Photo Essay: Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, Post-Renovations
With little fanfare and zero warning, the eagerly-awaited news went out this week that 1120 South Lamar, the crown jewel and flagship Alamo Drafthouse location, home of Fantastic Fest, gathering place for filmmakers and celebrities, clubhouse for movie geeks, hangout for hipsters, and destination for Austinites of every variety, was to finally emerge, like a phoenix from the ashes (or perhaps like sweet zombie Jesus, if that’s more your thing). Point is: Something this great couldn’t stay dead, and it’s back!
As of this weekend, after an 18-month wait, Alamo South Lamar is back in business. A three-day soft opening began with a press tour of the renovated location and a selection of new and classic films attended by friends and family of the Drafthouse, including Alamo Victory Club members.
I arrived a bit early, with my first goal being to explore the parking garage and get my bearings. The changes here are massive, and the Alamo is just the first phase to open. Additional buildings and two additional parking garages are yet to be completed in the project, which is rumored to cost in excess of $175 million.
Getting your bearings can be a little tough as you try to figure out just where old landmarks would have been located. The renovation included an extension of the theater hallway through what was once the lobby, covering up the old patio area with a new kitchen and lobby. Everything outside the old hallway is gone or changed including the lobby, the bar, and the old Mondo booth. The new lobby and relocated Highball covers the area which was once the street and shops across from the Alamo. I’ll get back to The Highball in a bit.
The old hallway, with the original but retouched murals (including Jette’s favorite hot dog) is still in place and once again features the Bone Shack neon sign along with some updates, including new carpet and doors on the retiled, refixtured restrooms.
None of it felt quite like home until we crossed the threshold back into theater #2, now renumbered as theater #5. You will be able to tell the old die-hards apart from the newcomers, because it will ALWAYS be theater #2 to us. Waiting through the door and enveloping me as I walked down the dog-run was a buzzing charge of energy that made my arm hairs stand on end and brought tears to my eyes at the same time. I walked in and that space, the holy of holies, the inner sanctum, remained largely unchanged, with only minor adjustments to remove the front row of seats and relocate them to keep the total number of seats the same. I was, finally, HOME and ready to begin playtime.
The new lobby is a wonder all in itself. A fusion of the old lobby theme with the new aesthetic developed as the corporate brand has expanded, it includes the old carnival-ride plane and flying saucer sculptures now surrounding a zeppelin built from the milk bottle featured in the movie Michael. The zeppelin is docked to a neon tower from an old Tasty Burger location, which Tim and Karrie League brought with them to Austin when they relocated from Bakersfield, CA. The original lobby mural had to go, but the original artists were brought back to create a new mural that dominates the left wall of the lobby. In it, the old location suffers the destruction of alien attack, and various familiar faces from the Drafthouse staff are seen fleeing the destruction.
The focus and true marvel in the lobby, as if all the rest was not enough, is the Shining-themed photo booth area. A mural backdrop features the hall from the Overlook Hotel with a carpet seamlessly matched to the image extending into the lobby and a gigantic big-wheel tricycle for guests to pose and put themselves into the scene.
The final stop on our tour was The Highball, now directly attached to the lobby just to the right of the box office. Nearly everything in the space was removed and saved from the old location. Without room to keep the bowling lanes, the wood from them was repurposed to make the floor and is laid out with lane markings. You can additionally find it lining the bar top and benches surrounding the patio area. The octagonal mirrors were likewise transferred but are comfortably a bit higher than before. I had a chance to speak at length with chief architect Richard Weiss, who explained there is one feature left to install. Due to ongoing construction of the condos above the space, they have not yet been able to mount the complete bowling lane that will extend across the ceiling and down the wall in the back of the space. This entire build has already shown itself to be phenomenal, even without that finishing touch.
The mirrors, floor, and furniture aren’t the only things that made the transition after waiting 18 months. It’s not home without family, and The Highball is staffed entirely with employees who waited to return to their old jobs, including manager Heather Smith. Devin Steuerwald even took time away from selling popsicles to return.
The Highball tour is not complete without viewing the karaoke rooms, designed by former Alamo programmer Zack Carlson and his wife, Laura Fleischauer of Space Warp Design. A circus tent with a two-headed goat, a haunted house with a brilliant cemetary diorama, a PacMan/Super-Mario mashup, a Twilight Zone-inspired blacklight room, a tribute to glam and glitter, another mimicking The Black Lodge of Twin Peaks, and a heavy-metal dark cathedral each represent a separate wonder. Everyone will have a blast, if they can only agree which room is their favorite.
You can see larger versions of these and all the photos of the opening at the Slackerwood flickr stream. Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar aand The Highball are now open for business.