It’s possible to find Broadway-level theater productions in places other than on Broadway, but you may be surprised to know that one of those venues is in a town 40 miles west of Chicago, in the Fox River Valley.
Pretty Aurora, Illinois is known for spectacular “Broadway in the ‘Burbs” musicals at the restored 1931 Art Deco-style Paramount Theatre downtown; at its opening, it was the only air-conditioned building in Illinois outside of Chicago.
For a fun and affordable evening in Aurora, here’s what I would recommend….
Dinner and Brews at the Roundhouse
Craft beer fans may have a hard time getting out of here before the curtain rises over at the Paramount, because Two Brothers Roundhouse offers a variety of good gastropub food – including a few more exotic offerings like Bison Meatloaf – plus all kinds of microbrews: Domaine DuPage French Country Ale, Cane and Ebel Red Rye Ale (the Two Brothers are Jason and Jim Ebel,) Prairie Path Golden Ale and Ebel’s Weiss Hefeweizen.
The building itself is on the National Register of Historic Places; it’s the only remaining full limestone railroad locomotive roundhouse left in the United States, and it’s huge at 70,000 square feet….although the building is round….how do you measure square feet in a round building? Anyway….
In addition to the restaurant and brewing sections, there are live music venues, an outdoor area and an events room.
Enjoy the Theater
Some time before or after seeing the production onstage, wander through the Paramount and admire the many Art Deco touches.
I particularly liked the elaborate lighting fixtures and painted ceilings.
There is a newer, expanded lobby that was added in 2006, but it blends tastefully with the 1931 decor.
Relax After in a Riverside Pub or Restaurant
Part of central Aurora is an island in the middle of the Fox River, so there are lots of ways to relax waterside. The Ballydoyle Irish Pub and Restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating, so pick whichever one you prefer, depending on the weather. While you’re there, ask to see the secret room entrance!
I can also tell you that the bartender at Chef Amaury at 33 West across the street from Ballydoyle can mix a mean custom cocktail. Cucumber was somehow involved in mine, and it was divine.
If you’re in Chicago, I recommend going to Aurora on the Metra train service from Chicago’s downtown Union Station; the station where you’ll arrive in Aurora is attached to the Two Brothers Roundhouse, and there’s even a nicely-appointed Comfort Inn right next door, if you’d care to spend the night.
One of many towns along the historic Lincoln Highway, the Aurora area also has some interesting architectural attractions including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s modern glass Farnsworth House and over one hundred Sears catalog homes, but I’ll have to wait for a return visit to see them.
(Disclosure: I was a guest of the Aurora Area CVB – Convention and Visitors Bureau – during my short visit to town; they paid for my dinner at Two Brothers, and Public Relations Director Laurie DiBerardino showed me around town, making a lot of quick and usually legal turns with the car when I’d say, “Do we have time to go see that over there?” Any visitor can get ideas and itineraries from the CVB, so ask! )