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Lyons: Drive-in one of the county’s business gems

When you’ve lived in the same area a long time, you have favorite haunts that you’ve visited many times but never are bored each time you return.

One of those places for my family is the McHenry Outdoor Theater. It was as though it never existed in our previous kid-free lifestyle, but it’s become a can’t-miss summer event to throw a few stadium chairs into the back of the SUV and head to the drive-in on a Friday or Saturday evening.

Growing up in the south suburbs, I have fond memories of seeing mostly awful 1970s movies such as “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger” at the drive-in in northwest Indiana. But there are very few of these places left.

We’ve gone to the McHenry Outdoor Theater on Chapel Hill Road just as a family, in groups with friends, and I even took the kids myself once this summer while my wife was out of town. That was the first time we made it through the whole double feature. OK, for the record, the 7-year-old made it through the double feature while the then-3-year-old and I snoozed in the back of the SUV for “Ice Age 13: Pray for Extinction.”

Everyone has his or her own reasons for loving the McHenry Outdoor: the quaint 1950s vibe, throwing a football or a baseball around with the kids before dark, having a picnic under the stars, or seeing a movie on a huge screen like it was meant to be seen.

For me, it’s even simpler. Somewhere between most Pixar films and the saccharine glow of the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon that now haunts the rec room, I lost my tolerance for most kids’ movies. I do want to spend time, particularly weekends, with my kids while they still want me around. But when it comes to animated mastodons voiced by sitcom stars, I shift to a cognitive dissonance psychological state during family time.

After we’ve had some fun, the movie starts. I can watch for a bit. Check some baseball scores on my phone. Definitely fire up a cigar and possibly enjoy an adult beverage depending on the company, and the kids are having a blast. The drive-in film itself is inconsequential.

Want proof? I sat through “The Smurfs.” Need more? Didn’t think so.

Anyway, the other great thing about the drive-in is that it’s a terrific value, which it probably needs to be to survive as a business. But at the moment, it could use some help as film studios have been converting to a digital format that will require updated projectors, which the McHenry Outdoor doesn’t have.

This weekend, the McHenry Outdoor is hosting its Drive to Stay Alive fundraiser featuring “Jaws” and “Back to the Future.” There also will be raffles, live entertainment and the DeLorean and hoverboard featured on the “Back to the Future” film series.

The McHenry Outdoor Theater – Golden Age Cinema Facebook page has more information if you’re interested in helping maintain this local business treasure. They’re hoping to raise $130,000 for the new projector.


Best of luck to the many runners from our readership area who are heading downtown this weekend for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, especially my wife, Maria Lyons, who’s running her first marathon. Her significantly lazier but proud spouse will be cheering her on with our equally proud kids.

No stadium chairs, cigars or cognitive dissonance on Sunday. You go, girl!

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at

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