HIGHLAND | Many feared the Blue Top Drive-In, an iconic eatery that's been on Indianapolis Boulevard for nearly eight decades, would be torn down and become another discarded piece of region history when it was closed just two years ago.
But Wednesday night, the vintage drive-in felt like the center of the universe as an estimated 1,000 muscle cars, hot rods and classic rides cruised in. As poodle-skirted carhops roller-skated by and engines revved, it felt like a time warp to the 1950s.
The big attraction was Pro E-85 Racing Group race cars, which drag race on Ethanol fuel, and editors and photographers from leading national car magazines. The race car drivers stopped by on their way to a race in Wisconsin, and photographers from Hot Rod, Car Craft and Super Chevy came to photograph their cars against a retro neon-lit backdrop that's been also been featured in Rolling Stone magazine and a Harley-Davidson catalog.
Car enthusiasts from across Northwest Indiana shined up their rides and swarmed on Indianapolis Boulevard, filling several adjoining parking lots on Highland's main drag. The Blue Top is planning more events this weekend to pack car lovers in, including Elvis Night from 4 p.m. to midnight Saturday.
David Sajewich, the lead actor from Theatre at the Center's "All Shook Up" musical, will perform songs at 6 p.m. and then emcee a Best Elvis contest. People are encouraged to dress up as "the King," and shake their hips in an Elvis-Pelvis dance-off.
Then on Sunday at sunset at around 8:20 p.m., the drive-in hamburger joint will transform into a drive-in movie theater with a showing of "Grease." Owners John Golfis and Dennis Miniuk decided to start showing car-themed movies such as "Grease," "Bullet," "Christine," "Duel" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" on a portable 15-foot by 12-foot screen, piping in the sound through the car radios.
"It's something people miss, being able to sit back and watch a movie in their cars," Golfis said.
Highland resident Dave Rumas, who was among the huge crowds of car enthusiasts Wednesday, appreciates the revival of the Blue Top. He regularly goes there with his 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hardtop, which he acquired as a teenager in 1963 after coaxing his mother to let him have it. He drove it all through high school and when he was stationed in California while serving in the U.S. Navy, but it rusted for 10 years until he discovered they made new parts for it again.
"It took me four years to restore it, from 1979 to 1983," he said. "I painted it myself. I did all the work myself, except the interior though I designed the interior. I won several awards for it. I used to show it at McCormick Place but that got kind of old. I'm proud of it, you know. It's been with me since I was 15, and I think that's quite an accomplishment."
Rumas, who goes to cruises at the Blue Top once or twice a month, has turned down offers to buy his car, which is widely appreciated for its sleek styling.
"It's not a monetary thing," he said. "It's become iconic. The 1955, 1956 and 1957 Chevys have become the most restored automobiles in the world."
Car enthusiasts flocked have been flocking to the Blue Top not just to show off their lovingly restored rides but also to see the chrome-plated classics others are driving.
"We just like the Blue Top because it's nostalgic," said Crown Point resident Bill Holland. "It's a real cool place to come to eat and just enjoy the evenings. He encourages all the hot rods to come out."
Holland, who drove his 1979 Little Red Express Truck Wednesday, regularly goes to cruises in Crown Point, Whiting, Valparaiso and Merrillville. None of the other restaurants he visits measures up to the Blue Top, Lake County's last remaining drive-in.
"This is the ultimate of the area," he said. "I was ecstatic when I heard they were going to reopen it. I thought they were going to tear this place down."