I don’t remember the first time I entered a movie theater but I wished it had looked like this. From a distance, one can see the vertical neon green letters flashing ‘Mission’ atop the restored 1920s marquee at the newly opened Alamo Drafthouse New Mission theater. Stepping inside, you are welcomed with vintage movie posters, rich tapestry, and a quaint speakeasy-type bar to boot. One is met with the smell of popcorn and nostalgia.
As a cinephile introduced to the art deco theaters of the Bay Area, the smell of history envelopes me. Growing up in New York City, we were exposed mostly to chain theaters like Loews, AMC, and Landmark Cinemas. Not that I’m knocking any of those theaters, but there’s something special about watching a moving picture in a theater that existed in an era before VHS and DVD. Going to the cinema was about the film experience; and with the ability to watch more films at home, we’re losing that. With the arrival of the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, moviegoers will have the opportunity to have a cinematic experience once again.
This past December, the Austin, TX theater franchise opened its doors with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” It took four years to renovate the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, which had been closed since 1993 and declared a San Francisco landmark in 2004. The Alamo Drafthouse is a powerhouse theater franchise that isn’t only about screening films but is serving as a cultural venue for the the Mission district. There will be themed movie nights and events throughout the year. Although it might be stepping on the Roxie Theater and the Castro Theater’s toes (they also put on independent and classic film showings), what sets it apart are all the partnerships it’s already fostered in the few months it’s been opened.
Le Video, the 35-year-old Inner Sunset video store, had struggled financially due to streaming services like Netflix. When the owner, Catherine Tchen, closed it’s doors in late October, co-founder Tim League of the Alamo franchise and film producer Megan Allison with her production company, Annapurna Pictures, stepped in to save the day. One of the mission statements on the Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas website states that it plans to “help local video stores survive as community cultural centers.” Another struggling video rental store in the Mission, Lost Weekend, will also move their collection to the theater’s lobby.
Patrons will have the opportunity to discover new and classic films. Have you seen the most recent Charlie Kaufman film? Why not revisit some of his other films like “Adaptation” or “Being John Malkovich”? After watching a movie, you’ll be able to keep the movie experience with you and take it home. Most importantly, having the video stores’ collections will provide that movie theater community in one place. Recommendations and connections will be made over the love of cinema.
Not limiting itself to film, the theater has created partnerships with Litquake, the Bay Area’s literary festival that takes place very year in October and the annual music festival, NoisePop. Having their hands in different cultural pots will enliven the neighborhood and will hopefully foster more relationships with the neighbors as well.
When I settled into the plush seats to watch “Anomalisa,” I felt as if I was in the twenties going to a picture show. The only difference is the food wasn’t twenties inspired; more so inspired by Texas with a San Francisco twist. Popcorn selections allow you to choose truffle parmesan butter, Sriracha flakes or kimchi-flavored powder as a topping. Entree menu options include pizza, sandwiches, salads, and dessert. Pizza toppings such as lamb meatballs, fennel sausage,prosciutto, and persimmon make your tastebuds water in anticipation (there is also a vegan pizza with broccoli rabe); the Breakfast Burger topped with an egg and bacon jam is a delectable combination in addition to Chili Con Queso mini hot dogs as a twist to the movie theater treat.
The drink menu list was exhaustive including local beer, spirits, and my favorite, booze infused milkshakes. I had the “Eagle’s Dream,” which included local Dandelion Chocolate, bourbon, ice cream, and a banana liqueur. I wasn’t so sure this would be an eagle’s dream, but it sure was mine. Every dish filled my nostrils with future satiety but I stuck with my dreamy shake.
My film screened in the large auditorium on the ground floor; there were four more small auditoriums upstairs. My order was taken soundlessly; the server took my order from a slot located at the base of my table which included a paper and pen to write down my order. You know the customer service delivers when it’s undetected.
By the time the credits rolled, I’d paid for my order and explored the theater bar. Dim lighting, red decor, and kissing couples made this bar a great date setting. Apart from the crowded bar, the air buzzed the common joy of discussing cinema in the theater bar. I see future film meetups and hybrid book/film clubs meeting at the bar and becoming part of this neighborhood theater. The Alamo Drafthouse’s mission is to cultivate community and this is only the beginning.
The Alamo Drafthouse New Mission theater is located at 2550 Mission Street and is accessible by BART, the 14, 49, and J-Church line.
Photo courtesy of Racquel Gonzales/Foghorn