LEEDS, ALA. — Huddled in the back of the family car, Jennifer Conklin’s three children cling to blankets and pass buttered popcorn while gazing a couple hundred feet ahead. They’re watching The Angry Birds Movie, one of the latest animated films to hit movie screens nationwide. Even though the children — AnnahLilly, Hampton Doobrow and Carolina Rose — are joined by more than 1,000 fellow movie viewers, no one tells the little ones to stop squirming or pipe down. In the confines of their car, the children can laugh and play as much as they’d like.
Creating a family-friendly environment where kids can play and adults can kick back is the goal of the Coyote Drive-In Theater & Canteen, which opened its doors — or, in more accurate terms, its 18-acre gravel parking lot — just a few weeks ago. The idea of an all-inclusive, drive-in movie theater is nothing new to American culture. It has, however, been somewhat of a dormant novelty for a few decades.
Reviving the Drive-In
Located on the northwest side of the Outlet Shops of Grand River in Leeds, the Coyote Drive-In rivals most of its drive-in ancestors in size. The venue can hold more than 1,000 cars on any given night and boasts four screens that show first-run movies.
Steve Winn, chief operating officer for the drive-in, says the venue’s goal is to capture the historic magic of drive-in movie theaters, while putting a modern spin on the concept. The Coyote Drive-In Theater & Canteen, he adds, is meant to be an all-inclusive experience the entire family can enjoy.
“Our hope is that people can get reintroduced to the drive-in, and it becomes a regular part of their movie-going experience,” Steve says. “You can do more things here than you can do in a regular theater.”
Aside from the main draw — the movies — the drive-in offers a long list of attractions. The canteen, a 9,500-square-foot facility located next to the drive-in, features several food vendors, one of which sells scratch-made pizza. On weekends, before the sun sets and the projectors crank up, musicians take to the stage beneath the canteen’s pavilion so patrons can enjoy a cold beer and live music.
Antonio and Antoninece Thompson, who hail from Maryland but recently visited Birmingham, say they were thoroughly impressed with what the drive-in and canteen had to offer. The pair, while playing cornhole (one of the several outdoor games offered at the drive-in), explain that they were perusing the outlet shops when they stumbled upon the drive-in.
“We love this,” Antoninece says. “Neither of us has ever been to a drive-in movie theater before, so this is pretty awesome.” Steve says eventually, the plan is to build a mini-golf course next to the drive-in and provide picnic tables so patrons have the choice to watch flicks from their car or provided seating. “Our job is to create a good overall environment for families,” he explains.
Since drive-in movies lost their popularity with the introduction of walk-in cinemas, Steve says the Coyote Drive-In represents a resurgence of a classic American pastime — and the best way to get people engaged with the revamped drive-in concept, he adds, is to not only offer a good show, but also low prices.
Tickets cost $8 and include a double feature. Compared to what most movie theaters charge, Steve says the Coyote Drive-In is a bargain. And although the drive-in offers a competitive price point, Steve is quick to point out that quality is not sacrificed. Using a top-of-the-line projector system, light is streamed more than 700 feet from the center of the drive-in to illuminate four movie screens.
“We opted for the biggest projector, and the material we use for the screen reflects more light than a regular screen would, so it’s about 20 to 25 percent brighter than what people are used to seeing at a drive-in,” Steve says. “We also have a sound system that transmits on FM sound frequencies, and you can listen to it from your car radio instead of a speaker hanging from your car window.”
With school out for the summer and a long list of anticipated blockbusters about to hit screens, Coyote Drive-In Theater & Canteen General Manager Richard Einhorn says he only expects the drive-in’s popularity to grow.
“You simply can’t find this anywhere else,” he says. With the recent closure of the Harpersville Drive-In, the Coyote Drive-In Theater & Canteen fills a niche in the greater Birmingham area — a niche that perhaps, Richard says, the area didn’t know needed to be filled. With thousands of patrons flooding the drive-in on any given weekend night, Steve predicts the venue’s future looks as bright as the colossal movie screens it boasts.
“The grandparents remember what this was like back in the day, and our job is to satisfy both generations,” Steve says before enjoying a freshly poured craft beer from the canteen’s bar. “Hopefully we’re achieving that.”