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Generations revved up for return of Blue Top drive-in

Carhop Lindsay Johns21 Griffith looks for customer Blue Top Drive-In located HighlIN. The drive-iconic muscle car gathering spot from '60s

Carhop Lindsay Johnson 21, of Griffith, looks for customer at the Blue Top Drive-In located in Highland, IN. The drive-in, the iconic muscle car gathering spot from the '60s and '70s, had fallen on hard times in recent years. On Friday, it reopened with a new menu, carhops, music, and an overflow crowd of antique and muscle cars turning the clock back some fifty years. | John Smierciak/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 28, 2014 6:19AM



HIGHLAND — Hot rods, hamburgers and happy people.

It could have been any Friday night in Anytown, USA, a throwback to a simpler time before smart phones and social media, when people parked their muscle cars at the local drive-in restaurant, munched on burgers and french fries delivered by car hops, and talked to each other.

But in this case it was in Highland at the newly reopened Blue Top drive-in on Indianapolis Boulevard, and the crowd was electric.

A young woman dressed in a 1950s-era poodle skirt rolled back and forth in the parkway on Indianapolis Boulevard waving at passing motorists. Hot rods and classic cars packed the parking lot, spilling over into the neighboring medical office lot and other businesses closed for the day.

People were parking anywhere they could find a space, some as far as a few blocks away, to walk to the restaurant to see the cars and get dinner.

“I’m living the dream and this is it,” owner John Golfis said.

The turnout surpassed anything he and partner Dennis Miniuk could have expected. A soft opening Thursday attracted more than 100 cars.

Golfis walked the grounds beaming like a proud new parent. Soda in hand, he interacted with guests, stopping to direct traffic and keeping a watchful eye on the controlled chaos to ensure the event ran smoothly.

“This is unbelievable,” he said.

Golfis was a victim of his own success Friday. Locals eager to visit the iconic restaurant started packing the Blue Top early, prompting the restaurant to open at 4 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. By 6:30 p.m. Golfis said he had to shut the kitchen down for at least an hour to allow workers an opportunity to catch up. More than 200 orders had been filled and another 85 had been taken.

“I just want to apologize. It was out of our control,” he said. The experienced restaurateur who owns Simon Sez in Merrillville said the kitchen was staffed to capacity. There’s only so much room on the grill.

Servers dressed in 1950s-era poodle skirts and capris pants scurried about the parking lot, running sandwiches and shakes to eager diners. The roller skates will be back eventually, Golfis said.

Those who had a chance to get their meal before the kitchen became inundated were happy with their food.

“Everybody’s been waiting for this for months,” said Bob Youngberg of Lansing, Ill. “It’s the excitement. The old cars. The journey back in time.”

Youngberg and his wife, Marcia, have been coming to Blue Top for the past 20 years.

“It’s the atmosphere for one. And they have good food,” Bob Youngberg said. The couple had gyros for dinner, a new menu item at Blue Top, which is known for its burgers but a staple at Golfis’ Simon Sez in Merrillville.

“It was very good,” he said.

The couple drove their 1955 Dodge, a two-tone blue car, they bring out to show.

“Events like this make classic cars accessible to people,” Marcia said.

Bob Burchett of Griffith and Steve Konzen and Bobette McCall, both of Lake Village, have been coming to Blue Top for decades. The men recall hanging out with their buddies and their hot rods, gathering at Blue Top then heading out to their secret spot for drag racing.

Things at Blue Top are not all that different than they were back then.

Burchett, like many of the longtime Blue Top faithful feel a sense of ownership toward their hangout. He was happy to provide an impromptu tour, showing off the original counter and seating that were maintained in the renovation. Most of the old heavy booths have been replaced with tables and chairs opening up the view out the windows.

He pointed out the hot rod memorabilia, some provided by customers like himself, that decorated the walls. Blue Top always has been a place for hot-rodders to congregate.

“This place hasn’t really changed that much. Us old guys are still here and now the new younger ones are coming,” Burchett said.

Veronica Zamora-Torres was checking out the cars with her son, Armando Ortega, 9. Her daughter, Jasmin Zamora-Torres, 16, was working there. It is her first job.

“She was real excited. It’s a whole different atmosphere,” Zamora-Torres said.

Blue Top was packed Friday with more cars than she can ever remember seeing in the 15 years she has lived in Highland.

“I like the age groups that are here, the younger ones and the old-schoolers. It brings people from different areas together.”

She expects Blue Top to quickly become a hot spot for car enthusiasts and said it is good to have a place in town that is welcoming and where people from all walks of life can get together.

“This is a great escape from all the violence, not just in Northwest Indiana, but in the news everywhere,” Zamora-Torres said.

Armando had his own thoughts on the matter. He was enjoying seeing the differences between the newer cars and the classics.

“I just think it’s really cool.”



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