Route 66 roadies:  indoor tours this Thursday on the route, thanks to CAF

Greetings, Route 66 roadies!  Whatcha doin’ this coming Thursday??  That would be December 11th.  Really:  aren’t you tired of people whining about how you can only see the northern end of Route 66 in the summer?  SO untrue!!  Everyone complains about the weather, but you can still tour the route if you’re clever.  “Make no little plans, for they have no magic to stir men’s blood,” as the great Daniel Burnham said, and work in two or three the same day.  And stay nice and dry, too, for the most part.  Genius!

If you’re in Chicago, there are FOUR Route 66 landmarks you can tour indoors this week on Thursday (one at a time!), two of them thanks to the lovely docents of the Chicago Architecture Foundation.  These individual building tours take you places that the general tours (and the general public) don’t get to visit.  Most CAF walking tours run about $15, unless you’re a CAF member (then they’re free; it’s well worth becoming a member if you plan to do more than two tours a year.  Tell Santa you want a membership for Christmas or Hanukkah!).  We hasten to add that we will be starting up CuriousTraveler Tours in 2015, and we’ll be doing all these Route 66 buildings in custom tours as well — but if you’re in town now or coming for the holidays, CAF is your default choice at the moment.

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago  (photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago (photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago at Jackson boulevard and LaSalle Street welcomes your visit to its Money Museum between 8:30am and 5:00pm Mondays through Fridays — except, of course, on bank holidays (heehee!).  It’s free, and you can get a photo of yourself with:

1. With your face as the center of a bill,
2. With a $1M briefcase, or
3. With the display case of $1M in $1 bills (that’s a lot of bills), as opposed to the $1 million piles of $20s and $100s.

Next, just down LaSalle Street, is the Rookery Building, aka just The Rookery, designed by Burnham & Root; according to a Chicago magazine poll a few years ago, it’s Chicagoans’ favorite building in our fair city.  Where  else do you get a combo of Burnham, John W. Root and Frank Lloyd Wright??  Nowhere!!!

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Route 66 history:   John B. Drake’s dinners and the Grand Pacific, part 2

Welcome!  When we left you last time, the Tremont House had just succumbed to the Great Chicago Fire.  John B. Drake, founder of the Drake hotel dynasty, was associated with the Tremont House hotel until 1873, when he bought the lease and furnishings of the rebuilt Grand Pacific Hotel and was once again able to offer his guests a high standard of luxury and service.  Thus, Drake was able to conduct his annual great game dinners every Thanksgiving in three successive locations:  the two Tremont Houses and the Grand Pacific on Jackson Boulevard, which became an unofficial salon for wealthy Republicans, just as the Palmer House was a hangout for the city’s affluent and powerful Democrats.

Those great game dinners might have lasted years longer had Drake not unexpectedly butted heads with another famous Chicagoan, one who had a mercenary attitude on real estate:  Levi Z. Leiter, a former partner of Marshall Field.  Field and Leiter had a troubled professional relationship.  In 1881, they disagreed one time too many over business strategy:  Leiter thought the wholesale business was more important than retail, which he dismissed out of hand, whereas Field knew that high-level urban retail directed primarily at women would make a lot more money.  Field decided he’d had enough of his disputatious partner and bought out Leiter, then set about refashioning the company’s strategy and renaming the firm after himself.  Leiter retired from the merchandising business and from then on focused on his real estate holdings and service organizations.

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Route 66’s Gilded Age history:  the Grand Pacific, John B. Drake, and the Great Game Dinners

Hail, route 66 roadies!  Did you enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner?  Tired of the leftovers yet?  Perhaps you’re ready for some partridge or venison, for a change.  Well, in honor of the holiday last week, we have a little Thanksgiving story to tell you – and it involves not a single Pilgrim or Indian, but it does cross paths with a few other prominent figures from Chicago’s early history.  So gather around the fireplace now, folks, and get cozy – for here begins the tale of Mr. John B. Drake and his famous autumn game dinners.

A few weeks ago, we told you about the 1883 creation of North America’s official Standard Time system.  That happened at a Chicago conference held in a hotel on Jackson Boulevard, long before that street became the original main path of Route 66.  The hotel was the second Grand Pacific, gone for 31 years by the time Route 66 made its appearance, but it had a storied history.  Its manager was John Burroughs Drake, founder of Chicago’s Drake hotel dynasty, and he became one of the city’s greatest hoteliers ever, setting a standard of style and luxury that many coveted but few could equal while he lived.  Indeed, when Potter Palmer rebuilt the Palmer House after the Great Chicago Fire, he was competing against none other than John B. Drake for primacy in the hospitality trade.  And nobody could beat Drake’s sumptuous game dinners.

