The Bel Aire Diner in Astoria, Queens, has been in business more than 50 years, and it’s not going to be stopped by a pandemic and a quarantine. While other restaurants have been pivoting to an all-takeout model or selling groceries, the Bel Aire has decided to go another way: it’s now a drive-in movie theater that’s donating all its profits to local charities.
The switchover happened last weekend, Gothamist reports, when the owners of the diner installed a 25-foot screen in the parking lot, which can hold 40 cars. They partnered with Long Island Movie Nights, a company that specializes in pop-up drive-in movie events (that is a definite specialty) so that viewers could tune into the soundtrack on their car radios. And then they cued up Grease.
“At our first showing, we had an elderly couple who called me over to say thank you for holding this event,” Dellaportas said. “They told me the car next to them was their neighbors, and they had not seen them for eight weeks. It was beautiful they could see each other. I get goosebumps thinking about the feedback we’ve gotten.”
The screening was such a success that the Bel Aire hosted two showings of Dirty Dancing during the week, accompanied by popcorn and a special theme menu that included Johnny Castle Sliders, Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner chicken fingers, and a non-alcoholic daiquiri called I Carried A Watermelon. Eleanor Bergstein, the screenwriter of Dirty Dancing, personally emailed co-owner Kal Dellaportas to tell him how pleased she was with what he was doing.
The screenings are still very much a work in progress; the owners are still trying to work out the best way to sell tickets to satisfy demand, and they’re thinking about letting audiences vote on future movies. And yes, there are bathrooms, inside the diner, frequently sanitized, masks and gloves required.