Category Archives: Venue Views

Alamo Drafthouse Opens in Lake Highlands

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.

Alamo Drafthouse Coming to Richardson

This time, the rumors are true. The Alamo Drafthouse will be expanding into Dallas / Fort Worth, with the first location set for Richardson.

The renowned movie chain, based in Austin, has entered into a franchise partnership with Iced Tea With Lemon LLC, which plans to pursue other locations in the Metroplex. The one in Richardson will be located at the southwest corner of Central Expressway (I-75) and Beltline Road, which is a great location. Not only will those in Richardson benefit — no other state-of-the-art multiplex exists in Richardson — but it’s ideally positioned about midway between Plano and Dallas, so it should draw more discerning moviegoers in search of excellent sound, projection, and the possibilities of a more respectful experience.

Here’s the press release:

Austin, TX— Thursday, May 3, 2012— Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas is pleased to announce plans to open their first Dallas/Forth Worth area location with new franchise partner Iced Tea With Lemon LLC. The first location being opened by Iced Tea With Lemon LLC is Alamo Richardson in the Richardson Heights Shopping Center on the Southwest corner of Central Expressway and Beltline Rd. in Richardson, TX.  The Alamo Richardson location will be a state of the art location with seven screens. Each of the auditoriums will be equipped with high-tech 100 percent digital projection as well as excellent screen size to room ratio and amazing sound. In addition to the superior AV equipment, the layout of each screening room will eliminate the traditional front row, ensuring every seat in the house allows for a great viewing experience. Alamo Richardson will also feature a lounge offering an extensive menu of draft and bottled beers, wine, cocktails and food. The lounge will offer patrons an inviting place to socialize whether they are waiting for a movie or not.

Alamo Drafthouse signed a development agreement with Iced Tea With Lemon LLC that includes all of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Iced Tea With Lemon LLC has plans to pursue additional locations to expand the presence of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema within Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.

“We are very excited to be bringing Alamo Drafthouse to the metroplex and to the City of Richardson,” said Bill C. DiGaetano, COO of Iced Tea with Lemon LLC. “The City and the Richardson Heights neighborhood have been great supporters of this project and we can’t think of a better location for the first Alamo in DFW. With the great sense of community within Richardson’s neighborhoods we plan to tweak our initial renderings to reflect the mid-century modern architecture so prevalent in the surrounding areas. Being an Austinite for 14 years and a huge Alamo fan it was important that we find an area where the theater could flourish. With the amount of ex University of Texas students, fans already familiar with the theater and the proximity to University of Texas Dallas this area is a natural place for Alamo to land. The ease of access from Central Expressway will allow fans from all over the metroplex to experience Alamo Drafthouse Richardson.”

Source: Alamo Drafthouse

AmStar Dallas 14 Set to Open Next Week

AmStar Dallas 14

Two weeks ago, as I was preparing to leave town to cover Fantastic Fest in Austin, I noticed that Southern Theatres was advertising job openings for its new location in town, at the former AMC The Grand 24. And now an opening date for the newly-christened AmStar Dallas 14 has been set: Friday, October 14.

Before opening night, two charity events will be held on Wednesday, October 12 and Thursday, October 13, offering $5 movie packages to see ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,’ ‘Cars 2,’ or ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,’ with a popcorn and fountain drink. Various giveaways are also planned for opening weekend. (Details at their Facebook page.) The AmStar Dallas 14 promises “wall to wall screens,” “all digital cinema,” 3D capabilities, and “high back rocking chairs.”

The Southern Theatres chain is still advertising for employees — in Spanish, no less, which shows that they’re fully aware of the local demographic, and good for them on that — but we’re awaiting word on regular ticket prices. (Let’s hope they don’t try to set a new, higher price point.)

As to the prospect of the multiplex sharing space with Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, Robert Wilonsky at Unfair Park published a portion of the press release: “When it opens later this fall, [it] will offer residents of Dallas a distinctive, one-stop entertainment shop, boasting the latest Hollywood blockbusters, down-home cooking and high-energy live bands all under one roof!”

Will Toby Keith Fans Mix With Multiplex Mexicans?

Toby Keith / AmStar 14
Future location of Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill and the AmStar 14 (Photo: Robert Wilonsky for Unfair Park)

The multiplex formerly known as AMC’s The Grand 24 will be born again as a movie theater, according to Robert Wilonsky at Unfair Park. AMC Theatres did not renew their lease on the property, which expired about a year ago. Approximately half the property will become a new location for the franchise operation known as Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, which promises “Live Music, Whiskey Girls, Beer in Mason Jars.” And the other half is being transformed into the AmStar 14, a multiplex theater that will be operated by a subsidiary of New Orleans-based Southern Theatres.

