Comfort zone: Celebrating the drive-through

Living Well | Nick Place | Posted on 15 August 2018

From almond croissants to the latest blockbuster, ’50s-style drive-through convenience is alive and well in Victoria.

From the moment the car was invented, it was inevitable that drivers would try to achieve everything they possibly could without actually getting out of their vehicle. Welcome to human nature.  

The United States led the way and continues to do so. Stateside, there is no need to leave the driver’s seat if you feel like buying fast food, or liquor, if you need to vote in some states (California and Oregon), get married (Vegas, of course), pray (drive-through chapel, Fort Lauderdale, Florida) or buy groceries and petrol through a fully automated drive-through service (Smartmart, Memphis, Tennessee).  

Drive-through open casket viewings at funeral homes continue to exist at select locations.

There’s a living, breathing drive-through tree north of San Francisco, and drive-through law firms, libraries and art galleries, among other highlights. Famously, drive-through open casket viewings at funeral homes continue to exist at select locations, led by the Robert L. Adams Mortuary in Compton, LA. People can pay their respects to dead friends from the car, engine revving. 

Why, you may well ask? Well: “It’s a convenience thing,” the parlour’s owner Peggy Scott Adams told the Los Angeles Times. “You can come by after work, you don’t need to deal with parking, you can sign the book outside and the family knows that you paid your respects.” 

But what about here in Victoria? Do we have anything to compare to drive-through coffin inspections? You’d be surprised if you start to look around. Of course, there are bottle shops, and even more obviously, there are fast-food drive-throughs. Drive-through automatic car washes have also remained as enticing as when they first appeared, reportedly in Europe in the 1930s. Octopus-style foamy sponge tentacles never date. 

But from there, Victoria’s drive-through options become stranger, more eclectic and of mixed success. For example, Melbourne’s Kittens car wash, with scantily clad female car cleaners, turned off its taps well before the Weinstein scandal and the #metoo movement which would make it an even less appropriate business for the staid corner of Warrigal and North roads in Oakleigh. 

Man getting a coffee at the drive-thru
illustration of vintage car passing a red noen sign that says 'drivethru'
We still get the odd person who turns up in their pyjamas and is stressed about having to get out of the car.

In Castlemaine, a beautiful old retro caravan appeared about three years ago, as Johnny Baker’s drive-through patisserie, offering mouth-watering cakes, croissants, coffee and other delights. But it never really took off, mostly because it had only a limited selection of the same baked tarts, quiches and treats also available at a popular cafe that the same team ran in town. The goodies are also now sold from within a disused hotel bottle shop. People can still drive through but they have to walk up to the counter.

“The almond croissants are always pretty popular, and the beef and burgundy pies,” head pastry chef Eliza Moore says. “Although we still get the odd person who turns up in their pyjamas and is stressed about having to get out of the car.” 

In Brunswick, the Morning Glory coffee drive-through appeared on Nicholson Street in May this year, replacing an earlier attempt at drive-through coffee at the same location. Sharing the site with Curly Joe’s pizza delivery has confused some morning caffeine-hunters but Morning Glory owner Lucas Gugliandolo had a major secret rebranding plan underway at the time of going to press.  

At one stage, Australia had roughly 300 drive-in theatres.

The future of drive-through coffee is in entrepreneurial hands. Lucas was in the nightclub business and says he has replaced getting home at 4am with getting up at 4am. He believes drive-through cafes have a strong future. It took him two years to decide on the right location for his first one; issues of traffic flow, volume of cars and lovers of coffee are complex. He hopes to open at other locations now the Brunswick business is starting to build solid revenue.  

The other fun stay-in-your-car option in Melbourne and its surrounds is the handful of drive-in cinemas still operating. These were probably our first serious tilt at four-wheel laziness. Victoria’s original drive-in screen opened in Burwood in 1954, before the craze swept the country. At one point, Australia had roughly 300 drive-in theatres, behind only the US and Canada for the number of car-friendly screens.  

Not many remain because it turns out land has value and you can subdivide it for housing instead of showing Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie and McHale’s Navy on a big, big screen, as Village’s Coburg drive-in did on its opening night in November 1965. But then again, that same drive-in has made a comeback over the past few years, advertising itself as dog-friendly and kid-friendly and now featuring an app so you can order food to be delivered from the retro diner to your car. 

That’s more like it. The spirit of pure in-vehicle laziness remains undaunted.