I’m sad that Margaret and I won’t be able to make our annual wintertime trip to Chicago this year. It had become a tradition of our marriage. But Chicago requires travelers from Indiana to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, making the trip impractical. Even if we did go, our unwillingness to eat inside a restaurant would make avoiding hunger challenging.
We used to go every December to enjoy Christkindlmarkt, take in a show, and finish our Christmas shopping. Then Margaret took a job where December is the busy season, and we started going in January as a way of relaxing after the holidays.
Chicago is not a popular destination in the cold and snowy months, which is why we go then. We get such great deals on hotel rooms! Last year we stayed in the gorgeous Palmer House for what it would normally cost at a suburban box hotel.
Margaret and I squeezed in one more weekend getaway before the busy season begins where she works. We returned to Bardstown, Kentucky, a place we very much enjoyed when we visited it last year.
We both enjoy good bourbon and planned to visit the distilleries we missed last time. We got to visit just one: the Stitzel-Weller distillery in a Louisville suburb. It’s now mostly a tourist site revolving around the Bullitt, Blade and Bow, and I. W. Harper bourbons.
They distill and age small quantities of spirits on the premises, and we got to see those operations. Most of their product is distilled and aged elsewhere, however.
If you know anything about bourbon lore, this was the distillery of the famous Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle. It’s changed hands since then — even went dormant for a while starting in the 1970s, when whiskey’s popularity fell.
During these days of COVID-19, Stitzel-Weller limits tours to half the usual number of guests. A tasting always wraps a distillery tour. We knew there would be some risk there: would guests stay masked in the tasting room? Nope. Margaret and I were the only ones who stayed masked. It wasn’t hard to move the mask out of the way for our sips, and we wished others had followed our lead. It made us wary of the distillery tours we wanted to take the rest of the trip.
When we reached Bardstown and called the distilleries, we learned that their tours were booked all weekend. At least we wouldn’t have to be concerned about COVID risk at tastings! We did visit the Willett distillery, as they make my favorite bourbon of all time, Willett Pot Still Reserve. They’ve opened a restaurant on their property, so we enjoyed an early dinner there of creative and delicious dishes — I recommend it. We were able to dine on their deck in the open air. We also bought several bottles of our favorite bourbons in their shop.
We rented an Airbnb apartment in the heart of Bardstown’s downtown. It was a lovely place to stay with plenty of room for us to stretch. It also had a full kitchen in case inclement weather or insufficient outside seating at restaurants forced us inside to make our own meals.
Fortunately, many Bardstown restaurants offered outdoor seating. It was sometimes challenging to get a table at peak meal times, so we ate at odd times like 10:30 am and 4 pm when tables were available. Bardstown was far from crowded, but there are only so many restaurants in a small town.
We drove out to Bernheim Forest, which we visited on our last trip too. Margaret wanted to see one of the wooden giants there again, this one, named Little Nis.
Margaret also wanted to experience the Canopy Tree Walk, a large pier out into a forested valley. At 75 feet in the air, it gives you a treetop view.
The Jim Beam distillery is just down the road from Bernheim Forest. We’d have visited, but out of COVID caution they’ve closed their visitor experience until next spring. The Jim Beam barn is near the road, so we stopped to photograph it. It’s very well photographed; search for “Jim Beam barn” and you’ll see. Most of those photographs don’t show a giant rickhouse behind the barn — that rickhouse must have been built only recently. It makes the scene far less picturesque. I found one angle on the barn that minimizes the rickhouse and shows the rolling Kentucky hills.
It rained in Bardstown on our last day, so we left earlier than planned. We decided to drive home through lush Brown County in Indiana and stop in Nashville for lunch. What a mistake that was. It was a sunny day in that part of Indiana and the roads were packed with cars and motorcycles out to see the fall foliage. Nashville itself was wall to wall people. We parked and walked a little bit, but soon realized that the town was a COVID risk nightmare. We got back in our car and drove on to nearby Bloomington for a meal before heading home.
My wife and I spent a weekend in Louisville recently. We hadn’t gotten away since our January trip to Chicago, and we badly needed a change of scenery. So we rented an Airbnb in the heart of downtown and spent our time walking and making photographs. There wasn’t much else to do thanks to the pandemic.
The US 31 bridge from Indiana to Kentucky over the Ohio River was built in 1929. It underwent a restoration a couple years ago that finished with its new yellow paint job. It had been painted a silvery gray before.
Lots of bridges cross the Ohio at Louisville, including the two I-65 bridges and the old Big Four bridge, visible here. The Big Four bridge is open to pedestrians only. The George Rogers Clark bridge has pedestrian walkways as well — thank heavens, or making these photographs would have been a dangerous proposition.
There are also a couple railroad bridges to the west, plus the I-64 bridge. Here’s a view of some of that.
As the title promised, here’s the sun going down over the Ohio River from the bridge.
While I stood there, a few motor-powered rafts tore around on the river. This one passed by us on its way under the bridge. If you look closely, one of the people on the boat gave me the peace sign.
