Drive-in entertainment sees a resurgence during the pandemic, from movies to comedy

Parking lot and park pop-ups are selling out fast.

Within the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, sales at the Bel Aire Diner in Astoria, Queens, were down nearly 70%. Like so many small businesses striving to stay afloat, the owners had to get creative.

In early May, the retro 24/7 diner in New York turned its parking lot into a drive-in movie theater, complete with an inflatable screen as tall as the chrome-shellacked building.

Screenings of "Dirty Dancing," "The Princess Bride" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" have quickly sold out, indicative of the drive-in's status as a go-to -- if not the only -- event in town.

"The response has been overwhelming, to put it mildly," Kal Dellaportas, who runs the diner with his father and brother, told ABC News.

Last week, they sold nearly 300 tickets in one minute, Dellaportas said. "I was joking, We're like the Beatles now," he said.

The Bel Aire Diner joins drive-ins popping up across the country, as social distancing measures keep movie theaters closed and the quarantined masses are starved for entertainment.

Drivers have recently sold out screenings at pop-up drive-ins at the Bucktown Marina park in Metairie, La., and the parking lot of the Broadway Commons mall in Hicksville, N.Y. A drive-in at Long Island's Adventureland launches Saturday with a sold-out screening of "The Mighty Ducks." One of the largest yet, an outdoor theater that can accommodate up to 230 cars, is planned for Hard Rock Stadium, where the Miami Dolphins play.

In Atlanta, the Plaza Theatre is behind pop-up drive-ins in the parking lots of the indie cinema and a nearby comedy venue. It kicked off in early May with a screening of "Back to the Future."

"We chose that one because we figured for the near future, drive-ins are the future," Plaza owner Chris Escobar told ABC News.

Escobar doesn't anticipate being able to reopen his indoor movie theater until early July. He is following Atlanta's reopening guidelines; statewide, Georgia movie theaters were allowed to reopen on April 27.

For now, the lots can accommodate nearly 100 cars combined, and screenings have been so popular that Escobar is working on launching other locations.

Drive-ins aren't just for movies now, either. The Plaza is hosting a drive-in wedding on Saturday at one of its lots and has been approached about doing book readings. The Bel Aire Diner also does brunch and, earlier this week, held a comedy night, where comics performed from the bed of a pickup truck. The diner will hold another comedy event on Sunday night.

"People are so thirsty for live entertainment, and to be in crowds and experiencing the same thing," the organizer of Sunday's show, Eitan Levine, told ABC News.

The event will raise money for the charities Comedy for a Cause and Tip Your Waitstaff, which support those affected by the pandemic.

The coronavirus has hit close to home for Levine: He lost his grandmother to COVID-19. Lillian Eckstein, 93, was a Czechoslovakia-born Holocaust survivor who moved to the U.S. as a teenager.

The Manhattan comic, who will be on Sunday's lineup, said it will be hard not to address the pandemic during the set.

"Comedy is completely different now," he said. "I think it's a question of, How is it going to be talked about? Is America going to talk about it in a goofy way? Or talk about it in a more serious way?"

If the event goes well, Levine could see hosting more comedy nights at the diner. "This may be the future of performing for the next couple of months."