An ice-cold movie theater on a hot summer’s day is pure bliss, but that’s just not in the cards for us during a pandemic. Instead, we’re committing a few weekends this July and August to exploring some of the state’s cherished old drive-ins, including the Starlite in Litchfield, the Elko Speedway Drive-In in Elko New Market, and Vali-Hi in Lake Elmo.
But first up: Sky-Vu Drive-In in Warren, 5.5 hours northwest of the Twin Cities and a half-hour east of Grand Forks. Founded in 1956, the drive-in was taken over by Leonard Novak in 1971 and remains in the family. Leonard cheerfully sells tickets at the entrance booth, while one son (Tom) heads up marketing and another son (Steve “The Beav”) runs the concession stand.
The snack bar is Sky-Vu’s secret weapon. The Beav helms Beaver’s Cafe in Minto, North Dakota and takes pride in the food he serves. His signatures include a thin-crust pizza, which is pre-made at Beaver’s and baked Heggie’s-style at the drive-in; a Sloppy Joe-esque barbecue sandwich smothered in liquid cheese; and snappy chili-cheese dogs. Also essential: A big ol’ bucket of hot buttered popcorn — $6.50 and worth every penny. When you swing by the pink building to make your purchases, don’t forget to scrawl your name in Sharpie on the heavily graffitied exterior — it’s a local tradition.
Sky-Vu was the first of the Minnesota drive-ins to re-open this summer, kicking off with a May 8 showing of Sonic the Hedgehog. Its field can fit up to 180 cars, but when we caught a Sunday night screening of Jurassic Park, there were maybe two dozen — all of them spaced a car link (or three) apart. We pulled in backward and put up our vehicle hatch; others filled their truck beds with pillows and blankets or brought their own camping chairs. No one patted us down for bringing in outside drinks either; BYO is allowed this season because of Covid-19.
Tickets are $9 for adults and $6 for kids (children under 2 are free); cash or credit is accepted. Films usually start between 9:15 and 9:30 p.m., depending on sunset. Because the drive-in is surrounded by farms, it’s not unusual to see a deer bounding past the screen. Coming soon: Despicable Me (July 17-23), Zootopia (July 24-30), Back to the Future (July 31-August 6), and Black Panther (August 7-13).
34914 Highway 1 West, Warren, MN; 218-745-4161.