Downtown Drive-In finds the new in the old

If you hail from a moderately urban area of the country or were born in the last 30 years, chances are you have never been to a drive-in movie theater. They seem like an archaic part of modern history that only exists in James Dean movies or period pieces set in the ’50s. But, if you have ever gotten the urge to partake in this one-of-a-kind experience, look no further — a rooftop drive-in movie theater is now open in Downtown Los Angeles.

Electric Dusk Drive-In, located at the corner of Fourth Street and South Broadway, celebrated its very first screening on Sunday, Oct. 28. Founded by owners Eric Heusinger and Darryl Semira, both actors and native New Yorkers, Electric Dusk will screen one to two films every month on the second story of the parking structure it calls home.

The debut screening was 1985’s campy murder-mystery Clue, based on the board game of the same name. The Tim Curry romp was screened in honor of Halloween, and Electric Dusk invited customers to dress up as their favorite character to pay tribute to both the film and the impending spooky holiday. Many visitors came outfitted as beloved characters, everyone from Ms. Scarlett to Wadsworth, the loveable but suspicious butler portrayed by Tim Curry.

The atmosphere was, well, electric. With a snack shack set up in the back and a 24-foot screen towering over the lot, Electric Dusk feels like an authentic drive-in. This illusion is slightly tainted by the tall buildings surrounding the second story rooftop, but the city lights and vague street noise contributes to the atmosphere nonetheless.

The rooftop joint felt like a mod nostalgia trip for hipsters and cinephiles alike. And the metropolitan-hip vibe is immediately apparent from the moment your vehicle reaches the roof of the parking structure. It creates a city escape in which the city is still apparent, but far enough removed to feel like an otherworldly experience. And fear not — if you have no car, there is Astroturf set up in front of the screen, so all you have to do is bring a chair and a Snuggie and you can enjoy the drive-in experience, too.

But even with its retro authenticity, Electric Dusk is not a perfect escape. While the atmosphere on the roof is quite enveloping, a simple trip to the prison-like restrooms, located on the main floor, will remind you of the fact that you are in Downtown Los Angeles.

But in an odd way, Electric Dusk’s grimy location adds to the charm of the overall experience. Visitors are sitting on a rooftop for two hours watching a blow-up movie screen; there are carhops going from car to car taking food orders. This is not meant to be a chic, fancy event — it is old-fashioned, yet charming. Plus, there are worse ways to spend a Sunday than on a rooftop in your car with nothing but friends, junk food and a cheesy movie. And it is all part of the modest, retro vibe that Electric Dusk creates.

The employees at Electric Dusk also recognize the value of good hospitality. The customer service is quite timely, as drivers are immediately directed to their parking spot on the lot, which is distributed on a first come first serve basis, and promptly given a snack menu. Electric Dusk’s menu includes the typical movie treats — burgers, hot dogs, soft pretzels, candy, chocolate and cookies — as well as some not-so-typical treats, such as a Cup of Noodles, coconut water and an oatmeal cookie pie.

The only misfire on the menu seems to be a burger, which appears artificial and frozen. The soft pretzels, however, were par for the course. And the gourmet cookies offered were phenomenal: They were giant, chewy, extra-chocolatey chocolate chip cookies with a moist brownie stuffed inside to create one of the most luscious desserts known to this city. Surely, it was made somewhere off grounds, but it was fresh and undeniably delicious — enough so to justify its $3 price tag.

Although there were some hiccups in the timeliness of the food delivery, such issues can only be expected on the opening night. And, by the end of the night, the snack bar had expedited their system so that car hops were delivering food promptly and freshly.

By and large, Electric Dusk is sure to be a hipster-haven in the future, so go check it out while it is still Downtown Los Angeles’ little secret.


Tickets for the Nov. 10 screening of West Side Story are available in advance online and at the door. Proceeds will benefit the Red Cross’ Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.