Friday night at the drive-in might sound like a weekend highlight of bygone days, but those days are back—big time. With theaters still closed in the wake of COVID-19, Colorado’s handful of drive-in movie theaters have seen a major resurgence in popularity.
“We’ve actually been growing year over year consistently,” says Josh Cisar, general manager of the Holiday Twin in Fort Collins. “You have that generation that went to the drive-in as kids that now has children and is thinking, ‘That was so cool. Is there one in my area? What a cool thing to do.’ The drive-ins that have survived have adapted to digital technology. We’ve learned to market ourselves. On a Friday or Saturday in the summer when a new movie comes out, we sometimes turn away 200 cars.”
Opened in 1968, the Holiday Twin is one of only seven long-standing drive-in theaters still operating in Colorado, where audio was once delivered via pole-mounted external speakers to station wagons stuffed with children in pajamas, moms in curlers, and teenagers packed into pick-up trucks. Cisar’s stepfather, drive-in industry legend Wes Webb, purchased the Holiday Twin in 1979 and worked one of its box office windows himself, greeting guests for decades before he passed away last year at age 87. Still a family operation, the Holiday Twin’s nightly business is largely run by Cisar, his mother, wife, and brother.
Cisar’s film buyer tells him that the Holiday Twin is currently the highest performing drive-in in the United States. Like the other entertainment venues in Colorado under coronavirus-related restrictions, the drive-in must run at 50 percent capacity, which amounts to about 360 cars across its two screening areas. Offering double features nightly for $9 per person, most films are of the retro variety (this weekend’s screenings include the old and newer Jumanji on one screen and Jurassic World and Minions on the other) since new releases are on hold. Still, the Twin’s showings have been consistently sold out since reopening in May.
“We’re at half capacity, but sustained throughout the week,” Cisar says. “Most people who normally wouldn’t come on a Tuesday, now are. It’s like any day we’re playing anything, we have a lot of people.”
The poles that once held the external speakers now conveniently mark the spaces between which one vehicle (normally two) may park with physical distancing protocol in place. Audio is delivered by the Twin directly to your vehicle’s sound system. Tickets must be purchased online in advance. Snacks and drinks are ordered online and picked up at their patio outside—many selling out on a nightly basis. In addition, the Twin recently opened a beer garden, where drinks must be purchased in person and face-coverings are required. The venue also just began hosting the Fort Collins Music Association’s Drive & Jive, a summer-long weekly live music series featuring a band performing on stage and projected onto the big screen with audio streamed through car radios every Tuesday night. Like movies, guests watch from inside or just outside of their vehicles.
“I think people love the fact that there’s something to do that has a sense of normalcy,” Cisar says. “I love it. I’ve loved the scene since I was a kid. The drive-in is a place to come and forget about everything else that’s going on.”
Historic drive-ins still operating in Colorado:
- Star Drive in Montrose (First opened in 1950 and operated by the same family for 71 years, the Star is open nightly. A burger at the snack bar here will set you back $3.50.)
- Holiday Twin in Fort Collins
- Tru-Vu in Delta
- 88 Drive in Commerce City
- Mesa Drive in Pueblo (reopening date TBA)
- Comanche Drive in Buena Vista
- Star Drive in Monte Vista. (This theater is connected to the Best Western Movie Manor, where each hotel room has a view of one of the two movie screens.)