Pour some popcorn for the end of Austin’s first-ever Alamo Drafthouse – TOWERS
The original 1997 location of the now Austin National Alamo Drafthouse Cinema The chain is currently in an advanced stage of demolition near the southeast corner of West Fifth and Colorado streets in downtown Austin as part of work to clear the area for the upcoming office and residential tower 415 Colorado by local developers Stonelake Capital Partners. We noted it offhandedly in our article on the downtown demolitions published earlier this week, but thought it deserved a little more attention – so here’s a quick look at the past life of 409 Colorado St.
Like Whole Foods, The Drafthouse is an Austin brand that has exploded onto the national scene so much it’s easy to forget how humble it started. In 1994, Rice University graduates Tim and Karrie League first tried their hand at opening a theater in Bakersfield, California, but the husband-and-wife team moved to Austin two years later. late after struggling to get a liquor license for the venue – score one for us in the California/Texas rivalry, since beer and cocktails alongside movies are now the backbone of the Alamo brand.
The first Alamo Drafthouse theater was a hand-built, single-screen operation opened in 1997 on the second floor of a 1920s-era warehouse at 409 Colorado Street, then used as a parking lot, serving the necessary beer and wine alongside a full food menu including pizzas and sandwiches. It’s old hat these days, but the concept of a movie theater serving decent food and booze instead of popcorn and soda was really radical at the time, especially more than the Alamo’s taste for second-run and vintage screenings was actually aimed at adults – the inaugural double feature of its grand opening on May 24, 1997 included the Coen Brothers’ squishy comedy “Raising Arizona” and the cult mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap”.
Beginning with folding chairs and slowly improving its digs towards the iconic red cupholder chairs you’ll still occasionally find on the resale market, the Alamo quickly outgrew its single-screen birth, with new locations opening in the early 2000s. Rising rents eventually prompted the leagues to move to the historic Alamo Ritz location on East Sixth Street in 2007, leaving the 409 Colorado building as a landmark only for discerning former guests.
A number of bars and clubs operated out of the space until 2017, when local design firm Forgecraft Architecture converted the building into offices on behalf of Walmart Technologies, who occupied the site until recently. At the ripe old age of 102, the warehouse is mostly gone, with most of its upper level where the Alamo screenings took place now demolished. It’s certainly not a sad story, as the Drafthouse is doing very well nationwide – but for locals familiar with the theatre’s small roots, it’s the end of an era for a small artifact of the past. ‘Austin.
Today, Alamo Drafthouse has dozens of locations across the United States, with more to come. Each location is run with the same dedication and focus on movie-inspired food and drink, crystal-clear visual and audio presentation, and wacky, fun special events, all inspired by those early years on Colorado Street.
— Alamo Drafthouse Cinema