McHenry Outdoor Theater ushering out the old, updating snack bar

A fine line exists between nostalgia and just old. So Scott Dehn, owner of the McHenry Outdoor Theater, is getting rid of some of the old.

Nostalgia is in the drive-in's original popcorn machine, the old film projector and the movie memorabilia he found in the concession stand over the years, Dehn said.

The "just old" included the concession stand. It hasn't seen a real update since the drive-in opened in 1947, he said.

In January, Dehn began a major renovation of the building. Sponsored by The Bremer Team and Realtor Dawn Bremer of McHenry, the concession stand is in the middle of an update to the kitchen with new counters and floors, as well as updated bathrooms. For the first time ever, the front windows will open for actual airflow, he said.

The drive-in also now has a beer and wine liquor license. The concession stand, centered in the middle of the lot, will be known as the Bremer Team Tap House and Snack Bar.

"We were old. This is adding new life" to the drive-in, Dehn said of the remodel.

Dehn has owned the drive-in theater at 1510 Chapel Hill Road in Lakemoor (but with a McHenry address) since 2012.

He's been friends with Bremer for a long time, too.

The two were having breakfast late last year when Bremer mentioned she'd like to do something with a movie theater. Her father was a huge movie buff, Bremer said, telling Dehn, "One day it would be cool if I had something to do with the drive-in" in his memory.

"He said, 'Sponsor the concession stand, and I will rename it after you,'" Bremer said.

In addition to helping fund the renovations, Bremer will sponsor free popcorn on Monday nights. Visitors who mention "The Bremer Team" as they pay at the box office will get a voucher for free popcorn, Dehn said.

The sponsorship will appear on a beer tent set in front of the screen before the movies start. The Lakemoor Village Board approved the liquor license in April 2022.

As cars enter the lot, the driver's hand will be stamped, Dehn said. All of the concession staff will receive Illinois' Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training, Dehn said. Beer will be sold in cans, and wine sold in plastic, single-serve bottles.

His patrons always have brought in their own food and likely their own alcohol, too. "This gives us control on what is consumed," he said.

"It is impossible to patrol" for those bringing in their own alcohol to the theater, and Lakemoor and McHenry County officers have always been good about watching for drivers who may have overindulged, he said.

This is the second year in a row that Dehn has updated the drive-in. Last year, he spent $40,000 renovating the six-story high screen.

"Last year, we focused on the external and the screen. Now we are doing the inside. It was desperately in need of a rehab," Dehn said.

The projector was updated to digital 10 years ago when online votes scored Dehn a win from Honda. The theater was given the $130,000 digital projector in that promotion.

Plans are to open for the season May 5, featuring "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" and "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania."

There should be several blockbusters for film watchers this season, including the next "Indiana Jones" installment, the live-action "Little Mermaid" and the latest film in the "John Wick" series.

Bremer said her favorite film genre tends toward romance, but she also enjoys the Keanu Reeves-starring "John Wick" films.

"I love the 'John Wick' series. But part of watching movies with me ... I cover up a lot and make people tell me what is happening" when the scenes are too intense.

Bremer also gets nostalgic when talking about what movies mean to her and what they meant to her father. Before her father died 10 years ago, they went to a movie in Barrington. The staff there, knowing her dad had cancer, gave him popcorn and made sure he was comfortable, she said.

"It was the last movie I saw with my dad," Bremer said.

It is the "after the movie" part between her and her father she reminisces about the most.

"Sharing the popcorn and the endless conversations ... guessing how the ending would be, how we would make it different" was part of her dad-and-daughter movie nights, she said. "My dad was maybe not the best communicator, but movies were a great way to have that communication."

The concession stand and bathrooms are getting a makeover before the McHenry Outdoor Theater opens for the season May 5. Gregory Shaver/
Scott Dehn
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