Union Market Drive-In adds more tickets due to high demand during coronavirus

Moviegoers enjoy the Union Market Drive-In on top of their cars pre-COVID. That’s different this year. (Tom Kochel)
WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Union Market Drive-In

Nostalgia is usually the selling point for the Union Market Drive-In in Northeast D.C.

This year, it’s an escape for cooped up residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I started the drive-in eight years ago and it’s just been a lot of fun,” founder Jon Gann told WTOP. “This year, it’s taken the extra significance that it’s something that’s safe to do and it’s entertaining. At this point, everyone wants to get out of the house and do something that’s different, and this drive-in is definitely filling that need.”

It kicked off July 3 with “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) as the lineup sold out within a day. As a result, Gann is adding 125 tickets for an additional screening this Friday and freeing up 15 more tickets to the other previously sold-out events.

“All of our shows sold out right away to the point where we actually added some more tickets,” Gann said. “We just added a new show for this Friday. … The first three shows sold out in less than 20 hours, so we’re trying to do what we can do to expand this.”

Here’s the full lineup of movies:

Friday, July 10: “Jurassic Park” (1993) 

“They’re chosen because they’re popular, they’re fun favorites, they’re fun to watch while you’re in a car,” Gann said. “A drive-in movie is a wonderful thing, but it’s not for films with a lot of subtleties, so ‘Jurassic Park,’ there’s really nothing subtle about it!”

Friday, July 17: “Space Jam” (1996)

“It’s a lot of fun,” Gann said. “It’s nice and retro and it appeals to adults and kids. It’s just a fun movie and it looks great when it’s up on the wall, so looking forward to that.”

Friday, July 24: “The Lion King” (2019)

“We like to do a musical at least once a summer, because all our films are shown open caption,” Gann said. “Hopefully people will take advantage of that and sing along, which is a lot of fun. … The new version is a beautiful movie to watch.”

Of course, this year comes with new sanitary protocols to battle the coronavirus.

“We have a bunch of new policies in place this year,” Gann said. “We’re doing a lot fewer cars. We usually do 175, and this year we’re capping it at 130.”

You’ll also have to follow special instructions when using the restroom.

“We have a special routine to use the restroom,” Gann said. “You have to text a number and we let you know whether or not a stall is available, because we are making sure the stalls are wiped down in between use.”

Concessions are also different, so you may want to pack water and snacks.

“The market is open until 9 p.m. on drive-in nights, so you can indeed order food through your phone and go and pick it up,” Gann said. “There is no picnicking. You must drive into the lot and stay in your car. Usually, we have hundreds of people who picnic and come up on their bikes. There’s none of that this year.”

Don’t expect outdoor speakers. You’ll have to strictly listen through your car.

“There’s also no external speakers,” Gann said. “We’re only doing it through FM radio, so that you must be in your car to listen. We’ve been doing the FM for years, but who knew that it would be even more appropriate this year?”

You should also park farther away from other cars and turn off your ignition.

“We have a strict no idling policy” Gann said. “Union Market’s been built up so much over the past few years now that there’s a bunch of high-rise apartment buildings that seem to block the sun a little bit earlier, so the lot is actually a little cooler than it’s been in years past, which is kind of nice.”

Tickets cost $20 per car.

“It’s fun to see how this thing has grown year over year,” Gann said. “We always sell out our shows — that’s not a problem — this year just went particularly quickly. I think it’s because people are just hankering to do something that’s not in their house and this is a way to have some entertainment outside.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Jon Gann (Full Interview)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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