Las Vegas

Check Out These Drive-In Theaters and Experiences in Las Vegas

Just pull in, and pull out your popcorn.

Rob Kachelriess (Snappy Burger/Burger 51)
Rob Kachelriess (Snappy Burger/Burger 51)
Rob Kachelriess (Snappy Burger/Burger 51)

There’s a long tradition in Las Vegas of living it up, having fun, and stretching the boundaries of excess without leaving your car. Take drive-thru wedding chapels for example — either at Vegas Weddings or the Little White Wedding Chapel. (At last check, no drive-thru divorce courts were available, but give it time.) In a more recent trend, cannabis dispensaries at NuWu and Thrive have added drive-thru windows to make sales quicker and more convenient. Just do the right thing and wait until you get home before lighting up.

What about drive-in movies? Unfortunately, Vegas has been a bit short in that department. Yet in a new era of social distancing, things are starting to change. But why stop with movies? Las Vegas has a few other full-fledged drive-in experiences to enjoy outdoors. Expect demand to only increase as we begin to cool off from summer and welcome the fall weather.

West Wind Drive-In Las Vegas
West Wind Drive-In Las Vegas
West Wind Drive-In Las Vegas

West Wind Drive-In Las Vegas

North Las Vegas
You’d think a town that’s all about entertainment would have more than one traditional drive-in movie theater. Yet West Wind has been left to carry the flag on its own for a while now. The theater actually dates back to the 1960s, when it was known simply as the Las Vegas Drive-In. A few screens have been added over the years and everything’s all-digital now, but West Wind makes a point to keep a retro image, felt immediately with the tall arches that welcome cars near the front entrance. 
  
West-In has been a source of not only entertainment, but familiarity during the pandemic. After shutting down in March, the theater resumed operations in May with a heavy emphasis on classic movies — and a few new social distancing guideless. In the past, it wasn’t unusual to hang out outside the car and toss a football around before the movie began — but that kind of stuff is discouraged now. West Wind still makes a point to screen new releases as soon as they become available — with lower prices than what you’ll typically find at indoor cinemas. In recent months, the venue hosted concerts (on screen, not in person) from big names like Metallica, Blake Shelton, and Garth Brooks, helping to fill a void as shows and other forms of live entertainment remain on hold. For those up north, West Wind has a second Nevada drive-in just outside Reno in Sparks.

Rob Kachelriess
Rob Kachelriess
Rob Kachelriess

Snappy Burger (Burger 51)

West Valley
After debuting in early 2020, Burger 51 is officially changing its name to Snappy Burger. The concept remains the same: a drive-thru burger joint where you can park your car and watch movies on a big screen, but the new name represents a shift from the original UFO/sci-fi image to something more broad. Owner Jon Basso, also the creative mind behind the Heart Attack Grill on Fremont Street, says he wants Snappy Burger to be an outlet for indie films of all genres.

Specifically, he’s talking about short films. After picking up their food, customers tune into a radio station and listen in while watching a rotating loop of two short films (each typically less than 10 minutes long). Family appropriate selections run from 11am-9pm. Afterward, from 9pm-1am, the movies get a little more intense for an older crowd. The 20-by-35 foot screen uses back-lit technology, allowing the image to remain clear and colorful, even during daylight hours. In addition to burgers, customers can order nachos, popcorn, shaved ice, and vintage candy bars. Wash it all down with your choice of Coke or Pepsi (served in glass bottles and made with real sugar in Mexico). You can even buy $1 comic books, although those aren’t for kids as much as adults looking for a nostalgia fix.   

Eugene Dela Cruz
Eugene Dela Cruz
Eugene Dela Cruz

Dreamland Drive-In

Off the Strip
Dreamland Drive-In is the most fun you can have in a warehouse trucking bay. The concept is an extension of Fresh Wata Studios, which specializes in inventive production and exhibit spaces. With conventions and hotel events mostly on hold during the pandemic, the company put its neglected loading docks to good use as a dinner theater with an outdoor drive-in twist. Shows typically mix live music with interactive effects and video projections. 

The first production to make a splash was the Drive-In Drag Show, featuring live singing and appearances by Strip and Broadway performers. Dreamland also hosted a guest residency by Sexxy (a steamy all-female revue on hiatus from the Westgate hotel) and a comedy show with 10 comics performing stand-up over three nights. After pausing performances during the hot summer months, Dreamland is picking back up again with Comradery (a tailgating concept for football season), the Nightmare Drive-In for Halloween, and the Holly Jolly Drive-In for the holiday season. A drive-in culinary experience is also in the works. For now, the audience can have food delivered to their car via online ordering and contactless delivery.  

