Reuniting on Route 66
Etching a path through the center of the United States, Route 66 unites travelers as they journey along the same beloved thoroughfare that generations before them did, exploring and adventuring, and creating road trip memories that last a lifetime.
My town, Joplin, Missouri, is located on the Mother Road, so I thought it would be fun to plan a family reunion here. What would be cooler than celebrating the things that tie us together as a family in a location that connects us, both literally and figuratively, to each other as Americans?
As my family busied themselves making plans to travel to Joplin from Florida, Arizona, and Illinois, I put together a jam-packed itinerary for the extended weekend of the reunion. My goal was to show them as many places on Joplin’s Route 66 as possible. By adventuring together as a family, my hope was that laughs would be shared, bonds would be strengthened, and lasting memories would be forged.
We kicked off our Route 66 Reunion Weekend on Route 66 itself (now Main Street) at City Hall (602 South Main Street). Located in the Newman building, which opened in 1910 as a department store, City Hall houses works of art that depict important eras in Joplin’s history.
To give my family an idea of what Joplin looked like at the height of the Mother Road culture in the mid-1900s, I showed them “Route 66, Joplin, Missouri,” (2010), painted by Anthony Benton Gude.
We then crossed Main Street to eat lunch at Club 609 (609 South Main Street). Here, the exposed brick walls provide a historical backdrop to the urban atmosphere of this popular restaurant and bar (known for its weekday happy hours).
My sisters were eager to check out the downtown shopping scene, so we sent the rest of the family home with my husband while we browsed at some of my favorite clothing boutiques: Blue Moon Boutique (613 S. Main Street), Blush Boutique (611 S. Main Street), and Sophie (531 S. Main Street). We also stopped by Urban Art Gallery (511 S. Main Street), where local artists sell their work, like this Route 66-themed photograph by Linda Teeter.
We spent several hours hunting for unique finds, and worked up a beast of an appetite, so I thought it only fitting to feast at Beast and Barrel (530 S. Main Street). We started our meal at this “fusion beastro” with steamed Pacific Point mussels and the roasted brussels sprouts with blue cheese crumbles, a local favorite. Other dishes that helped quell our hunger included the Yeti Burger (with steak tips!) and Beef Stroganoff.
We weren’t ready to go back to reality yet, so we walked to Pennington Station (518 s. Virginia) to meet up with the rest of my family members to have some virtual fun. Pennington Station’s futuristic arcade game offerings are juxtaposed against the historical setting of the former Pennington Drug Company building, which began its operations in the 1920s. But the 3-D setting quickly fades away once players immerse themselves in the virtual reality station, racing simulator, Minecraft mining station, or the console lounge.
The kids had as much fun watching their elders trying this technology for the first time as they did playing the games themselves. I have no doubt that they will laugh about this for years to come!
Once the troops were up, I marched them down to The Bruncheonette (424. N. Main Street), a tiny diner serving food with big flavor. The menu here features breakfast, brunch and lunch items like the Garden Benny (a version of Eggs Benedict made with locally grown microgreens and beet hollandaise), and Hey, Brah! (Hawaiian sweet bread French toast topped with bananas).
Some family members were yawning after their big breakfast, so we stopped at Joplin Avenue Coffee Company (506 S. Joplin Avenue) for a caffeine boost from dreamy lattes like the Van Gogh (made with vanilla, honey, and almond) and the Lucky Leprechaun (made with white mocha and Irish cream flavoring).
Then we were ready to begin the day’s main activity: learning about Joplin’s history by viewing its most accessible works of art. We started off by walking down Main Street/Route 66 and viewed the downtown murals painted on the facades of the brick buildings. We lingered at Route 66 Mural Park (619 S. Main Street), where we took turns posing with the bifurcated 1964 red Corvette, an iconic Route 66 cruising car.
We eventually meandered to the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts (212 W. 7th Street), a local art center which has been in operation for more than 70 years. Located on Route 66 in the brand-new Harry M. Cornell Arts & Entertainment Complex, Spiva features new artwork exhibits in its three galleries every six weeks, and admission is free.
