June 6 is “National Drive-In Movie” Day. For many, memories of drive-in theaters include young girls in mini-skirts, guys with mutton chops, crew cuts, or Afros, wearing bell-bottoms or pistol-leg slacks (depending on the decade). Who could forget those days sitting in cars parked in large, dusty fields, enjoying a movie glaring from a truly “big” screen?
Over the course of time, this favorite pastime began dying out. After the first drive-in movie theater opened in Camden, New Jersey on June 6, 1933, approximately 4,000 drive-ins sprang up across the nation. These days, there are barely over 300. However, that could all be changing.
With millions of moviegoers having been stuck at home for the past few months, drive-ins are gaining traction as a welcoming outlet — albeit, ones with fancy upgrades in the age of COVID-19.
For example, a Miami theme park is going “retro.” Vehicles will be spaced apart and the sound will be pumped through vehicle radios while attendees view movies displayed on a 22-foot by 40-foot screen. Food orders will be transactional through a phone app and delivered to customers’ vehicles. Portable restrooms will be available for one person at a time with attendants on hand to sanitize after each use.
“Bengies” opened near Baltimore, Maryland in 1956 and so far, still boasts the largest outdoor movie screen in the United States with a monstrous 52-feet high and 120-feet wide projection. Bengies is appreciated for its weekend triple features at one price. Less than two hours away from New York City, in upstate New York, the redefining “Four Brothers” opened in 2015. Four Brothers’ “Throwback Thursday” may not be such a unique concept, but their menu is sure to separate them from others. Their concession menu features items such as affogatos, salmon burgers, shakes with Nutella, and wine.
“Doc’s Drive-in Theater” opened in Buda, Texas in 2018 and also boasts gourmet concessions. Curious taste buds can be treated to pulled-pork sandwiches, waffles, nachos with shredded brisket, chips and salsa, or pretzels with beer cheese. Mama Merlot’s onsite bar is there to quench any thirst.
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The Los Angeles Times recently reported that local drive-ins are benefitting from social distancing. On March 18, the Sacramento 6 Drive-in took in $1,039 at the box office while the Paramount Drive-in raked in $1,183 that same night. As the movie industry continues to struggle due to productions being placed on hold and movie theaters only slowly re-opening, the average drive-in is currently screening classics. But who cares? It’s a chance to get out of the house for a few hours of fun while social distancing. Yes, this 20th-century relic is receiving a new lease on life and dozens of cult classics are getting some attention as well. With hot summer days and nights fast approaching, the drive-in may see a revival of its glory days and earn a new generation of fans.
Photo: Public domain image of a drive-in theater