Chase Stevens
Chase Stevens
Chase Stevens

Majestic Repertory Theatre

Downtown Arts District
When the Majestic Repertory Theatre was prohibited from allowing audiences inside its black box performance space due to COVID-19 restrictions, the troupe took to the streets instead. Or more specifically — an alleyway behind the theatre in the Arts District. The idea was actually inspired by a strip club in Seattle. In this case, the theater couldn’t sell tickets, but it had a retail license. So it sold masks and t-shirts presented with a full-on performance that included burlesque dancers, lights, smoke, and evil clowns in a post-apocalyptic setting. Upon arrival, cars were questioned by actors in masks, goggles, and hazmat suits before being allowed to pass with a full “decontamination” — a clever idea that resonated almost too well at the height of COVID panic.  

With summer heat fast approaching and protests dominating news headlines, the theater decided to take a break. However, with fall upon us, the company is back with The Parking Lot — a timely outdoor show about a quarantined couple struggling to make sense of their future. It debuts September 24 with performances twice a night (7pm and 8:30pm) Thursday through Sunday. Tickets are purchased in advance for $50 per vehicle. The theater is also planning ahead to Horrorwood Video, a drive-in version of its annual Halloween show, featuring an old-school video store stuck in a sinister vortex. The theatre notes that cast and crew practice social distancing as much as possible during shows and undergo regular COVID-19 testing. 

Clark County Parks & Recreation
Clark County Parks & Recreation
Clark County Parks & Recreation

Clark County Drive-In Movie Series

Multiple locations
The Clark County Parks & Recreation district wants you to get out of the house while being as safe and socially distant as possible. It’s hosting a series of free drive-in movies throughout September in different corners of the valley. Vehicles will be allowed in on a first-come, first serve basis — no reservations needed. Once inside, cars will be directed to park in staggered patterns with at least 10 feet of space between them. Expect at least one or two food trucks on site with ordering and pick-up notices available by text to minimize crowds. 

The free drive-in movie screenings include Sing at the Winchester Dondero Cultural Center (McLeod & Desert Inn) on September 11, The Little Rascals at the Hollywood Recreation Center (Hollywood & Charleston), and a movie to be determined (keep up with our weekly event rundowns for the latest updates) at the Walnut Community Center (Walnut & Cheyenne) on September 25. All movies begin at 7:45pm with doors opening at 6pm. 

Yonder Escalante
Yonder Escalante
Yonder Escalante

Yonder Escalante

Southern Utah
Somewhere between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City is Yonder Escalante. A big road trip is required to get there, but it’s totally worth it. The luxury-focused glampground has renovated vintage airstreams and customized tiny homes for accommodations — or you can just pull in and hook up your own RV. The place was redesigned from an old drive-in movie theater, although locals can’t quite agree on how long it’s been around. 

The good news: Guests are still welcome to check out outdoor movies on the big screen Thursday through Sunday. For the full experience, rent a vintage car, reimagined as a stylish lounger for $25. Popcorn included. Yonder is planning on putting together themed movie weekends (like Star Wars or National Lampoon’s), but no matter what you watch, the best part is enjoying a flick surrounded by the scenery of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Other perks include telescopes for checking out the constellations at night and dinner kits for cooking meals over a campfire. 

Glittering Lights
Glittering Lights
Glittering Lights

Glittering Lights

North Las Vegas
Glittering Lights has been one of the most captivating drive-in experiences in Las Vegas for 20 years now. The holiday attraction includes about 2.4 miles of colorful lights that twist and turn throughout the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Drive through them yourself while listening to commercial-free holiday music on the radio and sipping on hot chocolate or munching kettle corn.  

Overall, there are more than four million lights and 600 displays — many of which change from year to year. Expect a nativity scene and an area dedicated to local Las Vegas sports teams. In a nod to current events, don’t be surprised if you see Santa Claus in a mask. Money raised from ticket sales (starting at $25 per car) is divided among more than 50 children’s charities in Southern Nevada. So check it out. In a year when so many annual events are being cancelled, it’s nice to see something endearing and familiar on the holiday calendar. Sign up here for our daily Vegas email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than six years. His work has also appeared in Travel + Leisure, Trivago Magazine, Sophisticated Living, Modern Luxury, Leafly, Las Vegas Magazine, and other publications. He’s getting his car’s A/C fixed before taking part in any drive-in experiences. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.

Las Vegas

A Fresh Take on Italian Dining Opens in Southwest Las Vegas

A first look at Basilico Ristorante Italiano.

Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano

You can’t be all things to all people. Yet a new Italian restaurant strikes an intriguing balance between authenticity and inventive touches while helping to shape the identity of a new community in the booming Southwest Valley of Las Vegas.

Basilico Ristorante Italiano is now open at Evora, a master-planned apartment development still under construction that won’t be finished for at least five years. The 160-seat restaurant follows the vision of chef Francesco Di Caudo, a Sicily native who draws on his heritage and experience throughout Italy to build a compelling menu based on traditional techniques and modern ingenuity.

