DIXON – The summer sun started to sink lower into the horizon.
The dinner crowed thinned, but the cocktail crowd remained – most seated at the sunken bar, a couple seated at the video gaming machines tucked in the corner.
A burst of laughter from nearly everyone in the bar, including the bartenders, interrupted hushed conversations at dinner tables over picked-over plates of burgers, fried chicken and steaks in the adjacent lounge.
“That,” said Chuck Miller, general manager of the Celebration Lounge inside The Brandywine just west of Dixon, “that is what we hoped for. Those are 12 strangers who now are friends. That is really what we wanted for this place: You say your name the first time (you come here), and we know it the second time you come in.”
The Brandywine is known for its banquets and special events, but the facility – which has a retro lounge feel to it – sat empty in the off-season.
“It’s too beautiful a place to sit empty so long,” Miller said. “People have an emotional tie to this place. They went to prom here, they attended a wedding here. People who come here are usually celebrating something.”
The Celebration Lounge opened in late November. The Brandywine staff wanted to capitalize on the connection many locals have to the place – hence the name of the restaurant.
“Maybe it’s a birthday or an anniversary. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe it’s just celebrating life,” Miller said. “We wanted to make a fun atmosphere.”
The Celebration Lounge offers live music every night, with a different style offered every night, Tuesday through Saturday.
The restaurant has a small menu that is filled with casual-dining staples – salads; burgers, wraps and sandwiches; and chicken, steak and seafood dinners – and peppered with off-the-beaten path dishes, such as the fried green tomato sliders topped with goat cheese or the Jackpot burger, piled high with macaroni and cheese and bacon on a soft telera roll.
The menu also includes all-you-can eat fried chicken and fish on the weekends.
The response, so far, has been positive, Miller said. The weekends are busy, and, in fact, a recent Friday night was among one of the busiest nights yet, he added.
“We just want people to come in here and have a good time – get a good dinner, listen to some good music, and have a good time.”
Get a look at the lounge
The Celebration Lounge at The Brandywine, 441 state Route 2, Dixon, is open Tuesday through Sunday. Hours vary seasonally; go to www.brandywinedixon.com or call 815-284-8484 for current hours or more information.