“Minions: The Rise of Gru” plays on the projector screen as the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater sign glows in the nighttime at the Oak Harbor outdoor movie theater. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” plays on the projector screen as the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater sign glows in the nighttime at the Oak Harbor outdoor movie theater. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Get off the couch, or bring it, for a night at Blue Fox Drive-In

Kids get in for $1 at the Whidbey Island outdoor theater, one of few still standing in the state.

OAK HARBOR — Watch a movie in the car instead of at home on the couch.

Or bring the couch with you to the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater.

What’s up with that?

It sounds oh-so 1970s, but it’s totally 2022 in this pasture.

The Blue Fox has blockbusters, a bar, go-karts and an arcade.

Admission for our party of two adults and two grandchildren was $15 for a double feature of the new “Minions” and “Thor” movies on Friday.

Kids 5 to 10 are $1. Ages 11 and older are $6.50. Those 4 and under are free, as are dogs.

No wonder people drive for miles, though you’ll need some spending money here. ($7.75 for a bucket of hot buttered popcorn. $6 for a 3-pound loaf of curly fries. Yes, you read that right.)

Drive-ins made a comeback during the pandemic with people desperate to leave the house.

The allure of a screen under a starlit sky continues to draw newcomers, said Nick Bratt, whose parents bought the Blue Fox in 1988, later adding the arcade and go-kart track.

“We still get a lot of folks saying they’ve never been to a drive-in before,” he said. “We get a lot of repeat business, too.”

People wait in line for snacks at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater in Oak Harbor. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

People wait in line for snacks at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater in Oak Harbor. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

There are four other drive-ins in Washington, in Port Townsend, Shelton, Bremerton and Colville. There were about 300 drive-ins nationwide in 2021, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association. New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and California have the most. Some states don’t have any.

The Blue Fox grounds open at 4 p.m. weekdays, or noon on weekends, for food, fun and games. The grassy lot really starts filling up with cars, trucks and RVs after 7 p.m., a good two hours before showtime.

Pets must be leashed but children run free. Teens huddle. Friends set up chairs and tailgate.

“It’s American history right here,” said Polly Grenier, a regular from Sedro-Woolley, an hour away. She came as a kid and carries on the tradition bringing her three daughters.

Grenier recalled some of her favorite Blue Fox moments.

People sit in lawn chairs and watch a Looney Tunes short at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater in Oak Harbor. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

People sit in lawn chairs and watch a Looney Tunes short at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater in Oak Harbor. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

“At the ‘Top Gun’ movie the Navy jets were flying over. We were here when the northern lights were here and they had to pause the movie, it was so bright,” she said. “It popped up on my Facebook memories that I was here seven years ago watching the first ‘Minions’ movie.”

She likes to joke that another reminder is her oldest daughter.

“I tell her she was conceived here,” she said, laughing.

People gather before the playing of a movie at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater in Oak Harbor. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

People gather before the playing of a movie at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater in Oak Harbor. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Back in the day, drive-ins were the ultimate date night. The back seats are shared by generations these days.

The Blue Fox is where Max Parkhurst chose to celebrate his 18th birthday with friends and family.

“I like being in the truck watching a movie on a big screen,” Parkhurst said. “The drive-in is just better.”

In the back of his dad’s pickup, a giant recliner from home was his seat for the night. Couch cushions covered the rest of the truck bed.

Angelina Jimmy, 6, and Brandon Cayou drive together in a go-kart at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater in Oak Harbor. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Angelina Jimmy, 6, and Brandon Cayou drive together in a go-kart at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater in Oak Harbor. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

People bring all the creature comforts. It’s almost like glamping. Outside food is prohibited because concessions help keep the place going. Be prepared to wait in line. There’s pizza, cheesesteaks and nachos as well as Tylenol and Tums.

The food alone is worth the drive.

The Blue Fox, 1403 N. Monroe Landing Road, is about 35 miles from the Clinton ferry terminal. The last show ends long after the last ferry to the mainland, especially in the summer when dusk is at 9 p.m.

You can stay overnight, if you want. They’ll keep the restrooms open.

The motto: “We rather you crash here than crash on the way home.”

Sound is 88.7 FM on the radio. If your car battery dies, they’ll help jump your car.

People pay at the window for movie tickets at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

People pay at the window for movie tickets at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The Backlot Tavern, a tall canopy between two shipping containers, was added to the Blue Fox in 2020.

“It fits a family entertainment center trying to offer it all,” Nick Bratt said. “My brother and I convinced our folks this was the next thing we needed to do as the next untapped source of revenue. There is demand for it. My folks are teetotalers, so it took a bit of convincing.”

Ethan, Jessica and Reade McCardell sip on some beers at the Backlot Tavern at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater. The tavern was added in 2020. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Ethan, Jessica and Reade McCardell sip on some beers at the Backlot Tavern at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater. The tavern was added in 2020. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Drinking age patrons can watch the movie or a game on a flatscreen TV at the tavern while having a craft beer, wine or cider. Unlike snack bar drinks, these can’t be taken to the car.

Before the show, Erin Gamble of Lynnwood enjoyed a quiet moment sipping a beer.

“My husband and my kids are on the go-karts,” she said.

It was her first time at a drive-in, but likely not her last.

People line up to get their prizes at the arcade at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

People line up to get their prizes at the arcade at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

As the evening sky faded into darkness, “The Star-Spangled Banner” lit up the screen and played over the loudspeakers. A robust ovation of horns and clapping followed.

Then, it was cartoon time.

Laurel Dixon was joined by her parents, kids and grandkids for a night of curly fries and laughter under the stars.

“It’s not your typical movie theater,” said Dixon, who lives in Bellingham. “It’s something totally out of the norm.”

As she and others will tell you: It’s not about the movie.

Light from the projector fills the air during a viewing of “Minions: The Rise of Gru” at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Light from the projector fills the air during a viewing of “Minions: The Rise of Gru” at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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