- Skyline Drive-In, a drive-in movie theater in Brooklyn, opened on June 14.
- It plays movies every night and guests are treated to a breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline.
- Tickets cost $54.99 per car and $34.99 per motorcycle.
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As the sun set, casting its long and golden rays, I found myself looking upon a sight I never thought I’d see.
A stories-high brick-and-concrete wall, to the front of which was affixed a giant screen, towered over a row of cars, lined up neatly and orderly, waiting. To the right, across the river, the iconic New York City skyline glittered against the dusky sky.
This is the scene that awaits you if you visit the Skyline Drive-In theater in Greenpoint — Brooklyn’s newest outdoor attraction.
The movie (that Wednesday’s was “Crocodile Dundee”) wasn’t set to begin until 9 p.m. But by the time I showed up at 7:45 p.m., the lot was already half-full. Cars parked forward-facing or backward-facing, their occupants leaving the liftgates open and letting their legs dangle down past the rear bumper.
People in masks milled about, drinking beverages brought from home and taking in the view. Dogs on leashes sniffed about excitedly. Children did cartwheels on the pavement.
At the very back, a group of friends chattered idly by the van they had driven up in. Two of them sat on the roof with their legs dangling off the edge. And around them all, neon-vested staffers directed the traffic with the professionalism of a well-oiled machine. We asked and were told emptying out the entire Skyline Drive-In swiftly happens in a mere 10 minutes.
It’s hard to imagine the place has only been operating for about two weeks.
Windows Phone: Just getting started
Located at 1 Oak Street in Brooklyn, the Skyline Drive-In is situated on a huge, open industrial yard that’s oftentimes used in commercials and as movie shoot locations. Most recently, you might have seen it as the backdrop for “The Punisher” on Netflix.
Right now, there is still some industrial equipment being stored there — dumpsters, construction materials — but there are plans to clear all of that away.
Its CEO, Ari, wants to expand.
Currently, there is one screen, one food truck, and only room for cars and motorcycles. Ultimately, Ari wants three screens, a luxurious lounge-like seating area for pedestrians and cyclists, and multiple food trucks.
“How much space do you have?” I asked. “How many square feet?”
Ari gestured vaguely all around. “Oh, as far as the eye can see,” he said. “About four acres.”
At this, I had to laugh. Acreage is not a unit of measurement you hear thrown around very often when discussing real estate in New York City.
But it’s a massive space, for sure. And it seems like Ari wants to have as many people out to enjoy it as he can.
Windows Phone: The perfect social-distancing solution
While Ari said he’d hatched the idea of a drive-in movie theater a few years ago, it wasn’t his intention to open during the COVID-19 pandemic. “But then you see people ready to climb over walls to get out,” he said of the stay-at-home and social-distancing mandates. “We wanted to give them something to do while everything else is closed.”
New York City is the last place you’d expect anyone to put a drive-in theater, but Ari’s bet seems to be paying off.
As a car owner here, I can personally attest that even on the best days, it feels like jousting with a city that hates cars and is doing its best to destroy yours. Gridlock, poor road quality, alternate-side parking squabbles, and hilariously expensive garage costs make up the crucible that is to have your own vehicle here.
And on the worst days? Well, you may or may not catch me thinking about just throwing the keys into the East River and being done with it all.
To add to that: there’s also a (largely) robust public transportation system that will (reasonably) get you where you need to go (on time, sometimes). The majority of New York City gets along just fine without ever needing to drive a car. My dad, who grew up here, didn’t get a driver’s license until he was well into this 30s and had moved to the suburbs.
But COVID-19 changed that. The virus struck the city and suddenly people don’t feel comfortable taking public transportation anymore. Instead, they are looking to what everyone else in the country has always known to be a source of great personal convenience and mobility: cars.
Whether or not the cars that showed up that Wednesday night were the result of COVID-19 panic-buying, it was undeniable that people in New York City do, in fact, own cars when you wouldn’t think many of them would.
