As The Sound of Music begins, a waitress slides between seats to serve blood-orange mimosas, kicking off a four-course brunch. Later, just as the von Trapp kids croon, “tea, a drink with jam and bread,” servers lower plates of Earl Grey–infused cheese, plus jam on toast, onto desklike tables that sit in front of La-Z-Boy chairs. For movie lovers who want more than popcorn and pop on date night, Alamo Drafthouse–the indie chain hosting this Mother’s Day Sound of Music brunch in its flagship Austin theater–is on a mission to restore glory to the American moviehouse.
The big-screen experience has been under siege in the “Netflix and chill” era, when even esteemed directors like Woody Allen and Baz Luhrmann have signed deals to produce shows for Amazon and Netflix. Movie attendance hit a two-decade low in 2014, the same year the monthly Netflix subscription of $7.99 dropped below the average movie-ticket price.
Yet Alamo Drafthouse, founded by spouses Tim and Karrie League, boasts a rabid, growing fan base and has plans to expand its 24 theaters to 50 by 2018. Alamo serves local gourmet food, craft beer and cocktails along with carefully curated film selections, the same formula used by Nighthawk Cinema in Brooklyn and Academy Theater in Portland, Ore., among others. Alamo also has strict cell-phone rules: texting gets you booted. The success of these artisanal cinemas has prompted chains like AMC and Regal to offer similar amenities, from fully reclining seats to booze.
“I want to set an example for every cinema to care about the experience,” says Tim, “to celebrate the magic of movies.”