Red Pill and Blue Pill cocktails were served at the Fort Mason Flix drive-in screening of “The Matrix.” (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Enter ‘The Matrix’: Drive-in movies during a pandemic

Though it’s fun to take in a film and drink, I miss watching bartenders make cocktails

Have you tried dating during quarantine? Let me tell you how that goes:

Guys still try the rote “‘sup?” line on Grindr, OKCupid and other apps. “How are you” has been replaced with “How are you holding up?” And seemingly, there exist only three baseline first-date choices: a Zoom chat, a socially distant walk or a hookup. Pros and cons: I find guys less flaky and more emotionally engaged in a contracted romantic landscape. But being in extremes, they’re also super clingy if you tell them you aren’t free: “Guess you’re busy doing all that sheltering in place!”

I somehow achieved most of my goals for 2020, save for one that quickly became impossible: go see more movies. Today I’m happy to report progress on that front. Outdoor and drive-in movies have been showing at the West Wind Solano Drive In, and they’re soon coming to the 17th annual Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema. They also just premiered at one I checked out the past week: Fort Mason, and maybe this can be your next date choice after the video meetup.

“FORT MASON FLIX”— so it’s called — bills itself as San Francisco’s first drive-in theater, running a couple films on a big LED screen six days a week through Oct. 18 (although I bet they extend that). At Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, they show “a cornucopia of film programming, from family favorites to cult classics to blockbusters and arthouse cinema,” read a release sent by an editor, who enthusiastically asked I check it out and “include a cocktail.” Done and done.

I did actually hit up the West Wind not a week earlier to see D’Arcy Drollinger’s Frameline debut of “Shit & Champagne,” which gave me a few advance tips to bring to my Fort Mason trip: Get there super early, pack a picnic basket and maybe even a blanket. Don’t forget your glasses, and plan ahead for how to keep your radio on while the car itself is off, and also how you’ll address a foggy windshield.

Activities are generally harder to come by lately, so expect some price gouging: West Wind with Frameline ran $27 per car, and Fort Mason charges $49 per vehicle. Ouch. Divvied among maybe four attendees, that isn’t so bad, but these aren’t new releases either. I can only guess those are cost prohibitive with licensing, but I’m not complaining that much about “Hocus Pocus,” “Clueless,” “Thor: Ragnarok” or the original “Tron.”

Last Sunday, at the opening night of the drive-in, I picked “The Matrix,” not only because it’s a good throwback, but also because its fourth installment is due to drop in 2022, with many scenes filmed in San Francisco. Somehow, too, I found the two remaining people in existence that had never seen it. Said a friend to me in the first part of the movie: “So if I’m getting this right, Saul, humans are elaborately controlled and turned into food, right?” Something like that.

I made my friends pick me up really early, owing to the West Wind event being really disorganized. Fort Mason was a lot more put together. We arrived a good hour before start time to a short line of cars, and the attendant scanning our ticket was really into the evening. “All right everyone, enjoy the show, and don’t take any blue or red pills!” He said, referencing the movie, but then added in very San Francisco fashion, “Just kidding, take as many pills as you want.”

We motored past a popcorn stand with carnival lights to a very front-and-center parking spot, with lots of space on both sides of us, and then an event organizer showed us to some booze. A block over, The Interval at Long Now partnered with the drive-in, serving up themed “blue pill” and “red pill” cocktails to take back to our car. In my decade in San Francisco, I had never heard of The Interval at Long Now, a museum, cafe and bar that apparently has books that help rebuild civilization, should we need them. This also felt appropriately themed to the moment we live in, and the decor gave me a strong whiff of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.”

Booze was part of the experience at Fort Mason drive-in showing of “The Matrix.” (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The movie delivered the same great late 1990s geekery it helped create, and all the memes we still appreciate from today. It struck me, though, that despite the availability of restaurant parklets, picnics, takeout cocktails and drive-in movies, I’m still longing for another bar experience I’ve yet to see reproduced in the pandemic: I want to watch bartenders make my drink. I’ll keep an eye out for a sanctioned outdoor version of such an effort.

Until then, I can I enjoy themed “pill” drinks. As in the movie, the “red pill” was just a bit more enthralling and complex, but the simplicity of the “blue pill” with a big square cube was great, too.

I missed out on the recipes this time but snagged the liquor and flavors used. Serve these both over ice.

The Interval at Long Now at Fort Mason created drinks to accompany the movie. (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Bar info: The Interval at Long Now, Fort Mason, Landmark Building A, 2 Marina Blvd., S.F.; (415) 496-9187,

Blue Pill: Vodka, raspberry, lemon

Red Pill: Campari, Amaro, prosecco, lemon, grapefruit

Saul Sugarman is a San Francisco-based writer, event producer, and apparel designer. Last Call with Saul appears every other Sunday in the Examiner. He is a guest columnist and his opinions are not necessarily that of the Examiner.

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