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USA: Chicago

The Historic Route 66 in Chicago

by Bob Glaze

With travel plans being canceled and more and more of us staying in Chicago due to the pandemic, there are many Chicago suburbs and neighborhoods that we can explore for a fun experience without having to jump on a plane and fly. Over the next few months, I am going to share some of my recent finds and ideas that I hope you will enjoy and use to explore on your own.

One of the most celebrated American highways, Route 66 or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System, that stretched over 2,400 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, CA. It ran through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before ending in California.  Portions today have been designated as the Historic Route 66. It was established in 1926 and lasted for nearly sixty years. The decline came about due to the building of the Interstate Highway System starting in 1956.

Today, you can visit the starting point located at the corner of Adams St. and S. Michigan Ave. The sign marking the end is located at the corner of Jackson Blvd. and S. Michigan Ave. across from Grant Park. That was the original starting location, but that changed when the boulevard was made a one-way street heading east.

Some of the local highlights of the highway that still exist include:

The Berghoff Restaurant opened in 1898, after Herman Berghoff”s beer stand at the 1893 World’s Fair became very popular. It first offered free sandwiches with the purchase of a nickel beer. During prohibition, it became known for its authentic German food. When Prohibition was lifted, Herman was able to procure the city’s first ever liquor license, opening up The Berghoff Bar while still running the restaurant. The building is located at 17 W. Adams St. which is on Route 66. Not only was it a popular establishment for locals, but it was also a favorite destination for Route 66 travelers. I still remember the first time I went, while on my first trip to Chicago with my parents in 1963! I can still taste the sauerbraten that I ordered!

In 2006, it closed for a year, but was soon reopened by the fourth generation of family members. You will be so glad that it is still around!! Carrying on the tradition of Herman’s first brewery that he opened in Indiana, they recently added the Adams Street Brewery on the premises.

Near the Berghoff, and also on Rt. 66, is the Marquette Building. Constructed in 1895, it was designed by the famed architects Holabird and Root. It formerly housed the offices of more than thirty railroad companies. The two-story lobby contains some incredible Tiffany mosaics depicting scenes of the expeditions of Father Jacques Marquette, the French Jesuit missionary explorer in the 17th Century. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. 140 S. Dearborn.

With the rerouting of the westbound part of the highway, in 1953, the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world’s best art museums, became part of the highway’s corridor.

Lou Mitchell’s, a popular breakfast and lunch spot, is a Chicago diner that has been a local institution since 1923. It is located along the original Route 66. You can find a large number of egg and pancake dishes along with salads, burgers, and sandwiches. The neon sign, tables, and booths are from the 1949 remodeling. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. 565 W. Jackson Blvd.

Miller’s Pub, a Chicago institution since 1935, became a popular spot for Route 66 travelers at its location near Adams and Wabash. It was purchased in 1952 and moved around the corner to 134 S. Wabash in 1989. I recently went back after many years and enjoyed a great turkey reuben for lunch. I really enjoyed the traditional atmosphere, excellent service, and the great food. The menu features a large selection of sandwiches, salads, and burgers. They are known for their BBQ ribs. The rooms are decorated with autographed photos from many of the celebrities, from Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe, who have dined there over the years.

I recently visited the Castle Car Wash building west of downtown Chicago at 3801 W. Ogden in the North Lawndale neighborhood.  Though not open now, the building was built by Louis Ehrenberer in 1925 as a gas station and garage. There have also been rumors of it being used as a hideout for the infamous gangster, Al Capone

Located in suburban Willowbrook, IL, 25 miles from the start of the highway, is Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket. Opened in the early 1940s and originally known as National Chicken Basket, it was a gas station lunch counter that became popular for its delectable fried chicken. It later was transformed into a restaurant only. After some financial difficulties, it was taken over in 1963 by Delbert “Dell” Rhea and his wife. It has a casual roadhouse atmosphere and continues to have great food. I chose the lunch buffet where I was able to try the chicken and some of their other specialties. It was inducted into the Route 66 Hall of Fame in June 1992 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. 645 Joliet Rd.

My goal is to visit more Route 66 destinations in Illinois and in other states. Next on my list is the Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum in Pontiac, IL, the Rialto Theater in Joliet from 1926, and the Old Route 66 Family Restaurant, a casual diner in Dwight, IL.


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