Mid-century meets Millennial at Union Market’s D.C. Drive-In

July 17, 2013

Union Market, which opened in September, is one of the newer stops on D.C.’s burgeoning foodie circuit. But on Friday night it hopped a few decades backward, hosting the first of four free D.C. Drive-In screenings.

Beginning shortly after 9 p.m, “Dr. Strangelove” was projected on the market’s white brick wall, high above the display windows. Viewers could watch the 1964 Cold War satire from cars in the parking lot to the south or from a picnic area between the lot and the three-story building.

The idea began with Jon Gann, a local movie consultant who programs the D.C. Shorts Film Festival. “We never had a drive-in here,” said Gann, who grew up in Silver Spring. That suburb, he lamented, also never had a drive-in.

Gann became aware of the location, he said, because he has friends who have stalls in the market.

The outdoor screenings, all of movies with Washington themes, are supported in part by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Also involved is Edens, the Bethesda company that redeveloped the near-Northeast market building as a consumer-oriented business.

Despite rain earlier in the day, the turnout met expectations. “We’re at capacity for cars,” said Richie Brandenburg, Edens’s director of culinary strategy. “It’s working out great.”

The drive-in accepted 70 reservations for cars to park in the lot, and an additional 30 vehicles were also admitted. A few viewers could be seen in cars outside the lot, and at least 100 people watched from the somewhat muddy picnic area, outfitted with tables and Adirondack chairs.

Members of D.C. Rollergirls served as car hops, selling drinks and popcorn. In keeping with Union Market’s gourmet aspirations, some of the car hops were hawking small packages of assorted cheeses from a market vendor, Righteous Cheese.

Before the screenings, most of the moviegoers seemed to follow the script. They entered the market to buy dinner, drinks and snacks. For those outside, there were games and skits with four actors dressed as concessions, including a hot dog and a box of Sno-Caps candy. Prizes included tickets to the D.C. Shorts festival and memberships for Zipcar, whose representatives were also on hand.

A few people perched atop cars to watch. Awaiting the movie, D.C. residents Anna Jackson and Micah Lubens sat on a blue Camry. Lubens was a fan of the market before the drive-in event was announced.

“I come to Union Market most weekends,” he said. “I follow them on Twitter. This seemed like a pretty cool thing to do in the city.”

Another reason to attend, Lubens said, was that he’s a big fan of “Dr. Strangelove,” but Jackson had never seen it.

Although Jackson said she had never experienced a drive-in, Lubens recalled visiting a few in northern New England.

The projection and sound were being supervised by Bradley Lust, a CPR MultiMedia Solutions executive whose family has a history with drive-ins. “My grandfather, Sidney Lust, built the Beltsville drive-in in 1948,” he said. “That was the world’s fifth drive-in.”

The theaters are enjoying a revival, Lust said, but not as permanent sites. Pop-up outdoor screenings use existing facades, as at Union Market, or inflatable temporary screens. Rather than a hard-wired audio system, the pop-ups use low-power FM radio to send the soundtrack to the cars. At D.C. Drive-In, there were speakers up front for the picnickers, and the movie was captioned, in part for students from nearby Gallaudet University.

“The drive-in idea is coming back,” Lust said, and as several hundred people watched WJLA (Channel 7) movie reviewer Arch Campbell’s videotaped introduction, a small revival seemed to be underway.

The remaining D.C. Drive-In screenings are “The Distinguished Gentleman,” starring Eddie Murphy (July 19); “The American President,” with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening (July 26); and “No Way Out,” with Kevin Costner (Aug. 2).

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