NEW YORK (SBG) — This past summer brought about the resurgence of the drive-in movie, a nostalgic way of watching films that happened to be perfectly suited to our current times. As movie theaters shut their doors indefinitely, quarantine pods safely contained within their own cars drove to big screens set up in fields and parking lots for a modified version of everyone’s favorite date night. Even in New York City, a place without an abundance of land and where many residents forgo owning a personal vehicle in lieu of taking public transportation, a few attempts at the drive-in experience found great success in their appeal to New Yorkers needing a change of scenery from Netflix on their couch.
It wasn’t only the drive-in that flourished in the city during the warmer months of the pandemic — around the five boroughs, outdoor screens encouraged socially distanced gathering in parks and on rooftops. Movies under the stars have long been a summer tradition at places like Manhattan’s Bryant Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, but to many of the New Yorkers who chose to remain in the city while so many others fled, the importance of this type of event became elevated by the widespread closures of other popular activities.
For many outdoor movie venues, summer and early fall were the prime time for business. Warm temperatures and open-air activities go hand-in-hand, while cold weather doesn’t exactly encourage people to leave their cozy apartments to expose themselves to the elements for the entire duration of the movie. But at the Standard, High Line in New York City, the hotel’s patio movie series is persisting throughout all of winter, and as evidenced by the waiting lists of people hoping to secure reservations, the demand is undeniable.
“We are pleased but not surprised by the program’s success, as we have a lovely environment, and there are so few entertainment options in the city,” said Amar Lalvani, CEO of Standard International.
The Standard brand is well-known for reasons quite a bit more thought-provoking or risqué than their sometimes family-friendly movie nights. At the hotel line’s first outpost in West Hollywood, one of the most talked about features from the start has been an installation called “The Box,” a glass tank behind the reception desk occupied not by fish but by models who are free to do as they please while on display for anyone who enters the lobby. The Boom Boom Room, the ultra-exclusive club atop of the Standard, High Line, has been noted both for its A-list celebrity attendants and its communal toilets, four of which occupy a single cubicle, destroying any expectation of privacy. The High Line location is also notorious for the non-reflective, floor-to-ceiling windows that have been said to encourage exhibitionism in its 338 rooms; at the Boom Boom Room, the restrooms have made headlines for their high visibility to anyone who happens to look up while strolling on the High Line.
Those who haven’t stayed at one of the Standard’s locations or partied at one of its raunchy clubs may have an impression of the hotel group’s seven properties from movies and television. The Box was referenced in an episode of “Sex and the City,” in which Miranda comments on the muscular male model reclining within the transparent enclosure, while “Gossip Girl” filmed at the Boom Boom Room, with guests like Tim Gunn, Ivanka Trump, and Jared Kushner in attendance at the fictional party. And in the 2011 erotic drama “Shame,” the same windows of the Standard, High Line that have allowed tourists to gaze upon the activities of hotel guests play a pivotal role in highlighting the protagonist’s extreme sex addiction.
An elevator at the Standard, High Line was also the backdrop for the infamous fight involving Solange Knowles and Jay-Z in 2014; the disagreement took place as the pair was leaving a Met Gala after-party at the Boom Boom Room.
Beyond the exploits that have taken place at various locations of the Standard, the hotels are known for their “anything but” standard offerings, from the indoor mushroom farms, new wave gay bar, and seasonal alpine yurts at the Standard, East Village to the brujeria workshops and hydrotherapy playground in Miami. The hotel group has never shied away from adaptation, a characteristic made especially clear when the Standard launched a last-minute booking app called One Night in response to the industry’s dissatisfaction with startup Hotel Tonight.
When the pandemic posed a major threat to the typical operations of Standard International with hotel closures earlier this year and an ongoing tourist drought, the parent company’s high level of innovation proved to be indispensable to ensuring the longevity of the business.
In addition to launching a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for an employee relief fund, the Standard offered day rates for a more stylish work-from-home experience, advertised Halloween-themed staycations involving hotel ghost stories and spooky cocktails, and sold a $75 caviar-adorned hot dog to benefit the non-profit Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants. Virtual bingo nights and coloring pages kept those at home busy, while collaborations with local artists for exclusive merchandise provided another source of revenue for the employee relief fund. And during the election, the Standard took an active role with “Ring Your Rep” booths that dialed directly to Congress and included a script for ease of use.
Outdoor movies are simply another way that the Standard is keeping the New York City spirit alive throughout the colder months ahead.
There’s no getting around the fact that sitting outside to watch a movie will never be quite as toasty as snuggling up on your sofa, but the Standard is doing everything possible to provide a comfortable experience that adheres to the city’s regulations during their "Flix in the Forest" series. On a chilly December evening, a winter coat, heat lamps, and hot cocktails supplied sufficient warmth for the 76-minute runtime of “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” As Jack Skellington sang his lament to a completely full house, it was clear that many were willing to brave the cold for something more closely resembling the traditional movie experience than what they’d find by clicking through the channels at home.
Unsurprisingly, the ambiance is far better than that of your average theater. The Standard’s street-level patio has been converted to a winter forest with enclaves of Juniper trees partially hiding tables from view. Behind the forest is the movie viewing area, awash in the orange glow of heat lamps above and out of view from the busy sidewalks of the Meatpacking District. Snowflake decorations dot the glass walls surrounding the patio, and white sheepskin throws are draped over the chairs for maximum comfort. Despite the competing soundtrack of the noisy city, the movie’s audio is easily heard through speakers placed on each table.
“This is our home, and we want guests to feel the same way,” said Lalvani.
It doesn’t hurt that the movies are supplemented by the Standard Grill’s updated takes on classic New York cuisine. With a winter of outdoor dining apparently comes a winter of cheese fondue, and the Standard satisfies anyone looking to dip bite-sized foods into gooey cheese with a Swiss-based rendition designed for two people to share. Diners will also find plenty of seafood, poutine with the option to add confit duck, and vegetarian options like delicata squash and wild mushroom soup.
Complimentary popcorn further adds to the theater experience, while candy is available for purchase.
As mentioned earlier, hot cocktails like mulled cider and spiked hot chocolate can help you warm up while you watch your movie, and if you’re planning to drink a lot, there’s a $5 hangover prevention patch on the menu. If you’re abstaining from alcohol or underage, several of the holiday drinks can be served sans-liquor.
The event series, which began back in early September with a far less wintry atmosphere and a diverse selection of films, appropriately featured Halloween favorites in October and holiday movies throughout the month of December. The Sunday through Thursday schedule will continue into January, with a different theme for each night of the week. Sunday evenings explore cult favorites like “Fight Club” and “Pulp Fiction,” Mondays are Stanley Kubrick films, Tuesdays are musicals, Wednesdays are classics, and every Thursday night will be ladies’ night with choices like “Bridesmaids” and “Clueless.”
“To be honest, we don’t overthink it,” Lalvani said of how the lineup decisions are made. “We do try to mix up the lineup so that we have something for everyone. Every now and then, we’ll throw in something obscure, or something just beautifully shot that we love, or a director we’d like to introduce to our community. And to lift the spirits, musicals are great.”
You can put the money you'd typically use for movie tickets toward a cocktail, as there's no cover charge at the Standard — to secure your spot, you'll just need to make a reservation at the Standard Grill for your preferred date. All of the movies have a 7 p.m. start time, so arriving slightly earlier is recommended to settle in and place your order. And while the Standard is typically regarded as a fashionable spot, be sure to prioritize warmth when you're planning your outfit, as heat lamps and hot cocktails can only do so much when the temperature is quite literally freezing.