Our guide to casino nightlife
By Kathy Cichon For Sun-Times Media January 24, 2013 8:38PM
Hollywood Casino Center Stage. | Courtesy of Hollywood Casino
Updated: February 25, 2013 11:40AM
Close to midnight, the Lisa René Band begins performing a cover of a Neil Diamond classic. Immediately, the energy level of the crowd on the dance floor goes up a few notches in anticipation of the chorus — and the inevitable sing-a-long.
“Sweet Caroline ... Bum, Bum, Bum,” the crowd eagerly shouts out loud.
Also joining in for the chorus are those sitting at tables, sipping drinks and mingling with friends. Many of them at Stage 151 are regulars.
“It’s like a big family here,” said Debbie Wever of Joliet. “You kind of know everybody if you’re a regular.”
And when the music stops, some go for a bite to eat or coffee. On the way there, they walk past an area where the background music is the constant chime of slot machines.
Sure, for many the focus of casinos is gambling. But you can bet there are other, non-gaming, entertainment options there as well. And some are even free.
At Harrah’s Joliet, home to no cover charge Stage 151, it’s about trying to connect to the community with activities that are not necessarily related to gaming.
“You don’t have to be a player to come here and eat,” said Nicole Fields, internet marketing manager for Harrah’s Joliet. “And we do have something for everybody’s palate.”
After recently dining at Fairbanks Steak House at Hollywood Casino in Aurora, Ken and Christy Kinerim of Yorkville stopped by the casino’s Center Stage to listen to rock band Epic.
“It gives you something to do other than throw your money away,” said Ken of listening to the music.
Others prefer to take in a show while trying their luck at the games.
“I’m not a big traveller, so this is convenient,” said Paul Stofcheck of Elgin. He and his wife, Jean, were listening to rock duo Frank & Dave on a recent Sunday afternoon at the Grand Victoria Casino Show Bar while playing video poker.
The couple eats the casino often, and also catch some of the shows. Originally from Michigan, Jean Stofcheck said she enjoys the fact that she can go visit a casino that is non-smoking.
“That’s why we don’t leave the state (to visit casinos),” Jean Stofcheck said.
With many area casinos offering free parking, drink and food specials, and no cover charge, a night out at the casino can be more affordable than a night in the city.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of some of the entertainment options in the suburbs,” said Marilou Pilman, marketing director for Grand Victoria.
Although a bit of the city atmosphere will be present when Hollywood Casino Joliet opens its new nightclub Rêve in early February.
“There isn’t anything like this in the area — the ultra lounge house/dance club,” said Jill Green, senior marketing manager for Hollywood Casino Joliet. “We’re hoping to pull the Chicago feel out into the burbs.”
Hollywood Casino Aurora
1 W. New York Street Bridge, Aurora
Center Stage: Just as the name implies, the stage is located right in the middle of the casino floor action. Visitors can hear the bands while gaming, but there is also limited cabaret seating and a small dance floor adjacent to the stage for those who just want to listen to the music.
Aurora resident Mitch Moore, who doesn’t gamble, attends the shows every Friday and Saturday. He arrives at 7 p.m. “so I can get my spot” at one of the dozen or so tables.
Center Stage, which just opened this summer, features a variety of music acts from throughout the area.
“We try to keep the entertainment on our stage always dynamic,” said Amanda Johnson, executive casino host manager. “Also popular in the area, so people can come out to a really unique venue and still see someone they’re into.”
While the audience ages range from young adults to seniors, those attending must be at least 21 since the stage is on the casino floor.
“We’ve had bachelor parties and bachelorette parties,” Johnson said. “We’ve had 100th birthday parties. It appeals to all ages.”
During one recent performance, the band 80s rock band Epic dedicated a song to a woman celebrating her 84th birthday. It was Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”
Upcoming shows: All are 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. No cover charge. Must be 21 to attend.
Jan. 25: Final Say
Jan. 26: Evolution
Feb. 1: C-Factor
Feb. 2: Scarlett Fever
Feb. 8: Libido Funk Circus
Feb. 9: Dirty Ernie Band
Feb. 15: Maggie Speaks
Feb. 16: August
Epic Buffet: located just off the gaming floor, the buffet features a wide variety of dishes from comfort foods to ethnic cuisine. Diners can be adventurous and mix their own soda with the Coke Freestyle machine, which offers more than 100 possible drink choices.
