McHenry Outdoor Theater will premiere movie season early this year

It’s not the strangely warm February temperatures that have Scott Dehn set to open the Golden Age Cinemas’ McHenry Outdoor Theater more than a month early this year.

Instead, it was adding heating systems to the snack bar that will give drive-in movie fans a few extra weeks at the area landmark.

“Everyone sees the new counters and the new bathrooms” that were installed at the start of the 2023 season, Dehn said. But heat in the concession stand and projection booth meant he didn’t need to winterize the outdoor theater at 1510 N. Chapel Hill Road just outside McHenry.

“That allowed us to be open into the winter and to open earlier in the spring,” Dehn said.

Way back 25 years ago, when Dehn first became part of the drive-in management, the theater would open the first weekend in May and close when school started in mid-August. He went on to purchase the theater in 2012.

Last year, he stayed open on weekends until Dec. 17, showing “Elf” and “Christmas Vacation” before closing for winter. “I was really impressed with the response from the public on this one,” Dehn said of the late season.

  The national anthem played when the McHenry Outdoor Theater opened for the season in April 2021. Brian Hill/

This year, on opening night March 22, he will show “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” and remain open for the week, which happens to match when many area schools are out for spring break. After spring break week, Dehn’s drive-in goes back to Friday and Saturday nights until Memorial Day weekend, when the theater will open seven days a week until schools reopen in the fall, Dehn said.

Dehn has spent the past two years making upgrades to the theater. In 2022, those upgrades were the six-story-high screen, followed by the concession stand work.

That 2023 renovation – the first major update to it since the drive-in opened in 1947 – was sponsored by Bremer Reality and its owner, Dawn Bremer. The snack bar, now with a liquor license, is called the Bremer Team Tap House and Snack Bar.

The local real estate firm went on to co-sponsor the “Barbie” movie opening, a trunk-and-treat event at Halloween, and free popcorn on Monday nights.

This week, Bremer took delivery of 10,000 plastic Easter eggs, part of a “ginormous” Easter egg hunt planned for 3 p.m. March 24. Not all the eggs will have candy in them, Bremer said, but children who collect eggs will win prizes hidden in some of them.

Businesses that want to donate candy for the eggs and help pack them can contact Bremer. A link to register for the hunt is available on the McHenry Outdoor Theater Facebook page.

Partnering with Bremer and other community groups has allowed the theater to branch out in its offerings “and expand awareness that we are here,” Dehn added.

Other offerings this year include an ordering app for the Bremer Snack Bar. Customers can order their food and have it waiting on a pickup shelf in the concession stand. “It is a better and more effective way for them to get back to their movie,” he said.

The establishment is also promoting a “Movies and You” champagne night, where a lucky couple will win a monthly “very special private area” with dinner ordered from an area restaurant, Bremer said. More special events are in the works, too.

“What I think I like about this season, with Dawn and her staff, is branching out and experiencing something unique that only this community can appreciate,” Dehn said.

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