20 years ago, the first Alamo Drafthouse was a preview of cinematic magic to come.
Where it all started: The original Alamo Drafthouse opened in a renovated parking garage on Colorado Street in 1997. After a successful first decade, it closed in 2007 as the Alamo concept opened larger theaters in Austin as well as around the country.
What is now a fiercely cherished Austin institution started 20 years ago in a renovated parking garage on Colorado Street. Fresh from Bakersfield, California, newlyweds Tim and Karrie League opened the first Alamo Drafthouse—a second-run theater that served food and beer—with only six weeks of payroll in the books.
Luckily for cinephiles everywhere, showings of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery brought in crowds, and movie sing-alongs, the Quentin Tarantino Festival, and Butt-Numb-A-Thons raised the cinematic bar for what a movie theater could be. “We know what we want when we go to the movies,” says Tim League, “and we know a lot of people feel the same way we do.”
The original Alamo closed 10 years ago, but now there are more than 25 locations across the country, including Austin’s family-friendly Alamo Drafthouse Mueller, which opened in March and sports the playful Barrel O’ Fun bar and event space. This year, expect the Alamo to celebrate its 20th year as only it can.
Tim League—now CEO of the chain as well as founder of its film distribution arm, Drafthouse Films, and the 12-year-old Fantastic Fest—says it all comes down to details like its vintage pre-movie entertainment and strict theater etiquette (its no-talking PSAs have included everyone from Gov. Ann Richards to actor Kyle Chandler). “Even if the movie is bad, you should have fun,” he says.