Why Philly Needs an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

The Austin-based company's CEO tells us he loves our city. Enough to come and solve our movie screen problem?

It’s no secret that, for all its cinematic traditions, from The Philadelphia Story to Rocky to Bradley Cooper jogging while wearing a garbage bag, Philadelphia isn’t exactly the world’s greatest moviegoing city.

I’ve been a film critic in this city for eight years now, and a hardcore cinephile for even longer than that, and I know I’d love it if there were more and easier options to see movies here in town.

But you don’t have to be critic to see there’s a problem here. There are way fewer screens in Center City—only 14— than in just about any major U.S. city of its size. There’s not a single movie theater that’s in any way centrally located in the city, and with the Roxy still not open and the Boyd no closer to restoration, it doesn’t look like there will be one anytime soon. Philly very much lacks a signature movie house.

But I have an idea for solving this problem: The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema needs to come to Philadelphia.

Founded in 1997 in Austin, Tex., where it remains headquartered, the Alamo Drafthouse has been called “the Coolest Movie Theater in the World” by Wired magazine. It offers the best of both worlds: A film snob’s appreciation for the cinematic form—including frequent special programming—and in-theater food and drink service. I’ve got a feeling that the concept is a perfect fit for a city that loves it movies, its food and its drink.

The Alamo Drafthouse, which has numerous locations throughout Texas, has begun expanding to other cities and states in recent years, and its first New York City location is under construction, with a Brooklyn edition to follow in two years. I’d love to see them aim about 100 miles south for their next effort—especially if it offers, as the chain’s Yonkers location recently did, a “Monty Python and the Holy Grail Quote-Along.”

And it turns out there’s some hope.

“We do really love Philadelphia,” Alamo Drafthouse’s founder and CEO, Tim League, said in an email when I reached out to him about the possibility of the Drafthouse coming to our town. “I have a lot of family in the area and it is one of my favorite cities.  We currently have no plans for expansion in Philadelphia, but things can always change!”

Alamo has been to Philly before, in fact—it brought its “Rolling Roadshow,” in which popular films are screened on location, to Philly in 2010 for a “Rocky” celebration at the Art Museum.

Another reason to welcome Alamo Drafthouse to Philly: The company’s famed zero-tolerance policy towards texting and other phone usage during movie showings. The Drafthouse, dating back to its inception, has had a strict “no talking” policy which, with the evolution of technology, has expanded to include texting. This led to an angry voicemail from a moviegoer that went viral in 2011.

There’s recently been a debate, kicked off by an online article by blogging software pioneer Anil Dash, about whether the future of moviegoing is meant to include open talking and texting. Without rebutting that piece point-by-point, I can state that it would be great for film culture in Philadelphia if those who prefer a phone-free movie experience had a place where such a thing was guaranteed by more than just that “turn off your cell phone” message.

So come on, real estate and government types: Let’s make the Philadelphia Alamo Drafthouse happen!