Fairbanks Steak House: Located upstairs, Fairbanks is also more upscale than the buffet. Steak and seafood make up a large portion of the fine dining menu. For reservations call 630-801-7333.
Take Two Deli: open into the wee hours of the morning for a quick sandwich, burger and more.
Hollywood Casino Joliet
777 Hollywood Blvd., Joliet
Hollywood Stadium: The sports bar and restaurant is also home to the casino’s main stage, which features music Fridays and Saturdays and occasional weekday shows. Multiple TV screens let viewers watch various sports games and tournaments, including a jumbo 80-foot by 20-foot screen above the bar.
“Any place you sit, you can watch television,” said Mildred Pelmer of Chicago. “I think it’s beautiful. There’s enough TVs, so you can’t miss it, no matter where you sit.”
When a band is playing, the performance is often projected onto the giant screen.
“We try to go for that mini-House of Blues feel,” said Justin Sattazahn, entertainment manager.
There is no cover charge for the shows, which feature local and regional acts performing a variety of music including rock, country and R&B.
Upcoming Shows: 9 p.m. start
Jan. 25: American English Beatles Tribute
Jan. 26: Trash Martini
Feb. 1: RockStar Rodeo
Feb. 2: Brass Buckle Band
Feb. 8: Rock Candy
Feb. 9: 80’s Enough
Feb. 15: Epic
Feb. 16: Maurice Mahon/New Face of Soul
Celebrity Pit: Located on the lower level gaming floor, the pit features celebrity look-a-like dealers — think Cher, Marilyn and Kid Rock — who take breaks from their dealer duties by performing on a mini stage near the blackjack tables. The celeb impersonators — who audition for the role and are then sent to blackjack school — perform Thursday through Sunday from around 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Rêve: set to make its debut Feb. 8 with DJ Skoob and DJ Shawn Edwards, the name of the new ultra lounge and nightclub means “dream” in French. The club will feature a 30-foot dance floor, bottle service and more.
“There’s nothing like that out this way,” Sattazahn said. “There’s a lot of bars that having dancing, but there are no clubs.”
Located off of the casino floor in the space formerly occupied by the buffet, Rêve will be open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The ultra lounge will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. and the club from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. Online RSVP at ReveJoliet.com is encouraged, as there is a $10 cover charge at the door.
Hollywood Stadium: The sports bar and restaurant, located in the pavilion, features a variety of burgers, sandwiches, wraps and more. In addition, Hollywood-themed dishes, drinks and specials make an appearance on the menu like the Jack Lemon Drop martini and the “I’ll Have What She’s Having” bananas foster cheesecake.
Final Cut Steakhouse: Located in the pavilion, it’s an upscale restaurant evoking the spirit of 1940s Hollywood. Along with a regular menu featuring steaks, seafood and pastas, a prix fix menu is offered three days a week. Reservations can be made online. Adjacent to the restaurant is a small lounge with piano entertainment.
Epic Buffet: Also in the pavilion, the buffet features a wide range of entrees, sides and desserts and more.
Take Two Deli: sandwiches, pizza, snacks and more are offered at the deli, located inside the casino. The deli is open 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays and from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
151 N. Joliet St., Joliet
Stage 151, located adjacent to but not on the gaming floor, features performances by a variety of local bands. The area features a bar, with a few dozen tables and chairs, as well as a dance floor. It’s not uncommon to see regulars there — some who might sport glow-in-the-dark glasses — dancing near the stage.
“I just like the atmosphere,” said Debra Sweet of Plainfield, who attends shows frequently with her mother. “There’s a lot of regulars. They have fun. They don’t care how bad they dance. They have fun no matter what.”
In the winter, shows are from 8 p.m. to midnight, and in the summer the hours are 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. There is no cover charge.
Sheer Bar: More laid back than Stage 151, Sheer bar has a booth seating and its own music that allows for more conversation. “It’s just for people who want to lounge around,” Fields said.
