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Drive Ins & Carhops

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While we’re feeling a bit nostalgic over at the diner thread I was equally curious to hear about your drive in and/or carhop dining experience! And, if this includes movie theaters and unusual setting that serve food, please share that too!

While Stewart’s is most certainly synonymous with drive in’s and car hop service and the first place I experienced an icy cold root beer soda (and quickly learned that carbonated drinks give me the hiccups) I’ve also been to sub shops and recently food trucks with car hop service, roller skating waitresses at movie theaters, decked out roller blade servers in NYC, even had a pizza delivered in Venice, CA by skate board to my beach chair.

So what drive in/carhop experiences have you enjoyed? When was the last time you went to a drive in? Seasonal as they might be in certain parts of the country, I hope they are still around in 10 years. And, for our global CH’s what say you of such dining pleasures in your parts?

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  1. When I was a kid, there was a drive-in called Linton's... in Chester, PA @ 9th and Kerlin Streets. Unfortunately, it's now an area that you'd avoid at ALL costs... if ya wanta keep living!! Your order would come and hook onto side of car door on a tray.o roller skates involved. My Dad always joked that it was "Chinese" place... "Lin Ton's".

    1. The Beacon drive-in in Spartanburg, NC, holds wonderful memories for me. The bbq is fantastic, and the pork-a-plenty is my standard order: bbq, fries and onion rings in a basket. What makes the place special is this: although they do have laminated menus available, when you pull in for what they call "curb service," the server literally sings or raps the menu to you from memory. It's pretty awesome.
      The backbone of the staff there has been on the job for upwards of twenty years. One man who works the counter inside has been in their employ for over forty. He's a blind gent, and he is the heart of the place.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mamachef

        Big wow, mamachef. You are food fortunate indeed. Menus sung, a place with heart, all the standard fare we love about drive ins--lucky you!

      2. My first job was carhopping at a local drive-in in the mountainless part of Colorado, a disgustingly long time ago. Fortunately no roller skating was required, as that would have been a deal breaker for me!

        It was farm country, a lot of Mexican migrants so there were a few Mexican items on the menu before Mexican food was well-known across the country.

        One day a tourist passing through asked me what tay-kos were. I had to think for a minute before I figured out she meant tacos!

        As for whether they'll be around in a few years--Sonic in my area, despite our harsh winters, seems to be building like crazy. And we have an old fashioned A&W in my town that does pretty well, although obviously better in the summer.

        1 Reply
        1. re: coney with everything

          first hand experience! fun story, coney with.

          I've noticed a number of Sonic's popping up in my area of NJ too. Can't say I've ever been to one and I didn't realize they were considered drive in & park chains with car hop service. Sonic tv commercials typically show people driving their cars thru an outdoor pick up window...I wonder why they don't highlight the park feature. http://www.sonicdrivein.com/ they do on the web (and I learned something today!)

        2. The Disselfink Drive-in in Gettysburg, PA. Still going strong after 60+ years. Huge menu and sarsparilla floats.

          8 Replies
          1. re: flavrmeistr

            I'm going to name my first daughter Disselfink.

            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              Wasn't that one of the Three Billy Goats Gruff? (trip-trap, trip-trap.... :)

              1. re: mamachef

                A disselfink is hex design seen on the old German barns in Pennsylvania and western Maryland. It's a local thing, like scrapple.

                1. re: flavrmeistr

                  Thank you. And now that I recall, it was actually Dystelfynk. Hex signs, how cool. Witch balls, even cooler.....

                  1. re: mamachef

                    Er...shouldn't that be warlock balls?

                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                      How did I just know it would be you?

                    2. re: mamachef

                      Your right. Distelfink. It's just pronounced disselfink.

                      1. re: flavrmeistr

                        Thank you!! I love details like this!!

            2. From my childhood when we would visit my aunt in Indianapolis:


              Good old-timey stuff.

              1. The A&W Root Beer, near Main Street, in my home town still has car service. I used to love going there as a kid as I thought it was soooo cool they'd bring the food to your car and you could eat it off those trays that hung on the window.

                1. Porky's Drive-In, in my home town, still has car hop service and I grew up on it. I loved the little tray and the excitement of my parents handing back their food. They hand-grind the burgers to this day, which are very thin and crispy with grease (SO GOOD), and house-make the root beer. The kitchen is extremely tiny (I know, my Mom worked there when she was a teenager) and they still make fresh cut fries, so any restaurant that decries no "space" to do it gets no sympathy from me.


