Sam's Top 10 Route 66 Towns (Part 1)
October 13, 2015
By Sam Allen
I get lots of inquiries about my favorite places on Route 66. That can be a complex question because the answer is different depending on the context. For instance, my favorite Route 66 attractions are different than my favorite Route 66 towns. My favorite Route 66 towns are different than my favorite segments of the road. My favorite restaurants are different than my favorite bars. So, it struck me that it might be fun to put out a series of my Route 66 favorites for a variety of categories. The first is my favorite Route 66 towns.
To create the list, I went through every Route 66 town contained in The Motorcycle Party Guide to Route 66 and put it on the list if I thought it might have a chance to make the top ten. I came up with 27 towns. I didn't have any particular criteria in mind. It was just by gut reaction. I made no attempt to spread my favorites across Route 66 as a whole. It was pretty easy to get the list down to 16, but after that closer judgment calls were required. I based those judgments on the places I most look forward to visiting.
There is a lot to say about my top ten towns, so I am breaking it up into two blogs. Here are numbers 10-6. The top five will come out in my next posting.
10. Oatman, AZ
Oatman is touristy and a bit cheesy, but the beauty of the ride to get there on the Oatman Highway through Siltgreaves Pass and the bar at the 1902 Oatman Hotel make this a great destination. The Oatman Hotel is where Clark Gable and Carol Lombard went when they eloped. The room where Gable and Lombard stayed sometimes is on display. The Hotel has the only air conditioning for miles around, which makes the bar a wonderful respite in the summer months. The beer is cold and the food is good. Wild burros who are the descendants of the pack mules of the old time miners roam the streets and can be fed by hand. The Oatman Hotel no longer offers lodging, and there are no other hotels nearby. If there were, Oatman would be a couple of notches higher on the list.
9. Devil's Elbow, MO
Devil's Elbow is a hole in the wall along the Big Piney River in central Missouri. The only thing to do there is go to the Elbow Inn, but that's a cool thing to do. It is a roadhouse dating from 1929 and is one of the great biker destinations on Route 66. It has Bar B Q and all the other food you usually find in biker joints. There are hundreds of autographed bras that biker chicks have given up and stapled to the ceiling. Guys (and chicks who did not want to give up their bras) have stapled signed dollar bills or foreign currency to the walls. Although it gets lots of biker traffic, in the summer it also gets folks who are rafting or tubing down the river. It is in a remote spot and riding out of there at night is a bit tricky because it is a dark road with a rough surface. The good news is that there is some original four-lane Route 66 heading to nearby St. Roberts, which has plenty of hotels.
8. Spencer, MO
Spencer is the only ghost town to make my list, and it has been a ghost town twice. It was founded the 1870s when a post office opened there, but it was a ghost town by 1912. When Route 66 came through, it experienced resurgence until I-44 bypassed it, when it became a ghost town again. There is nothing left of Spencer but the stone Phillips 66 Spencer Garage. It is well kept up and preserved. There once was a barber shop, a cafe' and a feed store. If you look inside the windows, you will find that they all are clean, and there even is an old barber chair in the barber shop. Check out the gasoline prices still displayed: $0.12 for Regular! The road out of town appears to be original surface. It's very narrow, and gives you an old time Route 66 experience.
7. Carlinville, IL
Carlinville is not all that big a place, but it has an impressive town square with a historic "Million Dollar Courthouse" built in 1870. The St. George Room is the preferred biker spot on the square. The bar is rustic with lots of old wood. The juke is loud and the crowd can be bawdy. It is on the ground floor of the old Loomis House, which was built in 1870. It originally was a 50 room hotel, and in older days, it was a whore house. Rumor has it that the building is haunted.
The Anchor Inn, next door to the St. George Room, is the oldest bar in town. It has been in operation since 1946 and is in a historic building.
The big biker spot is the Full Throttle about four miles out of town. It has an old school atmosphere, with a rustic bar and restaurant inside and a large back yard where live bands perform on weekends. This is another spot where bras have been known to be given up, and on a rowdy night, the hot women bartenders sometimes can be persuaded to give up belly button shots. Everyone in town (even folks who have never been on two wheels) will tell you that the food is great.
6. Cuba, MO
Cuba is a good stopping point if you want to stay in an authentic Route 66 town that has nice amenities. Cuba is known as the "Mural City" because of all the murals on the sides of the historic buildings There are lots of classic Route 66 attractions, like a 1932 Phillips Station Downtown at the "4-Way."
The Wagon Wheel Motel is the oldest continuously operated motel on Route 66. It has a wonderful neon sign and the stone buildings housing the rooms have been fully restored to look as they did when the motel first opened. This is an authentic Route 66 experience, and one of the nicest motels you will find along the way.
The most popular places to eat are the Missouri Hick Bar B Q and Frisco's. The Missouri Hick has the best pulled pork and the best ribs I have ever had.
Frisco's is billed as a steak place, but it has lots of other offerings. It has a bar and a restaurant. The bar dates back to the early 20th century, and the restaurant was added about 15 years ago. It is very bright and has a family atmosphere.
The East Office Bar and Grill has food, pool tables and other games. The juke box is Classic Rock.
The Rose and the bar at Frisco's are the only late night spots in town. If you want something laid back, go to Frisco's. If you want something a bit more livelily, go to the Rose.
That's 10-6. I hope you enjoyed it. Stay tuned for numbers 5-1 in a couple of days.
Sam Allen wrote The Motorcycle Party Guide to Route 66. He also created www.route66mc.com, which is the most comprehensive single source of information about Route 66 on the web.