Route 66 cuts through some of the best drinking spots in the United States. We have handpicked a number of spots that we consider to be the best on Route 66 for your drinking pleasure.
Let’s get started in the Windy City, Chicago.
The danger of beginning a bar tour in Chicago is that you may never leave. Chicago has world class drinking in virtually every neighborhood in the City. The good news for drinkers is that the you will very quickly find yourself in St. Louis, Kansas City, New Mexico (yes, the entire State gets a mention when we are talking about bars), and Los Angeles, which will make the trip well worth it. Here are a few places that you should see in Chicago before hitting Route 66.
The Green Mill
The Green Mill embodies Chicago’s cultural history. The music is world class. The drinks are excellent and reasonably priced. The bar is classic Art Deco. If you spend any time in Chicago, the Green Mill should be on your short list.
The Hopleaf is a great place for beer with a huge selection of Craft Beers. It is about as welcoming as Chicago Bars get so be prepared to roll up your sleeves, lean back and enjoy your beer.
If you are interested in cocktails that are created with more precision than a PhD thesis, visit the Aviary. This unique establishment is pretentious but unlike most pretentious places, it has earned its right to be so.
Though not necessarily a drinking spot, I highly recommend raising a glass or a pitcher at Second City. This unique venue offers some of the best Improv Comedy around. The list of stars who have come through Second City are too numerous to name but include the likes of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Mike Myers, Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, and Tina Fey.
After leaving Chicago, the next major city on Route 66 is St. Louis. Obviously St. Louis has a ton of BrewPubs. Historically, St. Louis was the home to a large number of German and Irish who brought an excellent beer and whiskey culture with them. We recommend finding a MicroBrewery (like Schlafly, Square One Brewery, or 4 Hands Brewing Co.) that suits your tastes but if you just want to go to a bar that has it all, we recommend going to McGurk’s Irish Pub and Beer Garden. If you are in the mood for whiskey, then you should go to Scottish Arm’s.
About 1.5 hours after leaving St. Louis, you will find yourself in Columbia Missouri. Known as the Athens of Missouri, this college town has a surprisingly good number of bars centered just North of the University of Missouri campus. Columbia is only about two hours from Kansas City. Because it is a college town, the music scene is quite good here. Two bars in particular are worth seeing if you are spending the night. They are the Blue Note and Blue Fugue, just North of Campus. Alternatively, the best beer bar in town is probably McNally’s.
Kansas City is the last true bar town until you reach Albuquerque, NM. When you reach Kansas City, you should take the day to enjoy yourself and the many fine establishments before driving through the long stretch of Oklahoma and Texas. I would recommend Fat Matt’s Vortex or Flying Saucer for great beer.
Oklahoma City and Norman
When you cross the border into Oklahoma, you encounter Oklahoma laws. The most important one is that beer with more than 4% alcohol by volume (meaning most every beer) must be sold at room temperature in a liquor store. This means that you are only going to encounter 3.2% alcohol by weight beer in bars. This severely limits the selection in Oklahoma, which is unfortunate because Oklahoma has a good bar scene.
When in Oklahoma, my first stop is the college town of Norman, Oklahoma, home of the Sooners. In Norman, there is an area called “Campus Corner.” You should definitely head there first. There are a number of standard bars like The Library, where you can get a decent drink in a college atmosphere. Alternatively, there is an excellent music venue called “The Deli”. I would recommend spending the better portion of your time in Oklahoma at The Deli.
If you decide to spend some time in Oklahoma City, I would recommend going to Bricktown and exploring the numerous bars in this new part of town.
Unfortunately, I cannot recommend any bars on Route 66 in Texas, which is unfortunate because Austin, Texas has one of the best bars scenes in the world (check out the Ginger Man if you ever have the chance).
When you reach New Mexico, you will have crossed into the Wild West. In Albuquerque, the best beer bar is Anodyne in the heart of downtown on Route 66. Anodyne welcomes dogs and has an excellent beer selection.
