The Austin Chronicle

Under the Stars

Stars & Stripes and Blue Starlite

By Jessi Cape, May 15, 2015, Screens

One mention of summer nights and for many folks the iconic Grease soundtrack cues up: "Summer sun, something's begun/ But, oh, oh, these summer nights." Idyllic cheeseball romance and whispers of sexy time, leather jackets and hot rods, kickass dance sequences and pastel-pink milkshakes. Maybe not the greatest film ever made, but Danny and Sandy and the gang are part of one of those pieces of nostalgia forever associated with puppy love and splashing around in the summer sun. Right up there with baseball and apple pie, enjoying a drive-in movie with your main squeeze or a carful of best buds is a favorite pastime that's enjoying a big resurgence.

"Summertime is about being with friends and family, taking a break, and seeking adventure. Movies and the drive-in experience embrace that escapism in a way that is memorable and uniquely American," says Ryan Smith, president and co-owner of Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theatre.

West Texas is revered for its wide open skies, perfect for a big outdoor screen. Smith's grandfather opened the Sky-Vue Drive-In Theatre in Lamesa, Texas, in 1948, and in 2003, Smith decided to carry on that legacy. He bought a cotton farm in Lubbock and converted it into the still hugely popular original Stars & Stripes Theatre.

Reinventing New Braunfels' old drive-in theatre, this second location is worth every minute of the short road trip south on I-35 from Downtown Austin. Offering three huge digital projection screens with new release double-features every night of the summer, one ticket grants admission to both films. Big and bold and open year-round, this hot spot also features a Fifties-themed cafe with a full menu of delicious fare ranging from the classic snacks (popcorn, candy, sodas) to frozen lemonade, steak finger box dinners, and hot funnel cakes. There's a playground for the children, and the sound pipes in through your car stereo. (R.I.P. crackle and pop.)

Smith adds, "Going to the drive-in theatre is not just about going to see a movie. It is about ... good food, cool cars, time spent making memories together, and being outdoors. You can make the experience as private or communal as you want. Customize it by sitting in lawn chairs, open the back hatch and set up in the back of an SUV, or put an inflatable mattress in the back of a pickup truck." Talk about potential hickeys from Kenickie.

Nestled within our city limits, and with a more eclectic bill, Blue Starlite Drive-In offers a great summer series of oddball arthouse cinema and classic film selections. With space for only 30-50 cars on the 51st Street empty lot, this is a more intimate experience, enhanced by a stellar view of the Downtown sunset. The inaugural Fantasy Fest is happening now: The original Mad Max screens May 14, and the series wraps May 16 with a double shot of puppet master Jim Henson – Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. On May 21, the fifth annual Hitchcock series launches with double-feature Strangers on a Train and The Birds – a perfectly terrifying combination with nearby huddled, shadowed strangers and a convergence of squawking grackles plotting to steal your popcorn. Concessions include vintage boxed candy and local treats like Love Puppy brownies, and you can try tapping into that sweet auditory nostalgia with a free vintage window speaker rental. No matter the film or location, choose a drive-in experience this summer. And trust me, if you have a cool pal with an Eighties model Suburban, load the back with blankets and snacks, and prepare to find your favorite new way to spend summer evenings.

Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theatre

1178 Kroesche Ln., New Braunfels.
See for schedule.

Blue Starlite Drive-In Theatre

1901 E. 51st.
See for schedule.

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