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The Start of Something Beautiful: D.C.’s First Drive-In Movie

Washington, D.C., gets something on Friday night it’s never had: a drive-in movie.

Now, mind you, the nation’s capital and its surrounding ‘burbs have some of the best outdoor movie venues around, such as Screen on the Green and the NoMa Summer Screen. But as far as a bona-fide experience where one drives up, kills the engine and watches the movie from an automobile? That had to wait for DC Drive-In at Union Market (1309 Fifth Street NE).

Union Market gets its DC Drive-In experience under way Friday night. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
Union Market gets its DC Drive-In experience under way Friday night. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

This is a contemporary take on the traditional drive-in movie. For one, there’s no admission charge. And it’s not going to feature first-run, or even second-run, movies. In this it will follow the structure of other outdoor movie experiences.

There will be no concession stand, as they had at traditional drive-ins. Instead, all of the powers of the Union Market vendors, such as Righteous Cheese, Red Apron and the like, can be tapped, and will be delivered by “rollerskating car hops” according to the DC Drive-In’s publicity materials.

The drive-in experience, sadly, has been on the skids for decades. At one time, more than 4,000 drive-in movie theaters dotted the American landscape. Today, around 300 or so survive. Washington, D.C., has never had one, and although it’s a far cry from the kind of drive-ins our parents frequented as teens, and which you can find in places far afield in Virgina’s ex-urbs, it still sounds pretty cool.

“Dr. Strangelove: or: How I Learned to stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” Stanley Kubrick’s pitch-black comedy about nuclear war starring Peter Sellers in three roles, as well as Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott and Slim Pickens, is the inaugural movie to show on the market’s wall. The program will last for four Fridays through Aug. 2 and will feature other D.C.-centric flicks like “The Distinguished Gentleman,” “The American President” and “No Way Out.”

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