Monday, August 06, 2012

Yatala drive-ins...a great night out!

I stepped back in time...and went to the drive-ins.

Once upon a time there were drive-in theatres everywhere in Brisbane. However, with time and the accompanying increase in land value, drive-ins became a thing of the past. This is fact as far as Brisbane is concerned and I daresay the same can be said for the rest of the Australian cities and much of rural Australia (probably the world). My local drive-in as a kid is now a sea of roofs.

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The Yatala Drive-In Theatre is a twin screen drive-in and one of only two drive-in theatres left in the Brisbane area (the other being the Tivoli, near Ipswich - to the west of Brisbane). For the uninitiated, a twin screen drive-in doesn't mean the screens are right next to each other, so you get to watch two movies at once. In this case, the screens are at opposite ends of two 'fields', with cars in one field facing one screen and vice versa for the second screen.

Anyway, I digress...the Yatala drive-ins are located about a half hour drive south of the Brisbane CBD, just off the M1 at the Yatala North exit (38). 

Saturday night at the Yatala drive-ins - get there early.

It had been at least 25 years since I'd been to the drive-ins and the memories came flooding back - paying at the gate (cash only, just like the 'old days'), driving in, finding a suitable park (much like finding a good seat in a cinema - not too close, not too far, not too much to either side) and getting settled for what is basically a night in. 

Pay at the gate, and turn your lights off.
(make it quick for everyone...try and have the right change)

You can bring chairs/tables/rugs/mattresses/pillows but they must be placed in front of your car. One family showed up in a ute with a couple of couches stacked in the back. The couches were placed in front of the ute and the family piled on amidst the pillows and blankets. Another group, obviously seasoned 'drive-in-ers', parked next to each other and had a picnic theme happening, complete with tables, chairs and a hamper (you're allowed to bring your own food but not a full-on BBQ set up).

One of the best of the many elaborate set-ups!

The family (mum/dad/two kids) in the above photo parked and begin setting up. 'Stuff' kept coming out of the car, including two of the car seats and the fold-out picnic table/chair combo you see (the chairs fold up and fit inside the bottom of the table - ingenious!). 

That was impressive enough until, lo and behold, they were even cooking dinner on a tiny red camp stove (not a BBQ, so okay). I had to go and take a photo! They were drive-in regulars and their timing was immaculate because, about five minutes before the start of the first movie, dinner had been served and they packed away the fold-out picnic table/chairs and everyone kicked back to watch the movie.

*By the way, chicken fillets were being cooked for chicken fillet burgers.

A less elaborate, but equally functional, set up - BYO outdoor furniture.
Mattress and a few blankets on the roof for the kids, the warmth of the car for mum and dad.

If the kids get bored before the movie there is a playground next to the Field 1 screen and dogs are even allowed, so long as they are on a lead. 

The playground next to the Field 1 screen.
Once the movie starts the light (under the screen) goes out.
The open-air option was one that didn't appeal but many went down this route.
Jeans and shoes might help but I'm still not convinced by the 'open hatch/pillows/blankets' idea.

The Saturday night I was there a triple bill showing (weekdays and most other weekends it is a double bill):

Field 1 (our choice):
9.30pm: Ted (WARNING - the Ted website contains adult material)

Field 2:
5.45pm: Brave

Getting past 9.30pm for us is a struggle (I'm up very early during the week), so I opted out on Ted and stayed for the first two.

Prices (as of July 2012):
1 Movie: Adults: $13, Children (6+): $7, Children (0-5) Free
2 Movies: $16/$10/Free
3 Movies: $24/$15/Free

If you join the Bumper Sticker Club, you gain entry for only $25 for two people or $30 for up to four people. Read about the Bumper Sticker Club here.

The drive-in is open seven nights a week - rain, hail or shine - and gates open 45 mins before the first movie (one hour on weekends).

Light from the Simpsons short, played before the first movie, reflects off cars.
The queue to get in can be seen in the distance.

It's funny what memories endure and one of the things I loved about going to the drive-in as kids was hanging the speaker inside the car. It was something different and it acted as some sort of link between you/your car and the movie. Yatala still has the hanging speaker, or you can tune in via your car radio.

Not all the stands have speakers, so tuning in was the only option.

The other enduring memory was walking through the cars to the snack bar. Yatala's snack bar - the Yatala Diner - replicates an authentic 1950's style American diner. Inside you'll find full size statues of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe & James Dean, booths, pinball machines, cadillac couches and more.

The Yatala Diner, located between Field 1 and Field 2.
The outdoor tables at the diner overlook the Field 1 screen.
There is enough volume coming from the cars that you can comfortably listen to the movie from the tables.
Marilyn between the pinball machines.
The booths inside the diner.

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*     *     *     *     *

Elvis does his thing beside the selection of movie posters.
The Cadillac couches where, if need be, you can sit while you wait for your order.

The menu suits the diner - burgers, hot dogs, dagwood dogs, hot chips, choc tops, donuts, sweets, get the idea. The hot dog ($4.50) - toasted bun even - and burger ($7) were very fresh and didn't have that 'been sitting in the hot box for half an hour' feel to them. Small chips came in as $3.80/serve and I washed it all down with a small coke (cup self-serve). A small popcorn ($6.50) 'disappeared' later on and it was great.

The diner is a bit like a cafeteria set up - in one end, order hot food, then move on to get drinks, popcorn and/or candy, then pay at the cashier at the end. Do yourself a favour and go before the start of the first movie. Going between movies will invariably mean queuing. If you can, don't wait for the intermission. While you think you may miss the movie, you can well and truly hear the movie dialogue etc as you walk through the cars to the diner. 

* When it gets busy, the queue for people wanting to order hot food often goes out through the turnstiles at the entry to the diner. If you only want to get a drink/popcorn/candy, then you don't have to queue up - go through the turnstiles and past those standing around waiting for their order.
Perusing the menu.
Like a kid in a candy store!

This was the first time at the drive-ins in around 25 years. It had a familiar feel to it but there was a touch of 'babes in the woods' about it, compared to the drive-in regulars. Watching the regulars go about their business was fascinating - many obviously had a 'drive-in kit' sitting by the back door, ready for use at a moment's notice. And being in the presence of the hardcore regulars is both funny and interesting. You can learn a lot about drive-in etiquette.

Starting at the beginning...

As you approach the front gate to pay, turn off your headlights (there are signs reminding you but regulars in the queue will also remind you). Driving up and down the rows looking for a park with your headlights on is very close to being punishable by death - not only are there people trying to watch the movie in their car, there will also be a lot of people sitting in front of their car. Even when the people in a car nearby turned the interior light on, a loud %&$@ suggestion that they should turn their light off issued forth from the darkness. Lastly, if you leave during a movie, don't turn your headlights on - you'll light up the screen and you'll hear about it in a hurry.

Headlights on before you leave light up the screen - not a popular move. 

To sum up...going to the drive-ins is a ton of fun. For what you pay at a multiplex for one movie, you get two movies at the drive-in (and for a little bit more, sometimes three movies). You can bring your own chair if you so desire and, because you are in your own car and there is no dress code, it almost feels like you're at home - you can even talk on your phone! The food at the diner is good quality and reasonably priced and you can hang out in a 1950s diner if you want, while still watching/hearing the movie.

Going to the movies is always an event but moreso when it's the drive-ins.



*If you went to the Yatala drive-ins as a result of this post, please tell me -

*To see more posts about accommodation, dining, and/or things to do in Brisbane and SE Qld, visit HERE.

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Photos & text by Giulio Saggin (unless otherwise stated)
© Use of photos/text must be via written permission

Even a spot of rain didn't take away from the experience...

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