Theater perfect for movie and a milkshake, not dinner

Quality cinema, better snacks.


Julia-Rose Kibben

Cinema patrons walk past a vintage jukebox and shelves of VHS and DVD movies on sale on their way to an Alamo Drafthouse theater. Lost City Video runs a DVD sales and rental shop in the cinema lobby.

The Alamo Drafthouse looks like a deserted concert venue or a long-lost cousin of The Warfield at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday. Two-story ceilings and brand-new red-patterned carpeted stairs lead moviegoers down narrow hallways to a series of six theaters that seat 35 to 325 audience members. Shelves of VHS and DVD videos are on sale and available for rent, courtesy of Lost Weekend video, a video rental service shacked up in the lobby.

The movie theater, which moved onto Mission Street next to a burnt-down Popeye’s now replaced with hideous orange condos, quickly garnered a cult following of beer drinkers and movie buffs. The Drafthouse screens newly-released motion pictures as well as older feature films on themed-movie nights.

The Drafthouse boasts a full bar to patrons over 21 years of age and restaurant style-service. Adults of legal drinking age can drink downstairs at the bar, Bear vs. Bull, or have drinks and snacks served to them in their theater seats. The menu offers classic-turned-hipster movie snacks like $9 popcorn with truffled parmesan butter or fried pickles with ranch.

Kiosks allow visitors to purchase tickets, however most customers choose to order online and weeks in advance. One should be dextrous when ordering tickets; it’s challenging to get one’s hands on two tickets for a late afternoon weekday showing of “Manchester by the Sea.” I tried for the 2 p.m. showing, but didn’t click “Complete Order” fast enough. Buying tickets to the Drafthouse is serious business.

Guests can order food on small slips of paper using golf pencils in the illuminated spaces under side tables separating every two seats, placing the paper slips upright in table slots so waiters can come by to retrieve orders without making noise.

The menu boasts $8 milkshakes with locally-sourced Strauss milk and Dandelion chocolate, which was arguably the best chocolate shake I’ve had in my life. Thick, creamy and chocolatey — but not too sweet.

Repeatedly reminded of the strict no texting or talking policy, most moviegoers are quiet and respectful, although almost all are interrupted by servers who deliver milkshakes and TV dinner-like trays at the most inopportune times, obstructing the screen with their silhouettes.

Order tickets in advance for a late night movie, grab dinner before and save room for a shake. Sit down and try to enjoy the movie, providing you can see past the pacing waiters.

The Drafthouse is not ideal for a teen weekend outing with friends, because moviegoers must be accompanied by an adult or 18-years-old.

Matinees are inexpensive for a San Francisco day at the cinema, but the entire experience including a meal can total upwards of $40. Tickets are available online at and at theater kiosks.