The Grand Pacific Hotel, Chicago, 1887

The Grand Pacific Hotel, Chicago, 1887

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning in 1855.  Continue reading

Route 66 news: Chicago’s Riverwalk will expand, but not all the way to Route 66 … yet

Despite the less-than-pristine quality of the water, Chicagoans love their river.  We like hanging out along it and cruising down it in good weather.  We dye it green for St. Patrick’s Day.  We stop to watch the sailboats making their way down the river to the lake every spring and back again in the fall.  Even in bad weather, we love the view, for good reason:  the architectural canyon that lines the river’s main stem is spectacular.

'Tis the coming of the green:  dyeing the Chicago River for St. Patrick's Day is an old and hallowed tradition undertaken by (are you ready for this?) the plumbers' union.  (Photo courtesy of

‘Tis the coming of the green:  dyeing the Chicago River for St. Patrick’s Day is an old and hallowed tradition undertaken by (are you ready for this?) the plumbers’ union.  But you can see a bit of our lovely Riverwalk here, too.  (Photo courtesy of

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Route 66 Song Of The Week for Oct. 26th:  Depeche Mode

In less than a week, it’ll be All Hallows Eve, or Halloween.  The weather here in Chicago has been cooperating in creating the appropriately spooky mood:  bright, cold sunlight interspersed with periods of dank cloudiness and cooler-than-seasonable temperatures.  When it is sunny, the air has that sharp, clear quality you get after a good thunderstorm with lightning has cleaned up the lower atmosphere, and the sunlight that follows the break-up gives you visual resolution seemingly into infinity.  Dusk approaches already by 5:30pm, sooner when it’s cloudy, and what clouds there are are the big, rolling three-dimensional ombre-dark ones that promise rain at night.

Not exactly cruising weather for roadies.  More like armchair cruising with a hot drink and a good travel book (or at least a laptop).  So how can we reconcile our desire for a Route 66 roadtrip with the approach of The Dead Season?  Ah!  Our Route 66 Song Of The Week choice can help with that.  This week’s rendition (funny how that word has come to mean quite something else during these post-9/11 days) is by Depeche Mode, a popular UK band in the noir-romantic electronica genre.  Their take on “Route 66” is definitely in a minor key, and yet compelling; it’s a mash-up that blends “66” with their own song “Behind The Wheel” and a kind of ZZ Top sensibility to the guitars, and the mix works.  Listen for yourselves.


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Route 66 Song Of The Week for Oct. 19th:  John Pizzarelli’s take

Hey, we’re not that late this week, only a day or two.  Couldn’t find a good version of any of the Rat Pack singing the Troupe number; I thought we’d try that in honor of the new McCook welcome sign, which, frankly, cribs shamelessly from the famous Vegas sign.  So instead, we found a version of the tune that has the snap, crackle and pop that the McCook sign lacks:  a rousing guitar trio rendition by John Pizzarelli and friends.


Pizzarelli, son of jazz great Bucky Pizzarelli, is pretty hep himself, having recorded albums in honor of both Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra.  This cut is from his 1995 RCA Novus album Dear Mr. Cole, on which he’s backed up by some tasteful piano and acoustic (stand-up) bass work.

Pizzarelli also has a wonderful weekly 2-hour program on public radio called Radio Deluxe, which he hosts together with his wife, the effervescent vocalist Jessica Molaskey.  It’s like an intimate, laid-back get-together in their ‘deluxe’ living room “high above Lexington Avenue in New York City.”  There’s as much conversation as music, but none of it’s boring.  In fact, they’re pretty damned charming together.  In the Chicago area, they’re on WDCB 90.9 FM at 10pm Wednesday nights, but the show is also available online for your listening pleasure.  And it’s definitely a pleasure to listen to this track.  Enjoy!

Your own Route 66 mixmaster,
DJ SweetMarie

Lagunitas Brewing is coming home to Chicago – on Route 66!

Chicago craft-beer fans always hoped that one of their favorite beers with a Chicago heritage would finally come home from California.  Well, it’s happening:  Lagunitas Brewing Co., currently of Petaluma, CA, is coming to Chicago.  As you read this, the company, founded in the Bay Area by former Chicagoan Tony Magee, is building a new brewery and brewpub between 17th and 18th Street along the west side of Rockwell Avenue in Douglas Park.  And it’ll be right near historic Route 66.

Welcome to the Mother Road, Magee and company!!  Here’s hoping your arrival will mean the creation of a Route 66 Special brew – you’d have a better claim to it than most.

Magee may not realize it, but it’s highly fitting that Lagunitas Chicago should be rising where it is, barely three blocks off the route.  In the southern half of Chicago, you’re never far from a connection to either Route 66 or to Al Capone.  The intersection of Rockwell and Ogden has both.  Ogden Avenue is Route 66 between Jackson Boulevard on the Near West Side and Harlem Avenue in southwest suburban Berwyn.  And the south side of Ogden between Talman and Rockwell Avenues, near Douglas Park, is where Edward J. ‘Fast Eddie’ O’Hare was assassinated – allegedly by some of Capone’s minions – on November 8, 1939, just before the big man himself was due to be released from federal prison.

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