As it happens, a number of multiplexes owned by Southern Theatres are named “The Grand,” or variations thereof. Southern Theatres operates theaters in 19 locations with 278 screens in nine states. If the new AmStar 14 falls in line with the others, it will be all first-run and will offer “21 Plus” screenings and a customer loyalty program. The company does not offer refunds or exchanges. Their conduct policy prohibits “phone calls, texting, or emailing during the film.” (We’ll see how that’s enforced, if at all.)

AMC's The Grand 24
AMC's The Grand 24

At the time of its closure, AMC’s The Grand 24 was the closest theater to where I lived, and so I visited regularly over a period of three to four years. As I wrote at the time: “Patronage really picks up mid- to late-evening on the weekends, as dating couples, families, and groups of friends flock to the concession stand, dropping substantial bucks, and filling the auditoriums.” Considering that the patrons were 90% Latino, from my observation, “Nearby families will lose the convenience of close proximity and have to travel a few miles further, to Cinemark 17 or 10 miles further, to North Park, where they can be assimilated into the Caucasian Borg. And we lose a decent place to watch movies.” So, the prospect of a reconstructed multiplex, featuring state-of-the-art facilities, is very good news for the neighborhood.

And it should provide another marvelous opportunity for two diverse cultural groups to mix and mingle in the parking lot. Toby Keith is proud of his patriotism, and so are his fans, and I’m sure they will enjoy seeing a tidal wave of Mexicans, and Central and South Americans pouring in to enjoy the latest that Hollywood has to offer at the multiplex.

Likewise, the neighborhood teens, who liked to dress up and flirt in the hallways at the old Grand 24, will no doubt enjoy seeing the equally well-dressed country music fans sashay into a bar & grill. Perhaps the over-21 movie crowd will stop in for some “cheese freedom fries” and listen to Toby Keith sing “American Ride” or his new single, “Made in America.”

This should be interesting.

First Impressions: Highland Park Village Theatre

Highland Park Village Theatre

Quick Glance: Renovated historic venue. Re-opened in early 2011. Independently-owned and operated. Aimed at families; only G, PG, or PG-13 rated movies are shown.

Neighborhood: Highland Park Village, an upscale outdoor shopping mall, at the SW corner of Mockingbird Lane and Preston Road in Highland Park.

Parking: Free. Adjacent spaces are hard to come by on Saturday afternoon. Uncovered parking lot on North side of Mockingbird is a short walk away and spaces are freely available.

Highland Park Village Theatre, Highland Park, TXMain Lobby: Dark wood predominates, in a lovely, well-appointed, though small, space. Ticket-buying stations to the right, stairs and escalator to the left.

Buying Tickets: Two ticket-buying kiosks; credit cards only. Cash users can buy tickets at concession stand upstairs. Advance tickets available for purchase via website, which can then be printed at kiosks.

Ticket Prices: $11.75 adults, $8.50 children/seniors/students. $8.00 matinee (before 5:00 p.m.).

Concession Stand: Prices in line with multiplexes; sample: $7.50 large popcorn, $5.75 small popcorn, $6.00 individual pizza. Also: $7.00 panini.

Waiting Area: Makes good use of small space, with well-cushioned seats available, as well as a lounge with alcohol available for purchase. Drinks can be taken into auditoriums. Ticket-taking stand, with attendant to direct traffic.

Auditorium / Seats: Wonderful. Visited Auditorium #2. Screen appeared to be slightly curved. Divided by walkway into two sections. Lower area has three rows with a total of 37 seats. Upper section has five rows, first four with 11 seats each. Good spacing between rows. Reclining, rocker, high-backed seats in upper section are very comfortable.

Pre-Show: 15 minutes. Rotating slides and short infomercials advertising local businesses; movie trivia. Trailers for current and coming attractions.

Sound / Projection: Excellent. Booming and loud audio system. Digital projection. No complaints.

Other Notes: Temperature cooled considerably by air-conditioning; may be too cool for some patrons, but very welcome on a 100-degree plus afternoon. Facilities available, but not seen: Auditorium #1, two private screening rooms, adjacent restaurant.




Movie Seen: ‘Colombiana.’
Date of Visit: Saturday, August 27, 2011.
Screening Time: 3:40 p.m.