Blue Starlite drive-In projects its legacy onto a new location

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Photo Credit: Mary Pistorius | Daily Texan Staff

One romantic evening at an alley in East Austin, a young man set up a projector in his car to watch Grease alongside his future wife when a burning question came to mind­: Why aren’t there anymore drive-in theaters? That was the night Blue Starlite was born.

Since it opened in 2009, Josh Frank’s Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in in North Austin has gained a large following. When Blue Starlite announced in December 2016 that Blue Starlite would be closing down, the support that rained in from local Austinites convinced Frank to move to a new location in South Austin. They will have its soft opening March 10 and grand opening in April.

Blue Starlite, run by Frank and a few other employees, is a small operation known for its simplicity and imaginative style. Blue Starlite offers a boutique drive-in experience with special food and creative events that add to the fun of going to the movies.

“All things we make ourselves and put together ourselves,” Frank said. “We’ll open up a week beforehand to build little set pieces where people can take pictures. That’s part of the charm of it and it’s fun for us.”

Isaac Marquez, a former employee at the drive-in, said what ultimately drew him to the position was Frank’s idea to appeal to Austinites’ movie-going nostalgia but with a modern twist.

“Concessions all came out of an old RV from like the 1970’s,” Marquez said. “At one point (Josh) found a way to hook up a Blu Ray player in the projection trailer to these old drive-in speakers he found on EBay. You know, the man had a vision.”

Marquez said the retro feel Frank fosters at Blue Starlite entices visitors to bring old cars like Volkswagens, adding to the vintage ambiance that comes with a drive-in theater. 

Event coordinator Stephanie Huettner said while Blue Starlite plays favorite movies for wider audiences, such as “The Goonies” or “The Princess Bride,” the drive-in has no problem catering to a niche crowd if the fans crave something new.

“We definitely have movies that pretty much always do well, so we’ll show those, get a couple of big nights, and then it allows us to throw a night or two to experiment,” Huettner said.

One of these experiments led to interesting results in 2015 when Huettner pitched an idea called Drag at the Drive-In, an event which has since become a staple at Blue Starlite. Huettner said it’s a sort of warm-up before the movie where drag queens perform acts tailored to the film being shown.

“Its really fun to watch families who may have never seen a drag show before have a good time and experience this art form, you know, as they come and see something like “Mrs. Doubtfire,”” Huettner said.

When Blue Starlite opens its doors in South Austin, Frank said he hopes he’ll be able to give newcomers a taste of the drive-in atmosphere and capture their imagination enough for them to want to come back.

“I want people to feel like they’re entering a little, secret surprise, magical world when they come in and to give them an experience they just can’t get anywhere else,” Frank said.