I suppose any pub in Ireland is, by definition, an Irish pub. This one’s in Dublin. I was surprised all over Ireland by how much Irish pubs were not that different from American pubs, except most pubs in Ireland have far fewer TVs.
Margaret walked up to the bar with her camera to get a close shot of the Guinness taps. She was busy trying to be all artistic when the bartender asked, “Would you like to come ’round and pour one?”
You didn’t have to ask Margaret twice! We’d done the Guinness tour the day before so she already had the technique down. I photographed her doing it with her camera (so who knows where those images are), and then that pint went out to whoever ordered it.
This moment was probably the highlight of our time in Dublin, the kind gesture of a quiet Irishman for a couple of Yanks on holiday.
I had a lot of good photographic luck on our early-January trip to Chicago. So much so that I’m still sharing photographs from the trip in late March! I made these crossing the Chicago River at both Jackson Street and Adams Street. On Adams Street, we were walking to our breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s; on Jackson Street, we were on our way back. It was the end of our trip; driving home followed breakfast. I had Kodak T-Max 400 in my Olympus XA, and I hoped to finish it before we got back to our parking garage. I failed, but it was fun trying. I’m usually careful not to waste shots when shooting film, but on this walk I photographed freely. It was a lot more fun that way!
Route 66 begins — or ends, depending on your perspective — in Chicago, in the Loop. Two key landmark sites remain on old Route 66 in downtown Chicago. Both are restaurants with glorious neon signs: The Berghoff and Lou Mitchell’s.
First, some history about where old 66 ran in Chicago. When it was new in 1926, it began/ended at Jackson St. at Michigan Ave. In 1937, that terminus moved east two blocks to Lake Shore Drive. In 1955, Jackson St. was made one way eastbound at Michigan Ave. Westbound Route 66 moved north on Michigan Ave. for one block, and then onto one-way-west Adams St. So it remained until Illinois decommissioned its portion of Route 66 in about 1977. (Signs came down on the rest of the route state by state through 1985.)
The Berghoff’s roots trace to about 1870 when German immigrant Herman Berghoff came to America and began brewing beer in Indiana. He moved to Chicago in 1893 and opened his beer hall’s doors in 1898. With Prohibition he converted the place to a restaurant. After Prohibition, the Berghoff won Chicago’s first ever liquor license and beer was back. The Berghoff has been at 17 W. Adams St. for all these years.
My first experience with The Berghoff was in 1983, as a junior in high school. All of us who learned the German language — ich spreche immer noch genug Deutsch mich verstanden zu machen — made a field trip to Chicago. We capped the day with dinner at the Berghoff. It was the nicest restaurant I’d ever visited — and this blue-collar kid was not prepared for Chicago restaurant prices. The least-expensive meal on the menu was beef tips in gravy with potatoes. That and an insultingly thin tip tapped me out.
I visited it for a second time on a business trip in 2018 with a few of the engineers who worked for me. We stopped in here for dinner and a beer after our business was done. We lived a little higher on the hog than I did in 1983, especially since we could all expense our meals.
My wife and I had our Chicago getaway weekend in January. A bartender at the Palmer House Hilton, where we stayed, recommended a place called Lou Mitchell’s for breakfast the next morning. It’s on Jackson St., about a mile and a quarter west of Route 66’s beginning. You cross the Chicago River on the way.
Compared to The Berghoff, Lou Mitchell’s is a Johnny-come-lately to the scene, opening in 1923. That predates Route 66 by three years. But the restaurant plays up its Route 66 heritage, even posting a replica of an original Route 66 sign on a lamp post outside.
Our breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s was a wild ride. We were greeted with a donut hole as we entered — which neither of us took, as both of us must follow gluten-free diets. There was a small box of Milk Duds for my wife, too.
Our chatty, entertaining waitress at one point sat down next to me in our booth and talked with us for several minutes. She revealed that she’d worked at Lou Mitchell’s since the early 1990s! She also marveled in mock frustration at the rest of our dietary restrictions — my wife is allergic to egg whites, making breakfast a challenge. I have to avoid onions, garlic, and beans, which thankfully isn’t challenging at breakfast time.
I ordered the gluten-free pancakes and two scrambled eggs. While we waited, our waitress brought each of us a plate with a prune and an orange slice. What the heck; down they went.
I regretted it when breakfast came. The two pancakes looked to be a foot in diamater. The mass of eggs was as big as of both of my fists together. I couldn’t eat it all — and let me tell you, I can put away vast quantities of food. Our waitress told us that Lou Mitchell’s serves nothing but double-yolk eggs. I can’t imagine how they manage that! Then she revealed that when you order two eggs Lou Mitchell’s serves you four or five.
It’s a point of personal pride that I eat all of the food served me, but I just couldn’t manage it at Lou Mitchell’s. I left about half a fist’s worth of eggs and half of the pancakes behind.
May the Berghoff and Lou Mitchell’s prosper for many years to come. Being able to enjoy landmark places like these on Route 66 in Chicago or beyond is what makes following the Mother Road rewarding.