Several pre-Christmas Fridays ago, I had plans to make a trek out to Goodfield for dinner and a show at Conklin’s “Barn 2” Dinner Theatre, which has been a fixture halfway between Peoria and Bloomington for decades now. It’s one of my favorite places to spend an evening for entertainment and chowing down on one of the best buffets you can find anywhere…I even skipped lunch that day, starving myself in anticipation.
Then the snow happened. The show was canceled for the night, and I found myself stuck at home binging after a full day of starvation….that is, until the next night, when roads out of Goodfield were safe and clear, seats were available, and it was on with the show!
And guess what? You’re coming with.
A turn off Exit 112, then a quick left takes us into the bustling metropolis known as Goodfield, Illinois. A quick little drive through “town” takes us here, and now it’s just a step to the right, and hey, look! Conklin’s Barn 2 Dinner Theatre is located right next to Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Campground.
I always get a kick out of glimpsing the giant Yogi Bear statue that greets you in the distance from the Barn. Obviously, this was not a picture I taken on this trip, but in warmer months. And I didn’t take it, I stole it from flickr (and I thank them for their donation). It’s not exactly camping weather now, so we’ll stick with tonight’s “dinner and a show” option
At last, arrival, and only one day late...thanks snow. Head right, according to the arrow…
In case you were wondering, yes, “the Barn” Dinner Theatre is in fact housed in an old barn that was built in 1940. And not since Mickey Rooney rounded up his gang of Babes in Arms or Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Fucking Kaye could you find a more entertaining time in an old barn.
While the outside is frozen, the inside is welcoming, cozy and quite festive!
Our “raison d’etre” for visiting the Barn this cold winter night is to see my friend (and sometimes MBIP cameo artist) Jimmy LaHood performing in “Deck the Halls,” an original revue full of music and skits, themed of course around the Christmas season. He even plays banjo in this one!
And here he is! Posing with Mary Simon, the Barn’s owner, operator, Managing Director and driving force for nearly 20 years. The whole Barn troupe is a versatile bunch-the performers also serve as technical staff, wait staff, kitchen crew, box office workers, maintenance people, and more! There’s probably nothing this group can’t or won’t do to keep this place operating as the well-oiled machine that it is!
Our seats are up these well-lit stairs on the second level, which is always my favorite place to sit when I visit here!
See what I mean? You get a great view of the stage, as well as the audience below, which provides a great “people watching” opportunity…
But it appears we missed the “Everyone In your Group Should Match” memo. Who’s this “group” I’m speaking of, you ask?
Well, this is my group! The Barn does not serve alcohol, but does have a BYOB policy. I thought that meant “Bring Your Own Babes” but my two dates knew better. Accompanying me tonight on this trip are my girlfriend Jenny and friend Laura Miller-Mansoori, whom devout MBIP readers may remember as “Elaine Robinson” from “The Graduate” which I directed at Corn Stock’s Winter Playhouse back in November. They’re obviously eager for a good time so hey, my life doesn’t suck right now…red or white, what’s your preference?
Greeting us on the table when we arrive are a basket of crackers and a crock of homemade cheese spread...I’m a sucker for cheese crocks, and immediately go to town. And no sooner are we seated than our server/performer (and theatre pal) Dan appears to deliver bowls of the Barn’s homemade Beef Noodle soup. I’m glad I’m hungry. While we wait for our table to be called to the buffet, we also get salads. If you visit the Barn, make sure to request the Parmesan Peppercorn salad dressing, it’s my favorite.
Three courses in folks, and we aren’t even to the buffet yet!
Finally our seats are called and it’s back downstairs to visit the star of the show...as we wait in line, I take time to notice the holiday bric-a-brac, of which there is no shortage here at the Barn...
And I even managed to snag one of those “Marty in the Mirror” style shots thanks to this ancient cigarette machine.
At last! There she is! Boasting four entrees including prime rib and fried chicken, plus a host of sides, I could probably just pull up a chair right here and attack…
But I don’t, for fear of being yelled at (by Jenny, not by the Barn staff—they’re much too friendly to do that). Instead, I pile as much food as I possibly can onto one plate and haul it back up the stairs, which I plan to roll down on the way out. Here’s my plate, stacked with three out of the four entrees, the biggest potato I could find in the bin and two of their outstanding rolls sprinkled with some sort of buttery addictive substance. I ate until I couldn’t eat anymore. I’m also pretty carnivorous, in case you couldn’t tell.
Here’s Jenny’s plate. She’s pretty herbivorous, in case you couldn’t tell. We almost never agree on food, except pizza.
And don’t forget to save room for dessert, since you get four options there as well. Our table of three unanimously agreed on the chocolate mousse.
There’s a bit of downtime between dinner and the show to relax, digest, and chat. I used the opportunity to take some more pics of our surroundings. Make no mistake, we are definitely in a Barn!
Here’s a great shot of the beams that comprise the convex ceiling. According to the Barn’s website, during construction these beams were bent around a huge cement block to create their curve, and the rafters were raised by a combination of manpower and tractor. Cedar shingles were then used to cover the entire roof. I’m sure it made a great cattle barn in its day, but this place makes an even better theatre space now!
Showtime! It’s heresy to take pictures at a live performance (everyone should know that) but the show that followed was a lively bit of fun that’s most welcome at Christmas time, full of laughs, lights and lots of music. There was an audience participation contest, hosted onstage by Barn Director Mary herself, adopting a sort of “fun drunk aunt” persona for the festivities. Her version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” killed!
Intermission! Time to roll down the stairs as planned and relieve myself, and it’s also a great chance to snap a few more pics of the downstairs. The Barn maintains a rustic country charm through its entire look and décor, embracing it’s history as a barn.
The look, feel, and hospitality you find in this place are exactly what you should want and expect out of a place in the middle of the country like this. They value their audiences immensely and are very gracious to those who visit!
Cast photos of (I think) every single production in the Barn’s history line their walls—a fun collection to stop and look through on your way back to your seat. Of particular interest, at least for myself, are the early/mid-90s photos, when the Barn saw a phase of bringing in guest performers familiar to us all from television and movies to star in their shows—most notable to me were Larry Linville (Frank Burns from M*A*S*H) and Barry Williams (Greg Brady)!
And hey! If any of your Christmas presents bombed this year, you can redeem yourself to someone special by purchasing gift certificates and hosting a trip out to The Barn, which has a great slate of entertaining shows lined up for 2014, all of which are bound to be hilarious I’m sure, including a 2014 edition of their Christmas revue, starting next November. Plan early, as tickets disappear fast…
After the show, it’s back through that warm cozy lobby and outside again to face the cold, the frozen car windows, and the trek back home. Although it’s too dark to see him in the distance, I’m sure Yogi still stands there at the entrance to Jellystone with that frozen wave and his smarter-than-your-average-bear smile, reminding us to come back soon (but maybe when it’s a bit warmer.)