Tibbs is Indy’s last drive-in movie theater. Back in 1967, when the place opened, the city boasted plenty of spots to see a movie outside. But one by one, they fell to either lack of interest or rising property values, which saw the real estate on which they sat used for housing developments and strip centers. But not Tibbs. The 23-acre complex sits just off West Washington Street, surrounded by scrapyards and hardscrabble neighborhoods. So developers left it alone.
It’s under new management. Former owner Ed Quilling recently retired, passing the operation to his longtime employee, Marcella Snyder. She’s revamping both the snack bar building and its menu (look for new vegetarian options soon) and opening the place to various non-movie activities, such as concerts. Visit tibbsdriveintheatre.com for movies, times, and news about other happenings. Tibbs Drive-In
If you plan to visit, timing is everything. Not surprisingly, Friday and Saturday nights can be madhouses, with long lines, as many as 2,000 guests, and keen competition for prime parking spots. If you’d like a less hectic experience, Snyder recommends Sunday evenings, which are markedly less crowded. Also, the best time of year to visit a drive-in theater isn’t high summer, but rather spring and late fall. The weather is nicer, the mosquitoes are gone, and the movie starts at a more reasonable hour because the sun drops sooner. Show up in June and you could wait until 10 p.m. for the first film.
People try to get in free by smuggling themselves in their car trunks. Snyder says the folks at the front gate look for telltale signs, such as a car driven by a lone man who for some reason has a purse sitting in the passenger seat. If that happens, staffers watch the car to see if any uninvited guests climb out of the trunk. Then they go collect the cost of that person’s ticket.
Things are much more laidback than at your typical multiplex. Want to bring your dog? Go right ahead. Just make sure they’re leashed and supervised, and that you clean up after them. Also, there’s a playground to keep your kids busy before the movie (though management asks that they settle down once the films start). And speaking of films, Tibbs includes four gigantic screens, with a separate flick typically running on each. So if the movie you came to see isn’t doing it for you, there’s nothing stopping you from driving to another screen and watching that.
They’re even cool about bringing in “outside” food. Snyder realizes that some people have special dietary needs, and that a couple hauling four kids to the movies might not be able to buy everybody dinner at the snack bar. So you don’t need to hide your cooler under a blanket. “We’re pretty understanding about people bringing outside food,” Snyder says. “Of course, we prefer that they buy at the concession stand, but we don’t ever turn anybody away.”
Thursday night is “open caption” night. “If you’re hearing-impaired or you just prefer to watch movies with captions, you can come in that night and we’ll have the captions turned on for all the movies,” Snyder says.
If you’d like a better parking place, bring your car instead of your SUV or pickup. About half of Tibbs’s 1,400 parking spaces are ruled for trucks, vans, and SUVs, and the other half for regular cars. Not surprisingly, the SUV/truck spots fill up much faster. Tibbs Drive-In
Expect an eclectic crowd. Tibbs regulars include everyone from folks from nearby neighborhoods to drive-in aficionados traveling from as far afield as Bloomington. Snyder says one group of fans drove up from Kentucky to take in a special Jaws/Jurassic Park double feature.
The movie sound isn’t spectacular, but there’s a hack for that. Sound is broadcast over your car radio via a low-power FM signal. Which works pretty well for, say, a romantic comedy, but might seem decidedly underpowered if you’re watching a Marvel movie. To get around this problem, try downloading an app that lets you listen to FM radio on your phone. Tune in the movie, pop in your earbuds, and you’re good to go.