip and then delivers your food a little while after that. They also can take your card prior to the film and save it so you don’t have to hand it to them and wait for them to run it at the end of the movie. Around fifteen minutes before they end, they slide a tray with a reciept to sign and then pick them up right before the credits hit. It was painless and convenient.

The service was great. I ended up with four refills during the movie (I drink a lot, leave me alone.) It was fantastic not having to leave my seat, except to go the bathroom because I drank way too much soda.

And while we  are on it, lets talk about the bathrooms for a second. The Alamo Drafthouse even found a way to make this a more enjoyable experience. Instead of a giant dirty bathroom for both the men and women, there are individual bathrooms. Little private rooms with a Vacant/Occupied sign on each of the door. It was so classy and so nice.

The recliners were comfortable, the presentation wonderful, and I honestly have no complaints about my movie going experience. It’s only the second time, since maybe 2004, that I’ve been in a theater and everyone was there just to enjoy the show. No one was screwing off on their phones or talking. People were just in a movie theater to watch a movie.

It was by far the quietest theater I’ve ever been in. I cannot stress enough how happy this makes me. Right before the show starts, they show the clip that I posted above of the angry customer and then tell everyone that it’s now a quiet zone. Any talking or cellphone usage will result in a warning and then you’ll be removed from the theater. It was a great way to make sure everybody was on the same page and I’m so glad its effective.

So what are the negatives about the Alamo Drafthouse? Well, my only real concern is the location. The Drafthouse took up an old shopping center off New Bern Avenue that’s in an area of town that is currently gentrifying. I say currently, because it’s still pretty rough around that area. I have a feeling in five years the Alamo Drafthouse will just be looked back upon one of the reasons this area of town improved, but as of right now, it’s not exactly somewhere I’d want to be getting out of a late movie at 11 PM or 12 AM.

I really enjoyed my time at the Alamo Drafthouse and I’m so happy it lived up to my expectations. I now have a theater that I don’t mind going to and I hope this will lead to me seeing a few more movies in the theater going forward. In case you were wondering, I took some pictures of a few memorable VHS boxes you can see below.

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