A national theater chain that aims to make movies fun again (with equal parts etiquette and alcohol) is coming to the Financial District. Community Board 1 (CB1) recommended approval of a liquor license for the Alamo Drafthouse, a chain of cinemas that signed a lease for a 40,000-square foot space at 28 Liberty Street in 2017.
The chain is widely hailed for providing fine food and beverages during movies (brought by waiters to cabaret-style tables positioned alongside luxury seats), and offering this service for the price of a regular movie ticket, although food and drink cost extra. But Alamo Drafthouse also slightly notorious for its strictly enforced policy of, “no talking, no texting, and not even looking at your cellular phone.”
Tim Lee, who co-founded the company in 1997, in an Austin, Texas warehouse-cum-parking garage, says, “we want to create great experiences by making going to the movies fun again.”
The below-ground multiplex at 28 Liberty Street will have 14 screens and seating for 600-plus guests in theaters outfitted with luxury recliners, beneath 20-foot ceilings, occupying the second and third basement levels of 28 Liberty. The complex will also offer state-of-the-art laser projectors, along with immersive surround sound.
Preliminary plans also call for a bar designed for post-movie conversation that will offer local craft beers. This location of the Alamo Drafthouse will additionally include an outpost of the company’s Video Vortex lounge, a bar modeled (somewhat nostalgically) on the neighborhood video stores of the 1980s and 1990s. In addition to dispensing beer, the lounge will also offer actual video “rentals” (free of charge) of DVDs and even VHS tapes — along with the option of renting machines on which to play them. The lounge area will also feature live music and DJ’s presenting recorded tunes.
The Alamo Drafthouse at 28 Liberty will compete directly with the iPic Entertainment multiplex, which offers a similarly luxe moviegoing experience, and opened in 2016 in the South Street Seaport.
The new theater at 28 Liberty, which is expected to begin construction this month and is slated to open in late 2019, will be the third Alamo Drafthouse in New York: one opened in Downtown Brooklyn in 2016, and another is slated to debut on Staten Island a few months before the Financial District location.
One possible hitch in these plans will be signage: Cinemas usually rely on large, attention-getting marquees to draw patrons inside. But 28 Liberty is a legally protected historic structure, and any alterations to its facade require approval from both CB1 and the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. CB1’s resolution recommending approval of Alamo’s liquor license application notes that, “the applicant will have discrete signage on the wall outside the main entrance of this Landmarked building and understands that their design must be submitted to the CB1 Landmarks Committee and be approved by the Landmarks Commission,” and continues, “the signage outside will be only the name of the theater, and all information about the films playing and their times will be located well inside the building.”