The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2015

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Page 42 of 140

42  /  the tasting panel  /  september 2015 A LONE STAR LIFE "I 've been a fan since the first time I came here," says Bill Norris, while settling in at the original Alamo Drafthouse movie theater in Austin, Texas, with a (512) Pecan Porter. "Sitting down and realizing someone would bring me a pizza and a craft beer while I'm enjoying a movie—why would anyone go anywhere else?" Norris is now Beverage Director for Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, founded in 1997 to enhance the movie experience with seat-side food-and-beverage service throughout the movie. It developed such an enthusiastic fan-base that, just like so many other inspired ideas, it didn't stay in Austin for long. The concept has expanded to nearly two dozen Texas locations, plus another dozen throughout the country. As its name suggests, there's an emphasis on beer here, especially local craft beers. Theaters have between 36 and 48 taps, and 80 percent of those taps pour local, regional beers. But as the concept continues to franchise abroad, Norris, an award-winning bartender, is ramping up the spirits programs for those venues that have become full-blown enter- tainment destinations; some locations feature concept bars, like The Highball, a swanky cocktail bar attached to the original Austin location, and 400 Rabbits, a tequila and mezcal lounge located at a Drafthouse across town. With an otherwise captive audience, these could simply be lowest-common-denominator spots designed to kill time before or after a movie, but Norris says, "We don't want them to become airport bars. You have to make good drinks for the customer to come back and our style of craft bartending has developed right along with the Alamo Drafthouse concept." In addition to training staff and managers on quality service techniques, Norris says one of the most gratifying aspects of his position is menu development and workshop- ping recipes with the various locations. Take the "Bump & Grind," for example. For the Magic Mike sequel released earlier this year, this Ruby Red grapefruit vodka, Aperol, lemon and soda cocktail was developed in Austin and proved so popular that Norris featured the drink nationally within the chain for the run of the movie—like the cocktail equivalent of a wide release. Despite the satisfaction of championing boozy blockbusters, Norris must still think of each 200-seat theater as basically a full-service restaurant where all the orders come in within 20 minutes of each other. "When Star Wars opens later this year, they're going to have six showings daily with 200 people at a time," he explains. "We have to have the right systems, the right people, the right technology and the right drinks to pull that off with success." At the Movies with Bill Norris WHETHER INSIDE OR OUTSIDE THE THEATER, THE BEVERAGE DIRECTOR FOR THE ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE GIVES HIS JOB TWO THUMBS UP by Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddle Bill Norris, Beverage Director for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin.

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