At Alamo’s Press Room Bar, Movie History Is Always “Coming Soon”

At Alamo’s Press Room Bar, Movie History Is Always “Coming Soon”

Way before Fandango and long before Moviefone, you’d have to open the actual newspaper to see what movies were playing. The process of getting those ads in the paper — teasing you with black-and-white images of Alec Guinness in “Situation Hopeless … But Not Serious” or Steve McQueen in “The Cincinnati Kid” — wasn’t an easy one.

Today, advertising means just emailing someone a JPEG, but for about 50 years, the process was a much more time-consuming, even physical endeavor. Movie posters and other images were etched onto lead metal presses and then turned into master plates that would create paper molds — called flongs or mats — that were sent to newspapers around the country; the newspaper printers would then cast printing stocks out of hot metal to re-imprint the images on paper pages. Movie studios would not only make and ship these sheets all around the country to build up buzz for their pictures, they’d also have to make the physical ad molds in different sizes to account for different ad spaces in newspapers. 

The days of analog print ads are long gone, and most people aren’t checking the newspaper to see what’s playing at the multiplex. But Lower Manhattan’s Alamo Drafthouse pays tribute to that brief but important bygone era at its in-house bar, the Press Room, which has a collection of about 60,000 original ad molds, plus a vast selection of test blocks of vintage newspaper cinema advertising. The blocks, molds and prints, which date from about 1930 to 1980, line the walls of the bar, along with displays of master plates used to create the paper molds. The test blocks are the extraordinary part of this printing museum: most of the test blocks would have been melted back down for their metal. But this collection, originally made by Loren Kelley of KB Typesetting, became the go-to ad house for Hollywood for a time, and Kelley saved every test block. 

Alamo founder Tim League acquired the collection after, naturally, learning about it from a movie: a 2017 documentary called “The Collection” that debuted at SXSW. Shortly after seeing the film, League contacted the collections’ owners — antiques enthusiasts who had stumbled across the test blocks in the back of a shop — and started making arrangements to purchase it. 

Alamo Drafthouse always puts some nice touches into its in-house bars (see: the delightfully creepy House of Wax bar at the Downtown Brooklyn location), and the Press Room is no exception, letting you tour through movie history while you wait for your showtime. Plus, the bar has a working printing press, where a few days a week you can catch a professional printer whipping up designs for movie buffs. The bar also hosts drag karaoke and other events, giving you plenty of reasons to pop by Alamo even when you don’t want to see a film. 

The Press Room also offers up a selection of dozens of craft beers and a cocktail menu that takes inspiration from press-related terminology, such as the vodka-based Interrobang, the tequila-heavy Printer’s Devil (pictured in the main image) or the rum-filled Em Dash. The bar/museum/print shop is such a delightful time trip that it might even leave you longing for the days of picking up the actual paper to check the showtimes — though Alamo’s website will work just as well. (28 Liberty St.)

Tags: alamo drafthouse, feature, the press room

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