Castle Theatre shuts its doors

In a newsletter sent out yesterday, January 4, owner Ben Slotky confirmed that the Castle Theatre, 209 E. Washington, Bloomington, IL, has closed. “This was a really hard decision to make,” writes Slotky, who spent two years refurbishing the Castle before launching it as a “brew-and-view” venue in 2003. “The Castle has been a huge part of my life for the past seven years, and it’s just really unbelievably hard for me to close this place down … I couldn’t throw in the towel until I knew I did every single thing I could possibly do to make it work.” The message offers no further explanation for the closing.

Originally programmed to counter the Hollywood offerings at Bloomington-Normal’s multiplexes in hopes of attracting a diverse crowd, including the student bodies of Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University, the Castle had become increasingly reliant on family-friendly movies over the past year. (The last two features to play the Castle, FLUSHED AWAY and THE NATIVITY STORY, are indicative of this direction.) Slotky also experimented with his line-up by scheduling live bands and stand-up comedians during weeknights as well as presenting television broadcasts as big-screen events, including Chicago Bears football games and the annual Academy Awards show.

According to Anthony Zoubek‘s book, P.O.V.: Reaction Shots from the Brew and View Balcony Seats (AuthorHouse, 2006), Slotky purchased the Castle building in June 2001 from an eccentric who had overrun the premesis with garbage and knick-knacks since its prior closing in 1988. The new owner envisioned a return to the “main event” status that moviegoing once enjoyed, without kowtowing to nostalgia – the Castle dates back to 1916 – or resorting to a bargain-price, second-run M.O. (The proprietors of the “brew and view” that briefly inhabited Urbana’s Thunderbird Theatre in the mid-Nineties operated under the latter mind-set.) Slotky opened for business in May 2003 with the ensemble comedy, A MIGHTY WIND.

“Don’t think for a second that you’ve seen the last of me just yet,” promises Slotky in the newsletter.

– Jason Pankoke

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