No gambling required to enjoy trappings at Illinois casinos
By Kathy Cichon March 6, 2013 5:25PM
The Hollywood Stadium & Sports Bar at the Hollywood Casino Joliet
Updated: March 7, 2013 7:36PM
Close to midnight, the Lisa Rene 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-along.
“Sweet Caroline ... bum, bum, bum,” the crowd eagerly shouts.
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, nongaming, entertainment options there as well. And some are free.
At Harrah’s Joliet, home to no-cover-charge Stage 151 (where the aforementioned Neil Diamond moment occurred recently), it’s about trying to connect to the community with activities 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.”
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.
A bit of the city atmosphere has come to Hollywood Casino Joliet since its new nightclub Reve opened 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.”
Here’s a look at entertainment and dining options at area casinos:
HOLLYWOOD CASINO AURORA
HOLLYWOOD CASINO AURORA
Center Stage: As the name implies, the stage is located 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. The venue opened last summer and features a variety of music acts from throughout the area.
While the audience age ranges from young adults to seniors, those attending must be at least 21 because the stage is on the casino floor.
Upcoming shows (9 p.m. start):
♦ March 8: Frank and Dave
♦ March 9: Planet Groove
♦ March 15: Hi Infidelity
♦ March 16: Blarney Fife
Epic Buffet: Located just off the gaming floor, the buffet features a variety of dishes from comfort foods to ethnic cuisine. Diners can be adventurous and mix their own soda using the Coke Freestyle machine, which offers more than 100 possible drink choices.
Fairbanks Steak House: Located upstairs, Fairbanks is 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 for a sandwich, burger and more.
HOLLYWOOD CASINO JOLIET
777 Hollywood Blvd., Joliet, (888) 436-7737; hollywoodcasinojoliet.com
Hollywood Stadium: The sports bar and restaurant is home to the casino’s main stage, which features music on Fridays and Saturdays (with occasional weekday shows). Multiple TVs let viewers watch various sports and tournaments, including an 80-by-20-foot screen above the bar.
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 shows, which feature local and regional acts performing a variety of music including rock, country and R&B.
Upcoming Shows (9 p.m. start)
♦ March 9: Hey Jimmy
♦ March 15: Infinity
♦ March 16: Almost Famous
♦ March 17: Sixteen Candles
Celebrity Pit: Located on the lower-level gaming floor, the pit features celebrity look-alike dealers — think Cher, Marilyn Monroe 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, usually from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Reve: The name of the new 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 the casino floor (in the space formerly occupied by the buffet), Reve is open Fridays and Saturdays (the ultra lounge will be open from 5 to 9 p.m.; nightclub from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.). Online RSVP at www.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 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 range of entrees, sides, 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; (815) 740-7800; www.harrahsjoliet.com
Stage 151: Located adjacent to but not on the gaming floor, it features performances by local bands. The area features a bar with a few dozen tables and chairs, as well as a dance floor. 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 booth seating and its own music that allows for more conversation.
Upcoming shows (9 p.m. start):
♦ March 8: Hillbilly Rockstarz
♦ March 9: Slippery When Wet
Paula Deen’s Kitchen: Joliet is the first non-Southern location to host a Paula Deen’s Kitchen. Along with familiar comfort foods like chicken pot pie that can be ordered a la carte, guests can choose to dine at the restaurant’s buffet. 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.
“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.
GRAND VICTORIA CASINO
250 S. Grove Ave., Elgin; (847) 468-7000; grandvictoriacasino.com
Show Bar: Featuring music Thursdays 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 directly in front the stage. Some 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.
♦ March 9: Bagshot Row
♦ March 10: Flat Cats
♦ March 15: The Tony Ocean Show
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.
Guests can order cocktails, soft drinks and the famous milkshakes. The shakes come “Leaded” (with alcohol) or “Unleaded” (without).
GVC Buffet: 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.
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.
Crave Deli: Open 24 hours, the deli features sandwiches, salads, ice cream and more.
3000 S. River Road, Des Plaines; (847) 795-0777 riverscasino.com/desplaines
The Cube: This ever-morphing, multipurpose bar, ultra lounge, live band section of the casino transforms as needed for live performance, nightclub dancing or sports bar. A state-of-the-art A/V system with LED backdrop screens as well as an outdoor patio with a fireplace round out the amenities.
Upcoming shows (9 p.m. start):
March 10: Rock Band Karaoke, karaoke with your own LIVE band!
March 12: Suburban Cowboys
March 14: Too White Crew
FLIPT: The casual grill serves freshly made, cooked-to-order burgers, specialty sandwiches, salads, fries, onion rings and homemade milkshakes and more.
Hugo’s Frog Bar and Chop House: The fine-dining restaurant features Gibsons Prime Angus Beef, as well as lobster tails, king crab legs, fresh fish and seafood, salads and sandwiches.
MianBar: Quick-service (read: small) Asian “bar” features traditional noodles dishes.
Canopy Buffet: The upscale buffet features fresh-prepared cuisine with ingredients delivered daily for the nine different stations including: salads, homemade soups, pizzas, Italian cuisine, carving stations, comfort food featuring a vertical rotisserie and an Asian station including sushi and seafood. Most dishes are cooked in small batches and presented tapas style.
Lotus Lounge: This cocktail lounge in the middle of the casino features big comfy chairs, custom cocktails and custom-crafted brews by Chicago’s Half Acre Beer Co.
Cathy Chicon is a local freelance writer.