Five years ago, the idea of a movie theater that also served food was not a new concept in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. When the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema opened its first location in Richardson, in fact, a Studio Movie Grill stood barely a mile away.
Overcoming the initial reluctance of many moviegoers in the area, who didn’t particularly like the idea of anyone telling them they couldn’t talk during the movie — a long-standing and steadfast rule of the Alamo Drafthouse chain — the Richardson multiplex steadily developed its own audience, a growing mass of people who appreciated a movie theater that made watching movies in a respectful environment a priority. And if you wanted a burger or pizza or beer, too, that’s fine.
The Alamo Drafthouse chain originated in Austin, but the North Texas franchise is owned locally. A location near downtown, known as Cedars, opened just over two years ago, and now a long-promised expansion is happening all over the area, with locations in Las Colinas and Denton opening later this year.
First, though, comes Lake Highlands, located at 6770 Abrams Road in Dallas, at the intersection of Abrams Road and Skillman Street. It’s near a Top Golf and across the street from the low-income, low-regarded Vickery Meadows neighborhood, where I live.
What a difference a street makes, though! The Drafthouse was formerly a somewhat run-down grocery store that has been beautifully transformed into a multiplex, complete with an attached bar known as the Vetted Well. The shopping center which it anchors looks far better now than it has in years past; like the Richardson multiplex, the new theater promises to attract more retailers who will help spruce up the center and enliven that part of the neighborhood.
The Lake Highlands location distinguishes itself immediately with its foyer, which should be helpful during rainy season. The lobby itself is not huge — it looks smaller even than the Cedars location — but it’s fitted out with cashier stations and multiple ticket vending machines that should help accommodate the expected crowds.
The individual theaters are spread out nicely, and several feature two entrances; again, that’s a new feature for the chain locally. During an advance media tour last week, we were able to visit several theaters.
The two smallest auditoriums, Theater 2 and Theater 3, both feature 30 seats, but feel more spacious than the smallest Richardson theaters. In part, that’s because of more space between the rows, which is to make room for — the reclining seats! Yes, the seats recline and are definitely more comfortable and well-padded.
The layout follows the Cedars example rather than the old-school style Richardson. In other words, while Richardson features a long row-length bench on which you can park any food or drinks you order, Cedars and now Lake Highlands feature small tables at each seat. That makes it more convenient to get into and out of your seat. In the small theaters, each row is elevated above the row below, which improves sight lines over the smallest Richardson auditoriums.
We also toured the largest auditorium, Theater 6, which has 191 seats and feels absolutely gigantic. Again, that’s because of greater distance between the rows.
Lake Highlands can also boast of the first U.S. installation of the new Sony 4K Digital Cinema Laser Phosphor Projectors (DCLPP). I’ve yet to try that out, but it sounds very … new.
Our media preview concluded with a visit to the Vetted Well, which features 31 craft beers on tap, including 17 local Dallas brews, according to the press materials. For me, it’s best feature were the windows that face the White Rock Trail, as well as a balcony with seating outside. That should look spectacular once the trees bloom. The bar also has bike racks located along the Vetted Well patio, so perhaps that will encourage more people to ride their bicycles to watch a movie.
The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Lake Highland has tremendous potential to help the neighborhood, which has definitely seen better days. I love the Richardson location, which I’ve visited many, many times, but having a new theater so close by is an irresistible temptation. And being able to see new movies in a new, friendly, theatrical environment is, in a word, fantastic.
The theater opens today on a limited basis with staff training days scheduled to run through next week. The grand opening will be held next Wednesday, March 28, with Ready Player One. Visit the official site for more information.