Pickles, pick-up trucks and double features: The joys of the 88 Drive-In

For me, there are certain experiences that remind me inexorably of this time of year -- madeleines of spring and summertime, if you will. The smell of sunscreen, for example, and the song of the ice-cream truck echoing through the neighborhood. Over the past couple of years, a new experience has been added to my list of evocative summer sensations: The glow of the drive-in movie screen through my windshield.

Sure, I'm about thirty years late to the phenomenon, since it was way back in the '70s when Denver-Boulder area boasted fourteen drive-ins. Now most of them are gone -- the Lakeshore, the NorthStar, the East 70, the Havana, the Evans, the Monaco and the Holiday Twin, not to mention the South, West, North and Nor-West drive-ins. In 2007, the much-loved Cinderella Twin on Santa Fe Drive was razed in the path of development, leaving just one hold-out: the 88 Drive-In Theatre in Commerce City.

Luckily for me, that one is all I need.

There are so many reasons why I love the 88. Like the fact that spending $8 for two first-run movies (or free if you're under twelve) is hands down the best deal in town. Or the fact that it's perched right on the edge of the metro area, in that lovely limbo land away from the hustle and bustle of downtown but not quite lost in the lonely stretches of the plains. Or that on the way to it, you get to pass that other kitschy throwback, the Mile High Flea Market (it's new name, the Mile High Marketplace, just doesn't do it justice). Or that the theater's snack bar is a vision of artery-clogging perfection, from over-salted pretzel dogs and sugar-mounded funnel cakes to Fla-Vor-Ices and that culinary marvel, Van Holten's pickle-in-a-bag.

But right now, the best part about the 88 is that it's the perfect date-night destination for overprotective parents like me who want to go to the movies but don't have a babysitter. For example, this past Saturday night, my wife and I put our toddler son in his PJs, strapped him in his car seat and headed out to the drive-in a little after sundown. Lulled by the drive, the kiddo was blissfully slumbering in his seat by the time we hit Commerce City, which allowed us to enjoy most of Terminator: Salvation and Star Trek sitting just a few inches away from him in the front seat. For us, that's a Saturday night well spent.

In my mind, there's surely enough of a need for this sort of thing to warrant a clever new business endeavor around Denver: A hip, urban take on the drive-in, honky-tonk snack bar and all, where folks slurp PBRs and watch Wes Anderson flicks from the comfort of their Mini Coopers. Then again, perhaps by attempting to recreate it, some part of the drive-in magic would be lost. Maybe it's best to stick with the 88, the last in Denver's proud line of drive-ins, and hope it endures for many, many summers to come.

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