Leave the Windy City behind and explore the rural Illinois stretches of Route 66
By Kate Silver
The pavement is calling: If you followed the itinerary of the first piece in our Route 66 series, you’ve already frolicked around Grant Park’s Buckingham Fountain, admired art at The Art Institute of Chicago and eaten doughnut holes at Lou Mitchell’s. It’s time to get on the road again.
Outside Chicago, Historic Route 66 opens up, giving way to rolling fields and an endless horizon, leaving the city of skyscrapers behind. The allure of this storied road speaks to the underlying power of the Corvette and sings to the free-spirited nature of the Spark, as the colorful byway weaves through a series of smaller towns throughout Illinois. Route 66 is a historic road, but—like the new Corvette C7—it’s still history in the making. Don’t miss out! Here are some top spots to guide you on your way.
Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket
Since 1946, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket has been filling its customers with its famous fried chicken and sending them on their way, back to the Mother Road. The restaurant is filled with era-appropriate kitsch, all in the form of chickens. Stuffed chickens, chicken statues and plush chickens galore line the walls at Dell Rhea’s. Exaggerated windows are front and center here, so even while you’re taking a driving break, you can still keep your eye on the action of Route 66, all while savoring a fried chicken basket.
Joliet Area Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center
Jake and Elwood Blues, a.k.a. The Blues Brothers—in life-size statue form—greet you as you enter the Joliet Area Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center. This town is, after all, is where Jake was released from prison at the start of The Blues Brothers. Behind the brothers is an iconic Route 66 exhibit, complete with a faux drive-in movie theater and Corvette-seat couches, paying tribute to the famous road.
The city of Joliet has truly embraced its Route 66 heritage, and “Joliet Kicks on 66” signs dot the town. All around town, you’ll see signs, gas pumps and other memorabilia straight out of yesteryear. At Ace Drive In, when the weather is warm enough, carhops deliver old-fashioned root beer and sandwiches right to your car, and time-honored banana splits are still a treat at Rich & Creamy. For detailed driving tour directions, check out Joliet Kicks on Route 66.
Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station
Opened in 1933 and operating into the late ‘90s, this gas station in Dwight, Illinois was one of the longest continually operating service stations on Route 66, and it’s been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2001. Over the years, it went through a number of renovations, but when the Village of Dwight took over the historic building, it opted to restore it to its 1930s appearance. That’s how it looks today, in its current role as a Visitor’s Center.
The Ariston Café
The old neon signs still welcome travelers to the Ariston Café, which is considered to be one of the oldest—if not the oldest—cafés on Route 66. Its first location opened in 1924, and when Route 66 was paved just a couple of years later, the café sat in a prime spot. The route was altered, however, so in 1935, the Ariston Café followed the road and relocated to Litchfield. Classics remain on the menu, such as baked chicken, roast pork loin and grilled beef liver and onions, but prices have, not surprisingly, inflated over the years.
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This is the second article in a two-part series of Route 66 road trip stories on Chevy Culture.
Kate Silver is an award-winning journalist and editor based in Chicago. Her work appears regularly in Spirit Magazine, Men’s Health, the Chicago Tribune and Midwest Living, as well as on Parents.com