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drive-in movie theater
Courtesy Bel Aire Diner

This Queens diner has transformed into a retro drive-in movie theater

The drive-in trend has returned to New York City.

Collier Sutter
Written by
Collier Sutter

Drive-in movie theaters may seem to belong to a different era, but the new normal of social distancing is bringing them back into the spotlight. But while drive-ins across the country are regaining buzz, most of them are located on the outer fringes of suburbia or in rural areas. 

Now, New Yorkers can get in on the retro entertainment. One Astoria-based restaurant that's been around since 1965, Bel Aire Diner, is now putting on drive-in movie nights in their sizable parking lot, bringing the trend straight into the concrete jungle.

For the setup, Bel Aire Diner has been using a 25-foot screen, propped up high to allow easy viewing for roughly 30 to 40 cars. Movie patrons must be inside their cars (no walkers!) and can tune in to the flick's sound on an an FM radio station. Visitors can dine too, ordering food ahead of time from Bel Aire's website and just include a car color and license plate for food drop-offs from the greasy spoon.  

"It all started as an amazing way to get the community together safely," says Bel Aire's Event Coordinator, Victoria Philios. "Many people in the neighborhood haven’t been out of their houses in months.” 

Bel Aire Diner has been working on the new venture with Long Island Movie Nights, who specialize in creating pop-up drive-in events. Nick Mattera of LI Movie Nights explains, "After setting up the outdoor movie screen and projector equipment we've been helping usher cars into their spots at a certain distance away from each other, and going through the rules with all patrons over the speakers. Although this is a weird time for everyone, we've all been trying to do our best to make sure that everyone is safe, while also having a good time."

What started as a local effort has now gone viral on social media. "After we posted to our Instagram, we woke up with 400 messages in our inbox of New Yorkers wanting to come!" explains Philios.

Last week's viewing was Grease, and tomorrow they will have two already sold-out times for Dirty Dancing. Keep an eye on their Instagram for future announcements about movie showings. 

With the state starting to ease restrictions on some non-essential businesses this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo stated that all drive-in theaters can reopen May 15. So while this Queens destination may be leading the charge, there may be more make-shift drive-ins to come in the Greater New York Area.  

Bel Air Diner is located at 31 91 21st St, Queens, NY 11106.

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