Though last week's opening of the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival felt less insanely packed than in recent years, the competition for prime, or even just decent, spots on the lawn is still fierce in 2016.
Now, there are many ways to enjoy a free movie in the middle of Midtown, or, you know, anywhere else but Midtown... but here are a few key takeaways from the Ferris Bueller pre-screening scene last Monday should you be considering going tonight, or anytime this summer.
Embrace The Mayhem
If you want to lay down a large blanket at the perfect viewing distance—real festival professionals create frankenblankets (pictured)—you need to get here before 5 p.m.. That's when, sans countdown, the Bryant Park official intones "The Lawn Is Now Open" and all hell breaks loose.
Start your sprint from the western edge of the lawn, below the screen, for the shortest path to the most coveted spots: dead center, about a third of the way back. Jockeying for position by the ropes begins at 4 p.m., when the park allows people to stand by the perimeter, so the truly committed/crazy arrive here even before then to get on line.
Important: the movie doesn't start until it gets dark, so you're looking at about a four-hour wait before showtime if you go this route. Bring supplies. (Luckily, Bryant Park has some nice public restrooms.)
Take A Seat
There are dozens of those green Bryant Park chairs set up in rows all up and down the lawn's north and south flanks. These also fill up pretty fast, though there are usually holes for singles or couples toward to the back. Some industrious folks drag a table over to facilitate dining. It's like being at Nitehawk!
Note that the chairs, while serviceable, are not what you'd call plush, and butt discomfort is likely especially once you hit hours four and five. Definitely a good option though if you're trying to get lucky with a last-minute stroll-up.
Show Up At Showtime
Here's the thing: you don't go see a free movie outdoors surrounded by slightly sloshed picnickers because it's a good way to focus on the actual movie. You go because it's a fun, iconic-NYC thing to do. So if you want to forego all of the pre-movie rituals and just show up at 8:30 or so, you're likely to find a spot for a small blanket towards the back of the lawn, particularly on the nights when some of the older, more obscure flicks (hello, Palm Beach Story) are playing.
It may not great viewing-wise back there, but, frankly, it's not really ideal anywhere, so why not be spontaneous?
Focus On the Dinner Part Of Dinner & A Movie
Most people bring their own dinner (and sneak in booze) to the lawn, but once again the Hester Street vendors are on hand every Monday to feed one and all.
The food line-up is particularly strong this year, highlighted by the excellent Black Tap Burger, which you can actually just walk up to and buy without having to wait three hours behind all those milkshake-snapchatters who clog up the restaurants proper (note: they will NOT be selling the milkshakes.) There's also Mikey Likes It ice cream, who'll be scooping a new flavor each week, custom made for each movie; and En Japanese, offering both fried chicken and a poke-like bowl of raw fish and rice.
The whole atmosphere in the park is festive and fun on these Monday evenings, the lines never get too long for the food, and there are always places to sit, eat, and people watch. A solid date-night idea for Midtowners, whether you actually stay for the movie or not.
The HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival shows movies every Monday through August 22nd. Here's the schedule.