NEW YORK — Like many couples at a drive-in theater, Christina Diaz and George Ciprian are snuggled close together in their 1960s convertible Mustang. As they watch "Die Hard II" under a starry sky and a full moon, the smell of popcorn and hot dogs wafts from the snack bar.
But when the movie at this drive-in is over, Christina and George will drive home in their own car, parked downstairs on 11th Avenue. The Mustang will stay behind at Dezerland Entertainment Complex, an old West Side warehouse that is home to the only indoor drive-in theater in the country.
The theater is the brainchild of Michael Dezer, an Israeli real estate owner who collects vintage automobiles and who "is in love with the '50s and '60s," according to his partner, Ned Mateosian. "He likes the music and the era, so he opened the club."
Hot Rod is the first-floor dance club that Dezer opened three years ago. His car museum is on the fourth and fifth floors. Among the 250 post-World War II relics, valued at more than $11 million, is the biggest collection of convertible Cadillacs in the country. And sitting amid those sleek and gleaming beauties is the wreck from the movie "Animal House" and a pink Jeep.
But the real draw at Dezerland is the drive-in theater on the second floor.
Nancy Levy, the complex's professional party planner, said the theater and its 10 permanently parked convertibles are popular with children and teen-agers as well as adults. Bar mitzvahs, sweet 16 and birthday parties go on year-round. The entire month of June is reserved exclusively for proms. The rental rate is flexible, but averages $30 to $40 per person.
She sometimes holds as many as 20 events a month for youngsters, who "try to raise hell. They dance on top of the cars, and sometimes 40 kids will pile into one. The cars are not in terrific condition," Levy said.
Levy's staff is so well-trained, however, that kids never get really out of hand, and parents don't need to chaperon. But a few always show up. "They're so intrigued they usually invite a few of their friends and sit in the back," Levy said.
Even adults without children are charmed. While some couples getting married for the first time hold receptions at the drive-in, more often than not it is rented to brides and grooms on their second go-round. "They've already gone the traditional route and now they want something unusual," Levy explained.
Xerox, IBM and other corporations frequently hold Christmas parties and all-day meetings here. And once the morning meetings and lunch ends, the Hula-Hoop and limbo contests begin.
Alex Suvino was throwing a Valentine's Day party for 1,000 of his closest friends. It was, he said, a "reunion of love."
Owner of East West, a novelty store in Union City, N. J., and manager of The Bangs, a rock 'n' roll band, Suvino rented the theater and the adjoining Surfside Room for $3,500. "There is no recession at East West," he said.
Wearing a peace button on his lapel and black leather pants, Alex said he chose the club for its 1950s motif. "My band is reminiscent of this era, and I like the whole effect," he said.
One of his guests, Laura Duran, was checking out the convertibles with her date, Will Cazco. "I feel like I'm on the set of 'Happy Days.' I keep expecting to see Fonzie," she said, peering into a cavernous yellow Plymouth.
Laura and most of her fellow party-goers are in their 20s, probably too young to have been to a real drive-in theater. Christina Diaz and George Ciprian, the pair in the Mustang, never have.
But Jack Boettcher has. A 50-year-old shipping manager from New Jersey, and one of the few wearing a sports jacket, he ticked off the names of the theater's jalopies in a flash. "That's a Plymouth, that's a Buick, and that's a Ford," he said, pointing to a red wreck with a makeshift rumble seat. Of course "it's not quite the same" as an outdoor drive-in, "but it gives the idea."
Several young couples seem to have caught the drift. The stars and moon may be painted on, but the popcorn and the hot dogs are real enough. So is the smooching going on in the front seats.
No one told them the back seat is better.