To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on live arts and cultural events would be to say that the Hindenburg was a little explosive. But as we’ve seen countless times since Chicago’s shelter-in-place order went into effect in mid-March, the virus is no match for the ingenuity of the city’s creative community.
Enter Chicago Drive-In, which opens in a parking lot in Bridgeview’s SeatGeek Stadium this week. The venture is the brainchild of a group of local festival and event organizers, including Cobra Lounge manager Louie Mendicino, who says it was born out of necessity. “What we do, and what we’re most proud of, is what we bring to the masses,” Mendicino says. “We really needed to tap into that degree of pride again, and come together on a project. That’s where we’re at our best, personally and professionally.”
The venue, which can fit up to 300 cars, will screen family-friendly classics such as The Goonies and The Sandlot on a nightly basis across its 70-foot screen. “These are movies my generation wants their kids to see—they are timeless to a degree,” Mendicino says. “[Parents] have an opportunity to not only get out of the house, but to offer something to their kids: an insight to their youth and their culture. So it’s kind of a bonding moment for kids and their parents as well.”
For adults who want to watch something slightly more scandalous than Smalls losing his stepdad’s prized baseball over the neighbor’s fence, though, Friday and Saturday nights will also feature midnight movie screenings of R-rated crowd pleasers, including Reservoir Dogs.
Mendicino says that the organizers intend to follow city guidelines for COVID-19 reopening every step of the way to ensure that the experience is as safe as possible for guests and workers alike: moviegoers must wear masks anytime they are away from their vehicle, and audio will be screened on FM radio instead of clip-on speakers (the company’s website advises picking up a new boombox if your car stereo is on the fritz).
There are also plans in the works for a second drive-in at an undisclosed Chicago location, and Mendicino says if the first two theaters are a success, they’d ideally like to add a couple more in other parts of the city. For now he hopes to extend the season through the fall and end with Halloween weekend, and suggests that with enough community support the Chicago Drive-In could return next year, even as the pandemic (fingers crossed) subsides.
Guests are encouraged to prepurchase tickets online, rather than chance pulling up to a full lot. And given the organizers’ live music backgrounds, they’re planning to enhance the experience with special touches such as retro cartoons during intermissions, and by giving guests the opportunity to share “happy birthday” messages and proposals across the big screen (for a small fee). “We tend to get creative on the fly,” Mendicino says. “This is just who we are as people and we’re not going to stop that anytime soon.” v