There’s nothing wrong with conference centers with air walls and smart boards; they get the job done — and do it well — when it comes to meetings.
But moving events into historic buildings, tropical gardens or even a working 160-year-old train station shifts expectations and gets attendees into a different place, both physically and mentally.
The Prairie Street Brewhouse in Rock Island, Illinois, was a storage warehouse and laundry facility for decades before it was returned to its brewery roots, and the Two Brothers Roundhouse, in a circular limestone building, welcomes private events as well as Amtrak passengers. Illinois has no shortage of unique venues, and these are some of the state’s standouts.
Two Brothers Roundhouse
The last stop on the BNSF Metra line out of Chicago is the Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora. The limestone facility was built in 1856 to service, store and turn around locomotives. Today, it houses Two Brothers Artisan Brewing, along with its restaurant and event spaces; but it’s still a working station, and with exposed limestone walls and overhead iron beams, it was built to handle the traffic.
“You can see the trains pulling in and out, but there’s no shaking, no loud noises,” said Lori Simonsen in banquet sales.
The historic circular building surrounds a courtyard with a central gazebo where as many as 1,000 people enjoy live music during summer concerts and events. Although the gazebo is popular for wedding ceremonies, the courtyard can be tough for private events because it’s open to the public.
Inside, in addition to the restaurant, a cafe serves Two Brothers roasted coffee, and a lounge is being converted into a tasting room for spirits “because we’re putting a distillery in there as well,” Simonsen said.
A curved, 8,900-square-foot ballroom has an exposed limestone wall and glass windows that overlook an adjoining private terrace. The Stout and Lager rooms can be used separately or combined for events of up to 130 people. The Tavern is a nightclub with a stage and mezzanine area that can be used, usually on weeknights, for private events for up to 200 people.
Prairie Street Brewhouse
In 1857, 10 years after Jonathan Peacock immigrated to America, he built his brewhouse and bottling plant on the banks of the Rock River in Rockford, Illinois. The Prairie Street Brewing Co. opened in the building nearly 160 years later, returning it to its brewing roots. Today the brick structure houses the brewery, a brewpub, two bars, event space and residential lofts; it also has a marina and a dock.
With so many different levels and rooms in the brick building, groups could hold several events there on the same day without ever using the same space twice.
“It’s a neat feeling when you walk through the building; it feels really layered and laid out in a unique way, so you feel like you’re exploring,” said Nathan McDonald, creative director at the Prairie Street Brewing Co.
On the main level, the 6,000-square-foot Barrel Room can seat up to 300 people for meals, and 70 guests can enjoy a plated meal in the adjacent 1,500-square-foot Malt Room. Also on the main level is the brewpub restaurant, which, along with a catering kitchen, handles food for events.
On the lower level, the Ice Cellar is a 1,500-square-foot lounge with a copper-counter bar and 10 draft lines. Last year, the brewery opened another bar and dining area on the lower level facing the marina. The Dockside Taproom sits just off the dock and has a nice patio, McDonald said.
The dock is a popular event venue for riverfront receptions and even has a stage for a live band. Typical receptions use a part of the dock that can hold about 300 people, but when the entire space is opened, such as for Dinner on the Dock events, the dock can hold about 1,000 people.
Planners can also arrange to have the brewery do one of its themed, five-course, meal-and-beer-pairing dinners for their group.