Alamo Drafthouse reopens in La Vista, and it’s a mixed bag


James Knowles

Theater attendees and staff laugh with each other—it’s good to be back at the movies. Photo courtesy of Andrew Smith/The Gateway.

Remember the Alamo…Drafthouse? Well, the theater chain has returned to Omaha. After shutting down due to the pandemic, the La Vista location reopened Friday with “Candyman” (2021), a special showing of “Shaun of the Dead” and several packed screenings of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” The chain’s more conveniently placed Midtown location is poised to reopen “soon after,” according to a release from the company.

Before we were all cast into the depths of a pandemic, the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain didn’t occupy much of my attention. It seemed to run off of the straightforward gimmick of ordering and eating a meal while in a theater, which just sounds like a TV dinner with extra steps. Although that description is somewhat reductive, the Alamo Drafthouse experience is a perplexing mix of positives and negatives that probably vary by preference.

The building itself has a wonderful aesthetic that didn’t seem too concerned with sticking to just one style. The lobby follows a “Star Wars” theme, with a very Imperial-looking interior, a model Death Star (not actual size) floating above the ground and a replica of the Emperor’s throne just waiting for a photo-op. The Liquid Sunshine Taproom fits in nicely within the wider sports bar canon, and the rest of the theater takes a more refined approach.

The theater room in which I saw one of the “Shang-Chi” showings was packed with attendees, and my seat was in the last row. The leather seats were very comfortable, if somewhat cramped, and there was a table for every member of the audience to share with their neighbor. Innocuous lights underneath each of the tables helped to illuminate the menus without distraction, and note cards came with pencils to convey your order to the wait staff without miscommunication.

It’s advisable to arrive at your showtime 15-30 minutes early, so that you can compose your order and give your server an easier time, but also so that you don’t miss the pre-show. Beyond the movie itself, this was by far my favorite part of the evening. In the minutes leading up to the start of the trailers, Alamo played a wonderful and informative video covering the many inspirations behind the “Shang-Chi” movie and the paths it took towards release—giving the audience a healthy dosage of genre-knowledge, and adding quite a few foreign films to my watchlist.

Though inherent to the very premise of Alamo, the staff proved to be somewhat distracting throughout the showing. Due to perhaps the long shutdown or other stressors, they hadn’t quite finished taking orders once the opening credits started to roll, and as the movie played, they darted around while delivering drinks and food, unavoidably drawing attention despite their best efforts.

The food on the menu certainly wasn’t cheap—the pricing dissuaded me from ordering anything, and certainly doesn’t align too well with a college-student budget. At least my neighbor’s chicken tenders smelled delicious.

Neither the theater nor its attendees seemed to be quite as concerned with public health as this murderous alien was. Photo courtesy of Andrew Smith.

The biggest problem, though, was the lack of coronavirus safety precautions. Beyond admittedly thorough cleaning protocols, and a meek request for the unvaccinated to mask up, there wasn’t too much evidence of any significant attempts towards safety. Amid high levels of community transmission in Sarpy county, a large majority of moviegoers appeared to be unmasked, there was no spacing between seats to account for social distancing (as there had been at many theaters during the pandemic) and wait staff had no other alternatives but to get very close to attendees in order to hear their orders over the sounds blaring from the screen.

When it comes down to it, the Alamo Drafthouse experience is just that—an experience. If you don’t mind the many distractions, and find the combination of a good meal and a big screen to be a height of luxury worth a hefty price tag, it’s a perfect evening. For others, it’s a bit of a gimmick that holds only so much appeal, despite the clear love of cinema that the chain displays, and all of its amenities.

Whatever the case may be, Alamo Drafthouse meets a baseline standard, and does what it wants to do pretty well. When it comes time to pick a movie theater in which to spend your evening, it at least couldn’t hurt to remember the Alamo.