                  1. I lost my A&W a few years ago (Sob!!!). I remember it was quite a treat to make the "long" drive out there back in the 50s, my brother and I arguing over who would get to push the button to summon the car hop to pick up our tray when we were ready to leave. I continued to patronize them over the next 50 years and with the exception of a few updrades to the menu boards very little changed. The food was the standard A&W offerings but whoever worked the deep fryer really knew what they were doing I believe it was run by the third generation of the same family when it finally closed. My memories came full circle when, in the last years of her life, I would take my mom there to enjoy a Coney Dog in the car. She loved going there and so did I.

                    1. When I was in my early twenties my Mom had an apartment a few blocks up Clark Drive from the classic old Dolores' Drive-In, on Wilshire Boulevard, in Beverly Hills. Full car hop service! Used to enjoy their burgers with Z-sauce and a cherry lime rickey. Once (and I think I've shared this here before) my girlfriend (now wife) and I were in my car there when Paul Newman and Joann Woodward came out from the inside seating area and walked right past my wife's side of the car. she still talks about how "Paul" winked at her. ;o[]

                      It closed in 1981, though another location remained, in Santa Monica, but without the carhop service. The attached picture, I believe, belongs to the Los Angeles Times. BTW, my car was right where the Ford Ranchero (I think it is) is parked in the picture.

                      1. The Piggie Park in Thomaston, GA, in business for sixty years. Good food.

                        Other than Sonic the only other drive in I can remember going to is the Varsity in Atlanta.

                        1. The Circus Drive-in in Wall, NJ has been a place I've gone to practically all my life. The foods pretty solid - especially some things one might not expect at a drive-in, like the crab cakes and lobster rolls. I must confess that I also get a kick out of drinking a beer in my car with my order of fries (on a related note, beer and french fries are a highly underrated pairing).

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: MGZ

                            You can cop a brew at a DRIVE-IN in Jersey?

                            Will wonders never cease. That even tops Texas.
                            Wait, wait: BEER beer? Or 3.2?
                            No advocate of drinking and driving; nope not even one beer, but I find little detail-nuggets like this fascinating, indeed. :)

                            1. re: mamachef

                              You're in your own car. You have beer you bring. It's all good. New Jersey may have some Draconian booze laws, but BYO is BYO. With a hollow leg like mine, one beer with my burger and fries (or fried shrimp or fish & cheese sandwich) keeps me well under the legal limit and safe to drive the mile and three quarters home (if you remember the Reagan era debate that every state had about how much was impairing, you can accept it - Man, Idaho did hold out hard though!).

                              1. re: MGZ

                                Ah, I misunderstood; thought the place sold the beer.
                                I wasn't inferring anything - unless it was at me, because I'm a complete lightweight. :)

                                Boy, DO I remember the debates from the era. I recall a friend saying about that time: "You almost had to BEG the cops to arrest you for a DUI, and then it got a whole.lot.harder."

                          2. We ate in our car at The Root Beer Stand in Corbin, Ky. It was like a trip down memory lane. As much as it's the same at Sonic it's just different.
                            We also ate at The Rootbeer Stand in Sharonville (Cinci), Oh. It wasn't quite as good and we ate inside.
                            There's also The Parkette in Lexington, Ky. It was too cold to eat in the car but the food there was the best of the 3 drive ins.

                            All in all, it's a really cool experience.

                            I'm making notes for upcoming road trips.


                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Davwud

                              I adore the root beer stand in Corbin...I drove 9hours pregnant this summer so I could have a footlong, onion rings, and a root beer float!

                            2. Beginning to date in Gulf Coast Texas in the late 50's, Vel-Mar drive-in was the place for cheeseburgers 'n fries 'n root beers served in frozen glass mugs. Across the street was the Prince's drive-in where all the" motorcycle nasties" and hot rods were driving around on display. Those car-hops wore drum majorette-style boots with tassels that I thought the coolest footwear ever.
                              Rodney Crowel sings "Used to love those cherry cokes down at the Prince's Drive-In; and the cheeseburgers were so good I lik' ta come undone." Ah, fond memories and fond youth