And so it was with excitement and that I drove out to Loudoun County in 2013, for the opening of Alamo’s Ashburn outpost, the first of the chain’s branches in the DMV. And it was with bated breath that I learned the news, courtesy of Anthony Coco and Joseph Edwards — collectively known as Alamo’s franchise partner Cojeaux Cinemas — that they intended to follow up the foray into Washington’s suburbs with more area theaters, including — be still my heart — one that maybe, just maybe, would be in D.C.
It’s taken a while, with Coco and Edwards opening up additional Virginia theaters in Charlottesville (2017) and Woodbridge (2018) in the interim, but the pair are finally ready to cut the ribbon this month on Alamo’s newest location. (The company also opened a branch in Winchester in 2009, the chain’s first theater outside Texas.) And yes: The new theater is in Washington D.C. proper.
At press time, finishing touches were still being applied to the nine-screen, 873-seat multiplex in the Bryant Street NE development that is slowly taking shape around the old Rhode Island Center strip mall, across the street from the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station. If you’ve been to Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, the new Alamo is a couple of doors down, around the corner from where a Popeyes used to be.
The theater opens to the public on Dec. 10, at limited capacity, while the staff learns the ropes. (Tickets are available now at drafthouse.com/dc-metro-area.) During the ramp-up to full operation, which is expected to last through Dec. 16 at least, a 25 percent discount will be offered on select, nonalcoholic beverages and food items.
Here’s what to expect — eventually, if not immediately — if you’ve never been to another Alamo branch:
The Highbinder bar
Don’t feel bad: I had to look up the name in the dictionary too. (“So did we,” jokes Coco.) The moniker of the in-house pub, which Coco describes as a kind of spy-themed speakeasy — if you can imagine a speakeasy with a breezy little patio attached that can be accessed in nice weather — is slang for an unscrupulous person, especially a politician. It looks like it’ll be a cozy spot for a pre-or after-screening libation, and the political theme keys into the lobby decor, which will feature Smithsonian-esque portraits of cinematic presidents. Look for Idiocracy’s” President Camacho (Terry Crews) and a life-size statue of “Independence Day’s” President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman). The bar will feature dozens of craft beers, according to Edwards, many of which will be from local brewers, with six to eight likely from the District. Later, Edwards says, the bar will stock liquor from some of D.C.’s burgeoning local distilleries.
Once a creative director/programmer has been hired, there will be a regular schedule of Alamo’s signature eclectic programming, which only begins with blockbusters. “We will show the new Spider-Man, probably on several screens,” Coco promises. But there also will be a little more art-house fare than you’d find at the Ashburn or Woodbridge locations, according to Edwards. Are D.C. audiences that much more cosmopolitan than their NoVa neighbors? Eh, maybe not. Edwards says to count on such weekly theme nights as Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday. The programming is unpredictable, Coco says, but “We aim for the middle.”
The Big Show
The centerpiece of the new theater, where auditorium size ranges from 35 seats to 217, is what’s known as the company’s premium large format screen in its biggest auditorium — formally known as the Big Show. At 66 by 28 feet, the Big Show boasts the largest screen in any commercial D.C. theater, except for the National Air and Space Museum’s Lockheed Martin Imax theater, which is closed. A recent demo of the Dolby Atmos surround-sound speaker array was bone-thumpingly impressive. All seats in every theater are recliners, and come equipped with old-fashioned school desk-style swivel tabletops for eating, and silent built-in call buttons to alert what Alamo touts as the “ninja-like” wait staff that you’re ready to order.
Food and drink
It’s more than popcorn — although there’s that too — and pretty decent pub food, with pizza, sandwiches and the like. Expect such local cuisine as crab cakes and half smokes to be added to the menu as the large, well-equipped kitchen settles into a groove. Oh, and Coco and Edwards aren’t finished yet: Their sixth theater should open late next year in Arlington’s newly dubbed National Landing neighborhood, not far from Amazon’s forthcoming satellite headquarters.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
630 Rhode Island Ave. NE. drafthouse.com/dc-metro-area.
This story has been updated.