New Mexico is an old school kind of place so you should definitely take the time to go down the “Original” Route 66 which winds through Santa Fe before heading down to Albuquerque. Until recently, Santa Fe did not have a great nightlife but the tide has turned in Santa Fe and the city is now an excellent stop on a bar tour.
Here are our recommendations for Albuquerque and Santa Fe:
Albuquerque and Santa Fe
La Cumbre Brewing Co (Albuquerque)
La Cumbre is as New Mexican as it gets. I would not be surprised to see the spirit of John Wayne drinking a beer next to Bryan Cranston in La Cumbre. The beer is phenomenal as evidenced by the piles of awards they win every year.
Marble Brewery (locations in Albuquerque and Santa Fe)
Marble Brewery paved the way for microbrews in New Mexico and still brews some of the best beer in the State. I recommend visiting the Marble Tap Room in Santa Fe.
Chama River Micro Bar (Albuquerque)
Chama River Micro Bar is a great place to eat in Albuquerque and has some phenomenal microbrews.
Maria’s (Santa Fe)
Maria’s literally wrote the book on Margaritas. It has a world class Tequila selection and quite possibly the largest Margarita list on the planet.
After leaving Albuquerque, the next major stop is Gallup, NM. When you are in Gallup, the best place to drink is the 49er Lounge, which was voted as one of the best bars in America by Esquire Magazine.
The 49er Lounge is the place where Cowboys and Indians rubbed shoulders with the likes of John Wayne, Errol Flynn, and Humphrey Bogart. The 49er Lounge has the best selection of Mexican Beers and Margaritas in the area.
Once you reach Flagstaff, it is always best to head downtown. Flagstaff is the home of Northern Arizona University and offers some good beer spots. We prefer to drink at the Beaver Street Brewery before walking over to Leroux Street in the heart of downtown. If you arrive on the weekend, the Museum Club, located on Route 66, offers live music.
After leaving Flagstaff, we recommend taking a northern detour at Kingman to Las Vegas (sorry Needles). Either way, you will be a few hours from Los Angeles, but before you rush off to the beach, stop by The Varnish in downtown L.A. for one last great drink.
We hope you have a wonderful trip.
Here’s our recommended tour, in short:
Day One Chicago
Option 1: Catch a game at Wrigley Field (with beers in Wrigleyville) then head over to Hopleaf after the game.
Option 2: Watch some great comedy at Second City followed by classic jazz at The Green Mill.
Day Two St. Louis
Leave Chicago and drive to St. Louis then:
Option 1: go on a MicroBrew tour; or
Option 2: drink the night away at McGurk’s or the Scottish Arm’s (if you like Whiskey).
Day Three Kansas City
Option 1: Enjoy the college town of Columbia and some live music at Blue Note.
Option 2: Have a late lunch at McNally’s (opens at 3) then head over to Kansas City. Spend the remainder of the day enjoying the huge selection at Flying Saucer.
Day Four Oklahoma City
Option 1: Head over to Norman, Oklahoma and enjoy live music at “The Deli”.
Option 2: Head over to Bricktown for some frosty beverages
Day Five Santa Fe
Option 1: Drive up to Santa Fe and have a margarita or three at Maria’s.
Option 2: Drive up to Santa Fe and watch the sunset from Marble’s outdoor rooftop bar.
Day Six Albuquerque
Option 1: Head downtown to Central (old Route 66) where there is a stretch of bars, eventually settling into Anodyne where the selection cannot be beat.
Option 2: Tour some of the microbrews including La Cumbre, Marble, and Chama.
Day Seven Gallup
Option 1: Head straight for the 49er Lounge.
Day Eight Flagstaff
Option 1: Go downtown to Leroux Street where there are numerous bars.
notable detour: if you have a bit of time, head a few miles north of Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon
Day Nine to Oblivion Los Angeles
Option 1: take a detour to Las Vegas before heading onto L.A.
Option 2: Cut to the chase and head to the Varnish in Los Angeles before watching the sunset over the Pacific.