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Throwback Theaters

Catch a modern-day flick at one of these old-school drive-ins.
Monday Jul 20, 2009.     By Stacy Warden
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Has the Chicago Outdoor Film Festival gotten you inspired for more alfresco movie-watching (that doesn't involve sitting on the grass)? Though Chicago-area drive-in theaters are a rare breed, you can still find a few spots standing strong in the shadows of today's infamous IMAX. We love these historic cinemas for their retro kitsch, cheap tickets and added privacy. Hey, where else can you catch a brand-new blockbuster in your pajamas?

<A HREF=/film/cinemas/midwaydrivein.html>Midway Drive-In</a>You know Midway Drive-In is special from the moment you arrive.
Midway Drive-In
As Illinois's oldest operating drive-in theater, Midway remains one of the few that has operated continuously since its inception in 1950. The Sterling landmark is about a two-hour drive from the city and offers a classic "spaceship" ticket booth, a playground for the tots (located right in front of the screen) and a full-service concession stand (smuggling in your own snacks is prohibited). The only modern amenity you'll notice at this single-screen theater is its updated FM radio audio system (rather than the old pole speakers). Admission is six bucks for adults and free for kids ages 11 and under.

Cascade Drive-In
Located in DuPage County, this vintage venue trumps its competitors in both size and popularity. As the largest outdoor cinema in Illinois, with capacity for 1200 cars, Cascade Drive-In generates more rave reviews than any other drive-in in the state. And it's been doing so since its heyday in the 1950s. Since then, the theater has continued to run on the standard seasonal basis from April-October, screening double features (that breaks down to just $4.25 per flick) seven nights per week with a choice of traditional drive-in speakers or FM radio. You'll also find a full-service concession stand and a picnic area, where you can barbecue your own grub on one of Cascade's grills (just remember to bring your own charcoal). Admission is $8.50 for adults and $4.50 for children ages 5-11, cash only.

34 Drive-InJust say no to gravel parking lots.
Route 34 Drive-In
This single screen theater, located in Earlville on Old Route 34, has been standing strong under the same family since 1954. And while the generations have certainly undergone some extreme changes, the 34 has stayed true to its roots with outside speakers and an old-fashioned concession stand (where everything is still made-to-order), featuring movie must-haves like nachos, corndogs and cheeseburgers. Another notable feature here is the venue's lot; while most outdoor theater grounds are covered in gravel or smoothed over with concrete, the 34 is lush with plenty of green grass. Additionally, the drive-in operates on a seasonal basis from April-October and screens double features on weekends. Admission is six bucks for adults and $3 for kids ages 6-12, cash only.

McHenry Outdoor Theater
Making the hour-long trek out to McHenry may sound like a drag, but once you locate the standout screen on Chapel Road, we promise you'll find instant relief from road rage. It's just one of those places that has the immediate ability to make you feel like a kid again. Perhaps it's McHenry's wholesome all-American atmosphere, or maybe it's the carefree vibe that the other patrons tend to emit. It could even be the venue's cafeteria-style concession stand. Whatever it is, we're sold. And we think you'll agree after dishing out a mere $7 for one of the theater's double features, which are often suitable for the whole family (last month the theater featured a Walt Disney double-bill of "Up" and "Earth"). In addition to offering cheap tickets, the theater provides room for up to 800 cars and has recently begun offering group packages for special events like birthdays, which include a roped-off VIP area for the partygoers.


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