Meeting planners don’t have to settle for hosting their events in mundane locations. Illinois has several truly unique event venues, including museums and a vintage theater, that offer everything from entertainment and outdoor adventures to wine dinners.
National Great Rivers Museum
The National Great Rivers Museum’s mission is to introduce visitors to the Mississippi River and the impact it has had on the United States and its history. Established in 2003, the facility is a collaboration between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Meeting of the Rivers Foundation. It explains the Mississippi River as a commodity, a habitat and a geological formation.
The 12,000-square-foot museum hosts interactive exhibits, a theater and an outdoor landscape. The building is adjacent to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam, which was built in 1994 as part of the nine-foot navigational channel maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. The facility sits between two confluence points of the Mississippi River. Upstream of the structure, the Illinois River flows into the Mississippi and just downstream, the Missouri flows in.
Visitors have an opportunity to take a 45–60-minute tour of the structure, which takes them 80 feet into the air for amazing views of the river. Groups can schedule private tours as well.
The museum has a multipurpose room with A/V that can host groups of 50 to 60 for catered meals. The theater can seat 110 and has a large screen for speakers. The Esplanade Pavilion, just east of the museum, provides an outdoor riverfront setting for special events. Groups hosting events there can schedule tours of the museum in advance through the local tourism bureau.
The inspiration for Gone Social, an entertainment complex in Peoria, came from a married couple’s fun experience in an escape room.
“I loved the challenge and communication aspect of it,” said Gone Social owner Sara Ruder. “From a design and build perspective, my husband loved it.”
A friend of the Ruders decided to sell them the escape rooms he had developed. They founded Gone in 60 Escape Games in 2017. The following year, they built their first escape room from scratch and decided to quit their day jobs and work for their new company full time.
They leased another building to house an axe-throwing venue called Gone Axe Throwing with a kitchen and a bar. Sara wanted to add a Rage room, but her husband wasn’t convinced. After the COVID-19 shutdowns, they decided people needed an outlet for their anger so in October 2020, they opened Gone Mad Rage Room. Eventually they merged all three venues into one location with pinball, arcade games and live music.
The venue can host groups of 250 for corporate events or team building. Groups can add live music to their events and use the stage area for lectures or speeches. The facility has expanded its menu and has a bigger selection of catering options to choose from, including traditional bar food, pastas, salads, flatbreads, taco bars, sandwiches and appetizers.
The Orpheum Champaign
The Orpheum Champaign is a historic theater in downtown Champaign that was built in 1914 as a vaudeville theater and eventually became a movie house. In the 1990s it was converted to a children’s science museum. That establishment moved out during COVID, and the theater was turned into an event space for weddings, meetings and small performances.
The theater’s interior design was modeled after an opera house at the Palace of Versailles in France and features ornamental plaster work, gold and maroon accents. The theater was fully restored several years ago to preserve some of its vintage charm. The current owners added vintage rugs, couches, tables and chairs, which can be used for events.
There are several spaces in the building that can be rented out. The lobby can be used for setting up, decorating and check-in tables. A classic staircase goes up to the second level where there is additional seating and an alcove with a bar. If groups rent the lobby, they can also use the second-level balcony that overlooks the lobby.
Just off the lobby is an area that used to house retail shops. Those have since been combined into a larger meeting space that can fit up to 50 people. The historic theater space can accommodate groups of 250. The stage is a dramatic space with high ceilings that can be combined with the main theater space or rented out separately.
Lynfred Winery opened in 1979 in a historic home that was built in 1912. The founders restored the structure, preserving its original details, and converted it into a winemaking operation. The 18-inch-thick cellar walls provided the perfect temperature control for aging wines. They produced 5,000 gallons of wine across seven varieties when they first opened their doors. In 1990, the Lynfreds broke ground on a 24,000-square-foot winemaking facility, which opened in 1997 with an oaken tasting room, custom stained-glass windows and a four-suite bed and breakfast.
The winery attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year and has much to offer groups. Standard daily tours last an hour and feature visits to the property’s wine production area and a guided sampling of seven Lynfred wines. Evening tours feature a guided sampling of eight specially selected Lynfred wines in the tasting room, as well as gourmet bread and cheese. Groups may request a private room for an additional fee for a maximum of 25 guests.
The Sip and Savor experience allows up to 50 guests to sample eight Lynfred wines paired with a cheese tray.
Chestnut Mountain Resort
Chestnut Mountain Resort is a full-service 99-room slope-side lodge that offers on-site dining, plus an indoor pool, sauna, whirlpool and electronic game room. The resort can host meeting groups of up to 250 people. It has three event rooms over 1,000 square feet and two large guest rooms that can accommodate meetings of 20 or fewer.
The resort is perfect for groups that love to enjoy the outdoors year-round. During the winter months, attendees can get out on the slopes for skiing or snowboarding. The resort has 19 ski runs ranging from novice to black diamond. The Farside is a large terrain park that contains more than 25 rails and an array of features served by its own triple chair lift and surface lift.
During the summer, the resort has an alpine slide that stretches 2,050 feet down the hill to the banks of the Mississippi River. The Farside Mountain Bike Park offers lift-serviced downhill mountain biking trails. The area features a zipline and a 75- to 90-minute Segway tour that takes guests on a three-mile ride across the resort’s mountain terrain. A 1.5-hour Mississippi River cruise offers guests a chance to see the Mississippi River and its wildlife while learning about the history and geography of the area. There is an 18-hole miniature golf course and a nine-hole disc golf course, and guests can rent bikes.