Step through the doors of the Alamo Draft House on Belt Line Road and remain calm. There’s a robot waving his hand through the wall in front of you.
Look around instead at the rest of the lobby. Classic film posters grace the walls of red and black suns rising through the halls.
Relax, buy a movie ticket. Drink a cocktail while you’re watching a movie, too. Go ahead, do what you want, except talk. Or text. Noises are generally prohibited, really.
The people at Alamo Draft House pride themselves on providing extraordinary experiences for their customers. Franchise owner Bill DiGaetano wants to shake up your movie night.
“I always knew I wanted to own my own business,” DiGaetano said. “And I love the brand.”
Alamo is known for its creative approach to showing films. Viewers can watch current films, yes, but the preshow’s a wild card.
Advertisements are eschewed in favor of found content specifically related to the film or its actors.
“The best example is the movie ‘Bridesmaid’ a few summers ago,” DiGaetano said. “The whole preshow was real-life wedding bloopers.”
DiGaetano beams when pointing out the 35-mm reels in two of the seven theaters, another Alamo quirk.
The 32-year-old former military man contends that his theater is one of the few to have reel to reel 35-mm, although he’s not knocking digital.
“It’s clear, it’s gorgeous, but, I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel like the movies sometimes,” DiGaetano said.
Alamo’s menu offers a wide, eclectic selection of meals, including gluten-free and
“Ninety percent of our menu, food-wise, is scratch-made,” head chef Dustin Patek said. “We have people who come in at 7 a.m. to make dough by hand, shred our cheeses, slice our cheeses andso forth.”
Alamo also offers the Glass Half Full Taproom, a bar with 32 kinds of beer on tap, 35 bottles and a variety of cocktails made with fresh ingredients. Many of the beers on tap are brewed locally.
Customers are given 30 minutes before the show starts to order their meals from menus under their tables. Ordering is still possible after the film starts; just pencil out a choice on paper and stand it on the edge of the table.
Now at this point in reading, Alamo’s services may remind a person of another movie theater that serves food – Studio Movie Grill. DiGaetano is quick
“It’s like comparing Led Zeppelin to the Bee Gees,” DiGaetano said. “It’s both a group of guys that plays music, but would you really call Zeppelin and the Bee Gees the same?”
“And this example I’d like to [think] of us as Zeppelin.”
If by “Zeppelin” he means extravagant, he’s talking about Alamo’s special events.
The theater plays host to a number of ceremonies centered on a theme. Patrons can watch improv troupe Master Pancake shout hilarious quips about the “Twilight” films while watching them in real time.
If that’s not your bag, come dress up as a superhero for “Kick-Ass 2,” or a ‘50s greaser for “Grease.” Like films about schools? Alamo’s airing classic school films like “Animal House” and “Rushmore” for “Back to School” September.
Neuroscience researcher and Alamo fan Luis Gutierrez is appreciative.
“It’s just a different vibe,” Gutierrez, 28, said. “It’s more than just a theater. I mean, they have sing-alongs.”
Alamo opened near the beginning of September, a time where theaters are at their slowest, DiGaetano said. Grinning, he was quick to announce that Alamo had the No. 1 box office draw in the DFW for the premiere “The World’s End.” Granted, it helped that the film’s stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost made an appearance at the theater.
One could argue Alamo is better fit for downtown Dallas or West Plano rather than conservative Richardson, but DiGaetano strongly disagrees. He’ll point out the largest art festival in the country is Richardson’s Cottonwood Art Festival.
“It’s a very artistic community, but it just gets boxed in,” DiGaetano said.
Alamo theaters play by a unique aesthetic. The inside decor of an Alamo is fairly consistent across its 14 locations, including the original theater in Austin, Texas.
The lobby and exterior are a different story. DiGaetano and his team worked with design firm Blue Genie for four months to conceive and and finish the lobby. After rigorous back and forth, the two parties came up with the rude robot hand struggling to tear inside the theater.
The design owes influence to Richardson’s history with technology in the telecom corridor.
“So we’re like, ‘Oh, giant robot attack in the lobby!’” DiGaetano said.
The exterior blends in with its surroundings with its modern, horizontal lines and vertical spires intentionally.
“We want to be a neighborhood theater, so we want to blend in,” DiGaetano said.
This passion for making the most out of the movie experience extends to the Alamo staff, too. Casting calls for employees encouraged people to apply whether having experience
“We can teach someone how to walk around with food, but you can’t train passion,” DiGaetano said. “I think that passion is 100 percent what makes us different.”
Brandon Beasley, bartender at the Glass Half Full, agreed in full.
“It’s hard work,” Beasley, known as “Shaggy” at work, said. “But for a place where you can be yourself, it’s awesome.”
Alamo has no plans to slow down. DiGaetano let it slip that he has a plan in mind to invite students from various schools over to Alamo to learn about the film process.
Check out the theater in October for its “horror month.”