Get your kicks on Route 66
Now the hot top is just ranch roads and runways
And a way of life for some folks is all but gone
You can almost see the ghost towns from the fast lane
Of this super highway we're all ridin' on
-- from "The Mother Road," by Kevin Welch
For those who care about the past, things have gotten a little better along old Route 66 since Kevin Welch wrote those words in 1985.
Flagstaff Brewing Co.
Granted, travelers still barrel full speed ahead along the interstates, pitting to refuel at fast food joints that are all pretty much the same. The world's largest McDonald's in eastern Oklahoma becomes the roadside attraction families stop at, when they could veer a few more miles off the road and visit Galloway's Totem Pole Park, along the way passing through the town of Foyil on a stretch of Route 66 that has its original pink concrete.
Government agencies and entrepreneurs, however, have figured out the old slab has value. Stretches of the old road are now marked with "Historic Route 66" signs (exit signs from interstates will even aim you there), and Route 66 museums have popped up all along the 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. Some of the best parts of the old highway lie between Oklahoma and Arizona. The road is wide open, and with Nat King Cole whispering "root 66" in your ear it's easy to imagine George Maharis at your side.
If you think beer when you think road trip, you'll find plenty of products that remind you of the 1960s, but also brewpubs and a growing number of alehouses. Here are a few, listed from east to west, so you can finish each day heading into the sunset as the ancient roadside neon signs begin to glow.
TapWerks Ale House & Café in Oklahoma City opened in May 1996 with 15 of its 46 taps pouring industrial lagers. When TapWerks celebrated its second anniversary, the 73 taps included one for Coors Light, one for Bud Light and no others for industrial lagers. The emphasis is on imports, including as many as nine Belgian beers on tap at once, but the selection of micros is growing. Best sellers include Spaten Optimator, Newcastle Brown, Pyramid DPA and Woodpecker Cider.
"When we started, we said let's concentrate on bringing in some big names that have been around a long time, beers people would have heard of," owner Scott Woolum said. "Let's at least get people off Coors Light."
Opening a multi-tap in a state known for its curious beer laws took some work. In Oklahoma, "strong beer" is anything with more than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight (4 percent by volume). Liquor stores can only sell it at room temperature, but bars and restaurants can sell it cold. Brewpubs, gas stations, convenience stores and grocery stores sell cold beer, but it must be 3.2 ABW or less. As a result, most of the beer sold in Oklahoma is 3.2, and many large breweries, including Anheuser-Busch and Miller, make 3.2 beer for Oklahoma (and Utah). Also, 3.2 versions of Moosehead, Amstel Light and others are available and found in gas station coolers.
Brokers "import" beer to Oklahoma, then sell it to wholesalers, who distribute it to liquor stores and bars. Woolum's first task was to convince brokers to make more beers available. He had an easier time after TapWerks opened to a packed house. "People were ready to give it a try … more and more of them are looking for something new," he said. "They come here because I carry a lot of things that nobody else does."
Now he sees other bars adding two taps or perhaps four, and even a few other multi-taps opening. Woolum's a step ahead, though. He has a beer engine, and serves keg beer at cellar temperature while he looks for a microbrewery to provide him with cask-conditioned ale.
TapWerks is about 15 blocks north of 39th Street, the longest stretch of Route 66 left in Oklahoma City.
If you are looking for an alehouse right along Route 66, try one of the spots along Central Avenue in Albuquerque, which tracks the Mother Road. Exit Interstate 40 at Central as soon as you reach Albuquerque, and drive past miles of motels, most of which, unfortunately, are no longer as inviting as their neon signs would suggest. O'Niell's Pub is located right across the street from the Hiway House Motel, which is next to Kelly's Brewery, a brewpub/brew-on-premise, and a short walk from an Il Vicino brewpub.
O'Niell's isn't particularly Irish, although it features live Irish music. It's an airy restaurant/bar with good food (including the weird sandwich of the day) and 16 beers on tap. The draft selection is a combination of imports and micros, with regional beers seldom represented.
Brewster's Pub, in the heart of downtown, offers a wider selection of beer with 30 taps, some of them going to local breweries. Brewster's is long and narrow from front to back, with plenty of wood and bricks and a stage for live music.
A version of this column appeared in Celebrator Beer News.
Where they are
TapWerks Ale House
5700 N. Western
3211 Central Ave. N.E.
312 Central Ave. S.W.
995 Camino Del Pueblo
114 N. Leroux
Beaver Street Brewery
11 S. Beaver St.
Flagstaff Brewing Co.
16 E. Route 66
Mogollon Brewing Co.
15 N. Agassiz St.
Taking the east-west approach into Albuquerque isn't the only way to follow Route 66. Originally, the road split west of Santa Rosa, with one route heading toward Albuquerque, the other north to Santa Fe then down to Albuquerque. The latter route takes you through Bernalillo and past Silva's Saloon. The draft choices are Bud and Bud Light, but the bartender will fish around in the cooler at the end of the bar if you ask and come up with something like Bohemia or Samuel Adams Boston Ale. So, take a seat at the oval bar and marvel at the surroundings.
Silva's opened as soon as Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and has the third liquor license issued in the state. Friends helped Felix Silva Sr. decorate the place, bringing him a hodgepodge of memorabilia that covers the walls and hangs from the ceilings. Today, employees refer to it as an upside-down landfill. There are hundreds of bottles behind the bar, some of them covered with dust, others for sale to go.
Heading west from Albuquerque, tracking the old slab south of Laguna Pueblo will take you to Budville (really) and leave you plenty thirsty by the time you reach Flagstaff. Flagstaff Brewing Co. is actually located right on Route 66, while Beaver street Brewery and Whistle Stop Cafe is a few blocks to the south. Beaver Street is more family and food oriented. Flagstaff serves $2 pints during Grateful Dead Night each Wednesday, keeps a house beer on handpump, has a full lineup of spirits and can get rowdy when the live music starts.
Mogollon Brewing Co. is a micro with a "tasting room" that sure looks like a brewpub. You have to order food in, but there is a bar, some easy chairs to the side, a pool table with a chainsaw hanging above and a stage with live music almost every night.
Flagstaff also has several bars serving a wide range of beer. The broadest selection is at Uptown Billiards, a couple blocks north of the Mother Road. Uptown is little more than a block from old Route 66.
"I'm obsessive-compulsive," owner Roger Baker said, and that shows in the way he cares for beer and for a hall full of regulation-size pool tables. He's particular about what's served from the 38 taps - which feature imports, nationally known micros and regional craft beers - and how it's served. The beer glasses are washed with great care so beer leaves behind the proper lace. The beer isn't served ice cold, and the tap shanks fit directly into the cold box.
Which only goes to show, it's still quite easy to get your kicks on Route 66.