“I come from a country where farm-to-table is nothing new,” says Di Caudio, while emphasizing the importance of ingredient sourcing and simple, straightforward flavor combinations.

Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano

Just look at the appetizers. Americans are used to eggplant parmesan that’s breaded and fried without restraint. Di Caudo sticks to a traditional Sicilian recipe with the vegetable sliced thin, sizzled in a pan, and layered with tomato and basil. No mozzarella. On the other hand, the Smoked Cigar is destined to be a signature showstopper. Duck, foie gras, and porcini mushrooms are packed inside a thin, cracker-like shell, presented in a box, and dipped into a glass ashtray. The “ash” in the centre is a black sesame and truffle mix. Don’t be shy about double dipping.

The risotto is bound to be another conversation piece. The recipe uses Carnaroli rice, a starchy grain from North Italy that produces a creamy texture, balancing the saltiness of a parmesan broth with a sweet splash of chestnut honey. The real surprise is the inclusion of Lavazza espresso, manipulated to crackle in your mouth like Pop Rocks candy.

Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano

All pastas are made in-house, from a parsnip cavatelli to a lamb and thyme tortellini in a broth filtered from braised prosciutto. Some dishes have a subtle Asian influence, including a hamachi crudo with pomelo (similar to yuzu), Hokkaido scallops with oxtail, and a planned octopus braised in dashi. The flavours come to life inside a sharp, contemporary dining room with deep red chairs and stone, wood, and marble touches. The wine collection is dominated by Italian labels, with a few California and Oregon picks thrown in to round out the list. Bottles are on display near the front entrance and inside illuminated square shelves. “It looks like a fancy restaurant, but when you sit down, I want you to have fun,” adds Di Caudio.

Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano
Photo by Louiie Victa, courtesy of Basilico Ristorante Italiano

The bar is the heart of the restaurant, ready to serve up to 16 people inside and dozens more via accordion-style windows that open wide to a covered patio. The outdoor space, temperature-controlled with overhead fans and heaters, effectively extends Evora’s open-air plaza with dramatic water and fire features. It’s a natural spot for tastings and special events with a covered stage for live music. Evora is rolling out in four phases, with the first 342 apartments ready by fall. There could be as many as 1,400 when it’s all said and done. Rent begins at around $1,800 for studios and one-bedroom units and goes up to $4,000 for two-story top-floor residences with a loft and Strip views. The community will include swimming pools, pickleball courts, a putting green, a dog park, firepits, EV charging stations, and pavilions equipped with audio and video features.

“Basilico matches the demographic for our apartments,” says Danny Sorge of Digital Desert Development, the company behind the community. “The term ‘youthful sophistication’ has been thrown around about the restaurant and Evora as a whole. It brings something new to the area.”

Rendering courtesy of Evora
Rendering courtesy of Evora
Rendering courtesy of Evora

The development follows a deliberate strategy to have the commercial tenants in place before the first residents move in, occupying a stand-alone building that strikes a commanding presence on the corner of Patrick Lane and Buffalo Drive. Lemon Tree Cafe & Market is already open as a European-style grocery store with plenty of room to sit down with a sandwich and glass of wine. Keep your eyes peeled for Taps & Barrels (a self-service beer hall), Tachi Ramen, and EVOQ hair salon in the months ahead, with more businesses to come. The timing couldn’t be better. The Southwest Valley is on fire right now, with the Durango hotel and casino and UnCommons mixed-use development taking shape as new attractions in 2023. The Bend, a long-promised shopping and dining district, has been in a holding pattern for years but holds promise in an area where everything is getting bigger and better.

Meanwhile, the team behind Evora is staking a claim with Di Caudio running the kitchen at Basilico. The chef’s recent collaboration with Chef Oscar Amador helped Anima by EDO score a recent James Beard Award nomination and reputation as one of the best new restaurants in Las Vegas. Di Caudio first came to Las Vegas to work at Zeffirino at the Grand Canal Shoppes-a gig he expected to last about six months before returning home. Instead, he stuck around and continued to build his reputation at culinary destinations like Sinatra at the Wynn and Ferraro’s off the Strip.

Ultimately, Basilico will be a restaurant to keep an eye on as it develops under Di Caudio’s guidance. The menu will shift and evolve based on the chef’s preferences and the availability of seasonal ingredients. Di Caudio is also planning a smaller menu and social hour for the bar area and a reasonably priced tasting menu with around 10 dishes served family style.

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Rob Kachelriess¬†has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than nine years. In addition, his work has appeared in¬†Travel + Leisure, Leafly, Supercall, Modern Luxury, and¬†Luxury Estates International’s seasonal publication. Follow him on Twitter¬†@rkachelriess.

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