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Movie Theater Review: Alamo Drafthouse Kalamazoo


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Movies transport us.  They allow us to escape reality and travel through time and space to far off destinations.  They let us see things from different perspectives and experience the impossible.  Movie theaters are the vehicles in which we take these journeys and Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas are like state-of-the-art space crafts equipped with all the bells and whistles.  Big menu with tasty food?  Check.  Full bar with booze and a killer beer selection? Ding, Ding.  Creative programming with a wide variety of special events and quality movies?  Bingo!  All systems go.

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Here at Nerdlocker, we’re big fans of the Drafthouse.  Talking and texting in movie theaters is worse than ever, and Alamo’s no-nonsense policy offers relief from insufferable distractions.  The Alamo brand was created for people who love movies, by people who love movies, and it shows in everything from the policies to the decor.  Creator Tim League’s vision and love of cinema permeate every detail.

I frequent the Drafthouses in the Houston area and I’ve been to most of the Austin locations.  They share the same concept and have similar menus, but each location is unique in layout and has it’s own personality.  I was thrilled when I heard that Kalamazoo, Michigan would be getting it’s own Alamo Drafthouse.  I was born and raised in Kzoo, and  just weeks before the announcement I was telling my family that it’s the perfect city for an Alamo.  West Michigan is home to many excellent breweries and the downtown location in the old Rave Cityplace theater is a perfect fit.

Another great decision is the hiring of James Sanford as Creative Manager.  I grew up reading James’ film reviews in the Kalamazoo Gazette and listening to his weekly “3-Day Weekend”  segment on WWMT.  His passion for movies is contagious and his contribution to film criticism in western Michigan is unparalleled.

The Kzoo location opened in November and I’ve been eager to check it out and see how it compares to it’s southern counterparts.  I stopped in twice on a recent trip home and I’m happy to say that it exceeded my high expectations.

The first thing you notice from the outside is the building’s unique look.  It’s wrapped in primary colors in a design inspired by artist Piet Mondrian.  Gone are the tacky lights and weird colors that adorned the Rave.  Upon entering, you notice the huge bar with 32 beers on tap (over 20 from Michigan) and a nice lobby area with tables and chairs.  This is a first for Alamo (as far as I know) and patrons can stop in and grab a bite or drink without seeing a movie- perfect for the downtown lunch crowd.

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The bartender, Vicki, was friendly and knowledgeable, and she allowed me to try a few samples before settling on a Tapistry Beatnick blonde ale.  It was brewed from Belgian, Canadian and German malts, along with French Hops, then fermented with Belgian yeast.  Tasty stuff (don’t forget to tip your bartender!)

The atmosphere is familiar but unique, with a mix of artwork I recognize from other Drafthouses, and an oddly awesome Barbarella tribute.  The Kalamazoo location has 10 screens.  The theaters feature stadium seating and look just like the Alamos in Texas.  Seats are comfy and there is a counter top in front of you for food and drinks.  You order using an easy flag system (the same one used to snitch on talkers) and there is an entertaining custom pre-show with fun clips related to the movie you’re about to see.  It’s recommended that you arrive around 30 minutes before showtime.

I’m a creature of habit, Pizza and fries are typically what I order at the Drafthouse.  I’m a pizza freak and they make the best I’ve ever had in a theater.  The cheese fries and garlic parmesan fries pair perfectly with the strawberry balsamic shake.  The salted caramel shake is amazing as well and if you ever have a chance to try the deep fried green beans, go for it.  They’re a seasonal treat and one of my favorites.  I was pleasantly surprised to see green chile mac and cheese on the menu since it is no longer available at the Houston Alamos (bring it back! bring it back!)  Other items include salads, sandwiches, burgers, and wraps, prepared with local ingredients.

salted-caramel-shake-fac4c14829ef0c57The menu has a variety of brunch, lunch, dinner, and dessert, as well as wine, mixed drinks, soda, tea, and more to accompany the 32 beers on tap.  Some of the local breweries include Bell’s, Founder’s, Short’s, Latitude 42, Arcadia, Darkhorse, Perrin, Saugatuck, Tapistry, Keweenaw, New Holland, Frankenmuth, Arbor Brewing, Paw Paw Brewing, Atwater, and Brewery Vivant.

I expected some service hiccups since the theater is still fairly new and I was impressed by the waitstaff.  Aside from a lengthy wait for a beer at one of the screenings, everything was smooth sailing.  The waitstaff was ninja-like and made every effort to duck out of the way of the screen and make as little noise as possible.  The Austin/Houston folks don’t always make this effort and it was very much appreciated.

Be sure to keep an eye out for special events.  There’s quote-alongs, sing-alongs, interactive screenings with props, girly nights, dance parties, celebrity guests, and more.  They program movies from all genres, countries, and eras, and if you check the schedule you will most likely find an event for one of your favorite movies coming up soon.  They also play new releases.

This February, the Alamo Drafthouse celebrates the spirit of Valentine’s Day all month long with some of the great love stories including Casablanca, Sabrina, Dr. Zhivago, West Side Story, Charade, Moulin Rouge, and You’ve Got Mail.

"Here's looking at you, kid"

“Here’s looking at you, Kalamazoo”

Other policies besides the no talking/texting policy include the age policy (anybody under the age  of 18 is restricted unless they’re accompanied by an adult) and the no late comers policy (nobody will be allowed to enter the theater once the movie starts).  Tuesday is Baby Day and babies will be admitted to any show that starts before 2:05 PM.

They built it.  Will you come?  I hope so.  There’s no better way to watch a movie and with less than 30 Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas nationwide, Kalamazoo is fortunate to have one.  I look forward to hanging out and watching movies next time I’m in town and I hope to see you there!

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Check out one of the Alamo’s hilarious no-talking PSAs below:

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Salty Winters once said, "Everything I learned I learned from the movies." He was quoting Audrey Hepburn.