Current mood ‘nostalgic’ at new Blue Starlight Cinema in Vail

People settle in to the large cinema at the Blue Starlite theater on Thursday, Jan. 11, in Vail. The theater was recently aquired by the Blue Starlite, which has a summer drive-in in Minturn.
Chris Dillmann | |

For showtimes

Text “SHOWTIMES” to 797979

You may have noticed Hollywood trying to quench the thirst of nostalgia in recent years.

As productions like “It” and “Stranger Things” capitalize on the throwback fever sweeping the nation, here in Vail we can relive a bygone era not just through movies, but in the movie theater itself.

The Blue Starlite Cinema is now open in the location formerly known as the Cascade Theater on the west end of town. The feeling on the inside is part indie art house theater, part 1980s roller rink. And the experience is addicting.

“It seems like everyone who has come is coming back often and really loving it,” said Josh Frank, who spent this fall transforming the defunct theater into a sentimental attraction.

The problem, says Frank, is not that many people have discovered the place so far.

Support Local Journalism

“I think if more people come in and have that first experience, we’ll be fine, because they’ll want to keep coming back,” he said. “But so far that’s been slow to happen.”

The theater plays vintage movies, ski flicks, kids classics and, of course, ‘80s blockbusters. This week you can bring the kids to see “Frozen,” bring the teenagers to see “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and get the adults together for “Loving Vincent,” a tribute to Van Gogh shot entirely with hand-painted frames. You’ll want to see that last one on Monday while you can.

“Some of these films will only play three or four times total, so if it’s playing, you gotta catch it,” Frank said.


Frank, himself a father of a toddler, treated his two-year-old son to his first movie experience at the theater in December. For the 4 p.m. kids movies, Frank wants to create an atmosphere for parents where they need not worry about the embarrassment that comes with a kid who may not be enjoying the movie experience as much as his father.

For the evening movies, which usually play at 6:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., the idea is to capitalize on our collective craving for a real-life version of a device often used in movies: the flashback.

And then there’s the night movies. On Tuesdays, Frank has been playing a Grateful Dead tribute film, clipping together snippets from live performances, local news pieces about the band, and other long-lost documentations from the band’s heyday. Local musician Jake Wolf breaks up the showing with an intermission, where he takes request, cueing up videos of live performances on request like a video version of a wedding DJ. The theater serves alcohol, encourages interaction and captures the community aspect of seeing a film which is often lost a the big box cinemas.

“It’s pretty much the coolest thing you can come do with your friends on a Tuesday night in Vail,” Wolf said. “Not just Vail, actually, the entire state.”

Frank said for those in the know, looking for an experience like this one, it’s not surprising to hear stories of travelers coming from far and wide.

“People have come in from Denver just for this experience,” he said. “So when people from Eagle County realize it’s right here in their back yard, I know they’re going to love it.”

And the throwback atmosphere isn’t limited to the theater and the movies. The projectionist himself is a holdout from the theater’s past life.

In getting the place ready, Frank found a trusted partner in Scott Nolen, who worked in the theater more than a decade ago when it was a traditional movie theater playing first run films.

“Back then, nobody would come see me after the movie and say how cool they thought the place was,” Nolen said. “Now I get that comment from practically everyone who visits.”


Frank has dedicated the entire decade to what he feels is his life’s work — recreating the drive-in experience of the 1950s in towns across America. He has started successful drive-ins in Florida and Texas, and over the last couple of years he brought one to Minturn, as well.

So, for someone who has spent his career bringing the movie experience full circle for viewers, the opportunity to carry out his vision on an entire theater was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity.

The group that owns the theater is behind his vision, as well. Sure, the owners may find more profits by converting it to condos, but they’re trying to avoid that.

In a 2017 interview with the Vail Daily, Michael Hecht, who represents the theater’s ownership group, said the next couple of years will be a test for the theater.

“It could be a joint venture project, where we could have private investment come in, redevelop the building with some condominium residences on top of the building and around it, and still maintain and preserve the two theater venues,” Hecht said. “But what we need to know now is ‘Is there grass-roots interest?’”

As of right now, Frank is worried that grass-roots interest has not yet been demonstrated. But there’s still time. He says the most obvious movie analogy to the theater’s current situation is in — you guessed it — “Field of Dreams.”

“OK, we built the place,” Frank said. “Now we’re just hoping they will come.”

Support Local Journalism