Moviegoers in Charlottesville will soon have another theater option, one that serves meals cooked from scratch in auditoriums that boast cutting-edge cinema technology. A spaceship will hang from the lobby’s ceiling, and the posters lining the walls will be vintage, sci-fi, and alien themed, from Turkey, Germany, and France.
The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is currently under construction, with ladders, partially unrolled carpets and plastic covered boxes lining every room. But July 21, the Fifth Street Station theater will open its doors to the public.
“I think we are going to be the best viewing experience in the community,” said co-owner Anthony Coco.
The Charlottesville location will be the 30th Alamo Drafthouse in the country and the first in central Virginia. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema was founded in 1997 by Tim and Karrie League in Austin, Texas.
“First and foremost we’re a movie theater,” Coco said. “We want the sound to be right, the light to be right, the presentation to be great.”
“Here with this amazing presentation, we can also get phenomenal food, from scratch,” Coco said. “We love movies. But we also love food and beer.”
Around 80 percent of the theater’s craft beer selections will be from Virginia. Many will come from around the Charlottesville area, places such as Blue Mountain Brewery, because Alamo hopes to capitalize on all that the area has to offer.
“It’s important to us to connect regionally and locally,” co-owner Edwards said.
The cinema has seven auditoriums, each with 62 to 217 seats, half of which will be recliners.
The largest auditorium will house a 57 foot curved screen and about 50 speakers, making it “pretty phenomenal,” said Coco.
The theaters feature a pair of stacked projectors, which produces greater light levels on a big screen, 4k image resolution and Dolby Atmos sound systems.
“Even if you’re not a big tech guy or lady, you go in there and you hear the spaceships flying over your head. It’s pretty crazy,” said Coco.
Movie watchers will take their seats and fill out their orders on slips of paper, which servers are trained to spot and scoop up. Servers wear all black as they silently carry food and drink back to the tables that every pair of audience members share.
“We teach them to be ninjas,” the co-owners said.
The 2,800 square foot kitchen is the “heart of the whole building,” Coco said. Around 80-90 percent of food is made from scratch, so each night will have kitchen staff grating cheese, cutting vegetables and making dough for orders as they come in from the audience.
“When you order a burger, the meat will hit the grill. We’re not microwaving. We’re not doing all that you typically think of with movie theaters,” Coco said.
The menu includes pizza, sandwiches, salads, fried food, brunch options, and full entrees such as spaghetti. Ingredients are sourced locally as much as possible, said director of operations Michael McGrath. Some such vendors include Shenandoah Joe Coffee, Chaps Ice Cream and Albemarle Baking Company.
“There has been a revolution in the cinema-going opportunities in Charlottesville in the last 5-7 years, which is great for the community,” Edwards said. “Our goal is not to hurt those guys. We feel there is growth left in the market.”
“I am a big believer in the fact that more choice for moviegoers is always a good thing,” wrote Jody Kielbasa, VA Film Festival Director, in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow. “I look forward to seeing what Alamo Drafthouse brings to the mix.”
In some ways, the theater is designed to “protect that movie going experience,” Coco said. Texting and talking aren’t just faux pas, they are intolerable, and phone-using audience members will be asked to leave.
“Let’s watch a movie together, let’s get lost in a film together. Let’s laugh, let’s cry. Let’s have a good time, enjoy some food and beverage,” said Coco. “That’s what we’re all about.”
Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas hold special events that pair movie favorites with audience participation and specific themes. Valentine’s Day one year saw an Alamo theater show the movie Titanic while serving the four-course meal seen on the boat, accompanied by French wine.
One of Edwards’s favorite events was a Monty Python showing where the audience clapped coconuts to the sound of horses galloping on screen and raised prop swords through their laughter.
The Charlottesville Alamo theater doesn’t have its special events nailed down yet, but a calendar will be up soon, Edwards said.
The theater will show a wide range of movies, which Edwards feels will fit well with the Charlottesville demographic, appealing to an eclectic and broad range of people.
“We want to be that place where true movie lovers can come see films, as well as families,” Edwards said.