The hottest ticket in New York City this summer?
That would be movie screenings in a Queens restaurant’s parking lot, where scoring tickets is now a competitive sport.
With quarantine making most real-life gatherings illegal, getting into the al fresco shows at Astoria’s Bel Aire Diner lot involves repeatedly hitting refresh on the eatery’s website — and likely disappointment.
“Good luck — my friend tried to go last week. They sell out super fast,” my housemate warned.
She was right: I might as well have been trying to score seats for a huge new band in pre-coronavirus times. The words “SOLD OUT” appeared on my screen before I even saw the option to buy.
“We’re like the Beatles now,” says Kal Dellaportas, Bel Aire’s manager, where tickets for the most recent drive-in movie on Thursday night sold out in “under a minute.”
The Bel Aire only has room for 45 socially distanced cars in the lot adjacent to its restaurant, making its now regular screenings hyper-exclusive. Patrons pay $32 a vehicle to attend and can order diner food to their car. For every bag of popcorn sold, the diner feeds two first responders. Screenings, which are weather-dependent, are only scheduled about a week out, says Dellaportas, with new shows announced on the diner’s Instagram account and ticketing done through its website.
“They ask the make and model of your car, so everyone has a clear view,” says Margaret, a 60-year-old Middle Village resident who attended Bel Aire’s screening of “The Sandlot” last Saturday with her husband and declined to share her last name. The screening was a welcome, if surreal, reprieve for the New Yorker, who has been under strict quarantine since the start of the pandemic.
“Sitting there watching a movie we had seen in the past, it just brought us down memory lane,” Margaret tells The Post.
Since New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave drive-ins the green light to reopen earlier this month, established open-air theaters — including the Warwick in Warwick, NY, and Four Brothers in Amenia, NY — and eager organizations with lot access have begun announcing movie nights across Long Island and upstate. And cooped-up New Yorkers are ready to press auto-play on the socially distanced — and suitably nostalgic — form of entertainment.
“We sold out in less than 24 hours almost entirely by word of mouth,” Southampton Arts Center founding co-chair Simone Levinson tells The Post of its Memorial Day weekend “Raiders of the Lost Ark” screening.
“Drive-in movies instantly transport us to easier times, and a community event like this is the perfect way to celebrate the start of summer,” says Levine.
Even Yankee Stadium has gotten in on the trend, with Bronx Night Market and Bronx Beer Festival organizer MASC Hospitality Group announcing an “Uptown Drive-in Experience” to take place at the sports field this summer.
“We have created a social distancing playground to serve as the first step to normalization,” reads the festival’s webpage, which promises “live performances from local artists, car side dinner service from our fantastic street vendors, drinks from local and national brands [and] a movie feature presentation.”
In NYC, spaces large enough to host such events are limited, but that isn’t stopping one religious group on the South Shore of Staten Island from offering screenings.
“We want to give the community something safe to do, so we’re intending on putting on a whole host of them,” says Anthony Rapacciuolo, whose marketing company PRcision is assisting the Catholic Charities of Staten Island in organizing a summer series on the Mount Loretto campus in Tottenville. “We’re going to have one food truck present at each of the events, and guests can pre-order food with their ticket.”
Dates and films are still being confirmed (they’ll be posted to the Charities’ event page once set), but the plan is to host two screenings a week, charging $30 for SUVs and $25 for traditional vehicles, with all proceeds benefiting the nonprofit Catholic Charities. Last year, the campus hosted four summer screenings, and every one sold out, so Rapacciuolo anticipates the demand this year to be even greater.
Still, no one can say just how long the drive-in craze will last. Dellaportas, for one, suspects it is a passing phase.
“I can’t imagine that after social-distancing guidelines are relaxed, it continues to be a thing,” he says. “These things never completely go away, but at this time next year, I’m not gonna be selling out in a minute.”