Alamo Drafthouse movie theaters, with three Denver area locations, files for bankruptcy

Alamo Drafthouse, the hip, booze- and food-serving moving theater chain with three locations in the Denver area, has filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Bloomberg News.

Three of the company’s 41 locations, including one in its native Austin, Texas, will close permanently as part-owner Altamont Capital Partners and affiliates of Fortress Investment Group buy the business out of bankruptcy, the company said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg on Wednesday.

The three metro Denver locations — Littleton, on West Colfax Avenue near Sloan’s Lake in Denver and a Westminster theater that opened in 2019 — appear safe for now.

“Our intention is to re-open when we can,” Alamo spokeswoman Brandy Fons said in a text message to The Denver Post on Wednesday.

Sloan’s Lake is the only one of the three currently showing movies after COVID-19 restrictions shut down all three last year.

Twenty-three Alamo theaters are owned by franchisees, according to Bloomberg.

While not the first to offer dine-in and drink-in movie viewing in the Denver area, Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas Holdings made waves in the American cinema industry by offering a viewing experience that catered to adults and mixed healthy doses of nostalgic and classic screenings with new releases.

Locations tout menus of food, wine, beer and cocktails, offer high-end picture and sound quality, and a code of conduct that bans infants and small kids, harassment and mobile phone use during the movie.

Keith Garcia, artistic director of the Denver Film’s Sie FilmCenter, was the creative manager for Alamo’s Littleton location from 2013-14. He credited the company for helping change the film-viewing landscape locally, bringing in a focus on curation and making a trip to the theater and event and not just a commodity.

“It was interesting to see how a corporation applied those ideas to mainstream film,” Garcia said.

The Altamont-Fortress investment group bought $100 million in Alamo’s debt before Wednesday’s bankruptcy filing, Bloomberg reported.

The company had already engaged in severe cost-cutting measures to survive the pandemic, furloughing 80% of its staff after its theaters were closed last March and also slashing pay and negotiating rent deals with landlords.

By the end of 2020, it still faced an “overwhelming” debt load, Chief Financial Officer Matthew Vonderahe said in a court declaration.

In a statement emailed out to media members Wednesday, Tim League, Alamo’s founder and executive chairman, struck an optimistic tone.

“Because of the increase in vaccination availability, a very exciting slate of new releases and pent-up audience demand, we’re extremely confident that by the end of 2021, the cinema industry — and our theaters specifically — will be thriving,” League said in the statement. But “difficult decisions” about the company’s leases are coming during the bankruptcy, he said

Garcia said that is true across the industry. Sie and Denver Film is getting by with private screenings and virtual cinema experiences and doesn’t plan to rush into reopening until its audience is ready to come back, he said.

“As we ease out of COVID and theater reopen, I think this fall we are going to look at the closure of quite a few place across the board from corporate to the little guy,” Garcia said. “At this point, I don’t think we know what the impact of losing those places will be.”

Bloomberg News contributed to this report. 

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