The Skyline Drive-In has a capacity of about 130 cars. A staffer who gave us a tour said that tickets have been selling out every night since it showed its first movie on June 14.
The theater started out with one showing per day at 9 p.m., but Ari said that he’s gotten so many requests for more showings that he opened up a second showtime at midnight. Those tickets are selling out, too, he said.
Windows Phone: How it works
Tickets are sold per car or per motorcycle — rather than per person — at $54.99 and $34.99, respectively. Ari said this is all in the name of efficiency: he doesn’t want people fumbling for their tickets at the entrance and creating a traffic jam.
Instead, all that drivers have to do to get in is hold up a code sent straight to their phone that can be read through the windshield. Totally contactless. Once parked, guests don’t even need to open their windows. The movie sound is broadcasted over an FM radio station and can be heard that way.
“If people don’t want to get out of their car, they don’t need to,” Ari said.
Seating is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. SUVs and bigger vehicles are encouraged to keep to the rear so people in smaller cars can see the screen. Big groups coming in vehicles such as vans are allowed, but not buses.
“That would block the screen,” the spokesperson giving the tour said.
If people want to face their cars backward so they can sit in the trunk, staffers will help them orient everything. Lawn chairs, beach towels, and outside food are welcome. You just have to turn your car’s lights off and you can’t leave your engine idling. Staffers said they can jump cars at the end of the movie if need be.
On its website, Skyline Drive-In assures you that you will not be using a porta-potty. “Yes, we have proper bathrooms,” it writes. “No one likes porta-potties and we won’t make you use them.”
Currently, there’s just one food truck, which Ari said operates to full capacity, so he’s looking to hire more. “I want concession stands,” he said.
It’s very clear the Skyline team are grateful guests in the neighborhood. They take special pains to make sure the environment stays friendly and low-key. There are multiple speakers dispersed throughout the parking lot so they can keep the volume down low, so as not to disturb the neighboring residents.
The Alamo Drafthouse is famous for enforcing a silence policy at its theaters, and it’s a reason many go. At the Skyline Drive-In, the vibe is different.
“We want people to know they can come here to relax,” Ari said. “We were showing ‘Footloose’ here a couple of nights ago and people were singing along to the music and playing the songs on their car stereos when they were leaving.”
Windows Phone: The experience
The last time I went to a drive-in movie theater, I was visiting friends in Saratoga Springs, New York. We tried tempting a breeze that hot summer’s night by leaving the windows down, but we were immediately attacked by mosquitoes. To protect ourselves, we rolled the windows back up and spent the next two hours sweating into my friend’s leather upholstery. We couldn’t see the screen at all from all the condensation that gathered on the windows.
The Skyline Drive-In couldn’t have been more different.
The staffers had a front-row spot waiting for us, so after the tour was over, we bought ourselves some dinner and settled in the car for the show to begin. I also broke the one rule I have in my car — no eating.
The provided outdoor speakers were loud, but to hear the finer details, you really had to use your car speakers. We had all four windows rolled down and a constant breeze tumbled through the cabin.
It brought not the typical NYC stench of garbage, urine, and despair, but the pleasant yet faint smell of brine. To pass time at the Skyline Drive-In is to smell the sea.
Too often, I’d catch myself inadvertently glancing over to my right, where the Manhattan skyline twinkled. It was such a spectacular view that I found it difficult to maintain a constant focus on the movie.
Being cooped up in an apartment with no one around is isolating — but here, surrounded by people all still socially distant, sitting in their cars, and enjoying the experience together, felt like the first slice of “normal” I’d gotten since March.
Going to the movies offers people an escape from reality for a few hours at a time. When set starkly against the current and dreadful reality we now occupy, this new drive-in does exactly that and more.
The Skyline Drive-In has no intention of being a seasonal affair. Rain, shine, summer, winter — as long as people come, the movies will keep playing.