Oct 3, 2012

Going on the road to Wrigley (aka Crawling up I-55)

As we conclude the regular season in Major League Baseball, what better time to reminisce about one of my more adventure-filled weekends from this past summer when I somehow joined a pharmacy school alumni group on a Wrigleyville rooftop to enjoy a midsummer game in the classic St. Louis Cardinals-Chicago Cubs rivalry.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself.  After all, getting there is half the fun, right?  That’s what my friend Kent and I thought when we planned a multi-stop small town bar crawl along Interstate 55 from Springfield, Ill., to downtown Chicago.  The game was on a Saturday, so we left noonish Friday to allow plenty of time at each stop we chose.  And, of course, some “small” towns were larger than others.  Case in point:  our first stop at the Alley-Bi Saloon in Lincoln, Ill.
Kent is pumped to go into the Alley-Bi.

I chose the Alley-Bi on the recommendation of a friend who grew up in Lincoln, and it turned out to be a great first stop.  And nobody told me about lunch counter. 

Nothing fancy, just burgers, dogs and other sammiches hot off the grill and potato chips in a bag.  But it hit the spot for lunch.  I had to have bacon and tomato on mine.  Now this is a burger!

Me and my big mouth ...
I washed it down with a Miller 64, and as we ate Kent and I caught the start of the first game of the series on the TVs behind us.  I can see where this place gets a lot of downtown business, especially on a Friday when people are looking to get an early start on the weekend.  Several customers had already gathered around the pool tables behind the lunch area.  I would definitely put the Alley-Bi on my list for a return visit on another road trip. 

Next stop:  A place that’s more true to the definition of small town bar, Pour Richard’s Tap in Odell,Ill. 

The entrance to Pour Richard's 
About 90 miles up I-55 from Lincoln is Odell, a farm community of about 1,000 people.  It appears to have several old alignments of the original Route 66 going around and through it.  One of those alignments took us to the small downtown area where we found Pour Richard’s.  Actually, I found it online and it looked intriguing, but I really can’t remember why. 

When we entered, we officially became the second and third customers of the afternoon.  It’s a dark but cozy place with an American Legion feel to it.  As fate would have it, it’s the town’s Cubs bar (good for me).  The other bar in town, naturally, caters to a White Sox crowd.  We chatted with the owner for a couple of beers (cheap bottles, as you’d expect, about $2), then decided to toodle on to our next scheduled stop to further whet the whistle – Dwight, Ill. 

Like Odell, Dwight contains several swaths of old Route 66.  It’s somewhat larger at around 4,200 people.  It’s just far enough south that it feels rural, but you can still sense the expanse of the Chicago suburban sprawl creeping up on you.  It’s probably no more than 20 minutes outside of Joliet. 

The original purpose for us going off I-55 and into downtown Dwight (which I discovered actually seems pretty lively) was to check out JT’s Saloon. 

In addition to looking quite rotund in this picture, I'm squinting because the sun was in my eyes.  At least that's my excuse.
Much to our surprise, JT’s is actually kind of cavernous on the inside.  It has a large bar area, another area set aside for two pool tables, a corner reserved for live music and several other games, including shuffleboard.  

Nice bar, nicer bartender
It’s a typical sports bar placed in a relatively small town.   Nothing else set it apart for us, except for the fact that it was where we had our first Jaegerbomb of the day (never a good sign to start those before dark).

With Kent revived, we walked down the block to try Turtle’s Tap.  We noticed a full-service restaurant on one side when we entered and a more cozy-looking bar area straight ahead.  And the friendly bartender made us feel quite welcome.

The welcoming Turtle's bartender
If I recall correctly, I believe I had a rum and coke here from one of those tempting Malibu bottles behind her.  I’m fairly certain she talked me into it.  The menu, from what I remember, also looked pretty interesting.  I’d definitely come back to give the food a shot. 

Anyway, as the afternoon began to fade away, we made our way out of Turtle’s …

… and back on the road and our last stop before Chicago in Lemont, Ill.  And that’s where I’ll pick up the road trip next time.   

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