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Beer-Selling Cinema Moving Into Vacant Metro Theater

A 2006 photo of the Metro Theater's marquee at 2626 Broadway. The building's owner says he's moving in a retail tenant.
A 2006 photo of the Metro Theater's marquee at 2626 Broadway. The building's owner says he's moving in a retail tenant.
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Flickr/Aman*Duh

UPPER WEST SIDE — Movies are coming back to the long vacant Metro Theater — and beer and food are on the bill too.

Alamo Drafthouse, an Austin-based movie theater chain where viewers can chow down on snacks and cold brews while they watch the silver screen, will open a theater in the landmark Metro Theater in 2013, a spokeswoman said.

The venue, located at 2626 Broadway between West 99th and 100th streets, will be Alamo Drafthouse's first foray into New York City. The combination cinema and drafthouse has 11 locations nationwide and is also opening in Washington, D.C. and Denver in the near future, the spokeswoman added.

The theater company had been hunting for a venue for its Manhattan location for years, said founder Tim League. He and his wife discovered the long-vacant Metro when they visited his wife's aunt on Central Park West and West 99th Street.

The marquee and facade of the Metro Theater were landmarked in 1989.
The marquee and facade of the Metro Theater were landmarked in 1989.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

"New York is such an incredible film town that we'd probably be OK anywhere, but there's a whole lot of people on the Upper West Side and there are a lot of movie fans there," League said.

The five-screen theater will show both new releases and classic flicks. Recent showings at Alamo Drafthouse's Austin location included "The Hunger Games," the 1967 Paul Newman film "Cool Hand Luke," and commercial-free screenings of the hit TV show "Mad Men."

Menu items at the Austin location include $10 grilled and roasted vegetable plates, $10 turkey meatloaf sandwiches, $12 avocado tomatillo shrimp, pizza, burgers, wraps, salads and snacks like fried pickles.

Movie candy and popcorn with real butter are for sale too, along with a long list of craft beers, wines and hard liquor cocktails.

League, 42, launched Alamo Drafthouse in Austin in 1997. In addition to running theaters, he's also creative director of Fantastic Fest, a weeklong festival of horror, fantasy, sci-fi and action movies in Austin.

As an off-shoot of the festival, League also runs a distribution company that this year put out the Academy Award-nominated movie "Bullhead." The company will release five or six movies a year and was part of the reason League wanted to expand to other cities like New York.

The Art Deco Metro Theater has been empty for six years. There have been several attempts to revive the derelict space. Clothing retailer Urban Outfitters considered moving in, and a neighborhood resident dreamed of revamping the space into a nonprofit arts venue.

Metro Theater owner Albert Bialek had all but given up the idea of the Metro once again becoming a functioning cinema and he was prepping the space for a retail tenant, he said.

He'd spent the past several months at the theater working with architects, and nearly every day locals who walked by made the same request — that they wanted the Metro to be reborn as moviehouse, Bialek said.

"I received a lot of input from Upper West Siders," Bialek said. "I got the feeling that the Metro is almost an organic part of the Upper West Side and I came to believe it should be a theater. The decision wasn't purely economic. I consider myself a steward of a landmark building."

League said he plans to fully restore the neon on the Metro Theater's historic facade, which became an official city landmark in 1989. On the inside of the 1932 building, which was gutted to make the space more attractive to potential retail tenants, League said he'll have to start from scratch to build the five theaters on three levels.

"It's going to be a significant construction process," League said.

Alamo will be hiring managers, kitchen staff, creative programmers, bartenders and waiters, League said. Employment applications can be downloaded at http://drafthouse.com/about/employment.