On some Fridays and Saturdays, a DJ will play on the casino floor. Employees have been known to break into synchronized dances. Harrah’s will also occasionally host special performances in its events center which require tickets, Fields said.
Jan. 24: Maggie Speaks
Jan. 25: Arra
Feb. 1: Dot Dot Dot
Feb. 2: Split Decision
Feb. 8: Two White Crew
Feb. 9: Hairbangers Ball
Feb. 15: Six to Midnight
Feb. 16: Green 13
Paula Deen’s Kitchen: Joliet is the first non-Southern location to host a Paula Deen’s Kitchen. Along with some familiar comfort foods like chicken pot pie that can be ordered ala carte, guests can choose to dine at the restaurant’s buffet. But be clear, it is not a typical casino-type buffet.
“It’s a kitchen with a menu and a buffet option,” Fields said.
Those who want to take a souvenir home to remind them of the celebrity chef can stop at the adjacent gift shop where items for sale range from cooking utensils to butter-flavored lip balm.
Reserve Steakhouse: The 1950s style upscale restaurant has a more romantic atmosphere with low lighting. Eating alone? Diners can sit at the Chef’s Bar and chat with the chefs as they prepare the food and maybe even sample some of the dishes they are working on.
“It’s a nice interactive experience up there,” said Room Chef Tye Nielsen. “We have people that, after they eat up there they’ll never eat in the dining room again.”
Ace’s Diner: features traditional diner fare including burgers and shakes.
Starbucks: its not uncommon to see employees from neighboring businesses and nearby Will County Courthouse run in and grab a cup of Joe to go.
Grand Victoria Casino
250 S. Grove Ave., Elgin
Show Bar: Featuring music Thursday though Sundays, the Show Bar is located on the south end of the casino floor. Guests, who must be 21, can sit at the bar that is directly in front the stage. Some of the seats have video poker screens, others do not. There is also a small dance floor for those who want to let the music move them. There is no cover charge.
Typically, the music on Thursdays and Sundays is more mellow and features old favorites. Thursday’s shows are from 7 to 10 p.m., and Sundays from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday shows, which run 9 to 11:59 p.m. are upbeat and more contemporary.
“We wanted to have a little something for the different types of clientele we have,” said Marilou Pilman, marketing manager of GVC.
The entertainment is managed by Ron Onesti, president and chief executive officer of Onesti Entertainment Corporation and the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles.
Onesti said he is working more national and internationally renowned acts to the Show Bar, which opened in September. In addition, the stage might feature acts that are performing at the nearby Arcada as well.
“We want to bring in national musicians to really make a splash on the boat,” he said.
Jan. 24: Guitarra Azul
Jan. 25: Spoken Four
Jan. 26: Groove Dynasty
Jan. 27: The Meteors
Jan. 31: Sam Savage
Feb. 1: The Moods
Feb. 2: NuBlu with Carlise Guy (daughter of Buddy Guy)
Feb. 3: Jack Miuccio
Prime Burger House: The atmosphere is like an upscale diner, with the promise of “the ultimate burger experience.”
“We have our own butcher shop,” said Marilou Pilman, marketing manager for GVC. “Everything is artisan crafted every day.”
Guests can order cocktails, soft drinks and the famous milkshakes. The shakes come “Leaded” (with alcohol) or “Unleaded” (without).
Buffet: Currently undergoing a major renovation, the Grand Victoria is offering a smaller, temporary buffet in the Fox River Room on the second floor of the pavilion. The new buffet, called Indulge Show Kitchen Buffet, is expected to open at the end of March.
“We’re going to have a variety of things that are actually prepared right before the customers’ eyes,” Pilman said.
Buckinghams Steakhouse and Lounge: The upscale restaurant, which looks as if the Rat Pack would hang out there, features steak and seafood, fine dining and cocktails. Reservations are recommended and can be made at (888) 508-1900.
During construction of the buffet, Buckinghams Lounge is offering a specialty lunch menu Mondays through Fridays. Along with grilled sirloin steak and the catch of the day, hot and cold sandwiches, soups and salads are featured on the special menu.
Crave Deli: Open 24 hours, the deli features sandwiches, salads, ice cream and more.