By this point, it was time to feed our fading crew, so we went to Red Onion Cafe (203 E. Fourth Street) for an early dinner. This American restaurant offers something for everyone, and our favorite dishes here include the Smoked Chicken Dip, the Chicken Walnut Salad, the Penne from Heaven, and the 4 o’ Clocker sandwich, made with warm roasted beef, sharp American cheese, and horseradish mayonnaise. Naturally, we couldn’t leave without ordering some of Red Onion’s popular desserts, like this Caramel Fudge Pecan Cake!
After dinner, our “Day of Art” continued. This time, instead of being the observers, were were going to be the creators. I had booked a private party at CreateNSip (223 W. Third Street) because our party was so large, but this art studio typically offers scheduled painting events centered around a specific theme that are open to the public. In keeping with the theme of our reunion week, I chose this Route 66 picture for us to make.
Looking at our finished canvases side by side, it was clear which family members carried the artistic genes – and which did not. But the one thing we all did have in common was the fun we had spending time and creating together.
We got our morning off to a kick at Norma’s Diner (1901 S. Main Street), a classic diner where portions are huge and prices are affordable. Bonus: My family members got to admire the Route 66 decor as they ate their pancakes, eggs, biscuits and gravy, and breakfast skillet meals.
Next, we visited the Joplin History & Mineral Museum (504 S. Schifferdecker Avenue). One side of this museum complex focuses on the mineral and geological history of Joplin (and includes glow-in-the-dark rocks that kids love), and the other side traces the cultural history of our city, highlighting key residents, like Charles Schifferdecker, as well as notable people who came to Joplin, like the infamous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde.
Another Joplin institution was next on our itinerary: Candy House Gourmet (510 S. Kentucky). This candy factory produces chocolates that are crafted from a local recipe from 1970, and include sea salt caramels, toffee, and seasonal treats like chocolate-dipped strawberries in the spring and chocolate-caramel apples in the fall. My dad’s favorite find: a chocolate bar with a Route 66 insignia on it.
I told the kids that they couldn’t eat their candy until after dinner because we had a lot more eating to do that day – starting with some appetizers at Social BTB (1027 S. Main Street).
Located in the century-old Gryphon building, which once was the home of the Inter-State Grocery Company, Social BTB is a fun place to meet friends or watch your favorite sports team play on TV while you enjoy juicy burgers or chicken tenders. On this day, I ordered some fried green beans and some corn nuggets for us to snack on before we stopped at Local Color Art Gallery (1027 S. Main Street), which is also located inside the Gryphon Building.
After we left the gallery, I surprised the kids (and adults) by taking them to Caroline’s (1027 S. Main Street) for ice cream (and coffee). Caroline’s is located across the hall from the gallery, and features ice cream, coffee, chocolates, and nostalgic candy.
At one point, I realized that the kids had grown quiet and saw that they were occupied with eating their ice cream. “Aren’t you glad I made you save your Candy House candy so that you’d have room for this?” I asked. They were too immersed in their ice cream to answer.
After leaving the Gryphon building, we drove just west of downtown to the historic Murphysburg neighborhood, which was the residential heart of Joplin long before the Mother Road made its way to our town. The stately homes here were built by the founders of Joplin, and several architectural styles are represented. I was excited to lead my family on this walking tour of 37 structures, each with their own distinctive architectural style. But what I find most interesting about each of these homes is the story of the people inside them. Their story is part of Joplin’s story.
With our history and architecture lesson complete, everyone was ready to chill – and eat. We are always ready to eat. I wanted to introduce my family to the legendary Hackett Hot Wings (520 S. Main Street), a chicken wing joint that has earned recognition serving some of the best chicken wings in the region (I really like the spicy carrots and celery that are served on the side).
With dinner finished, the younger and older family members wanted to get home and relax. Everyone else was game for a new experience, so we headed to Chaos Brewing Company (112 S. Main Street), Joplin’s first craft brewery and tap room. Because the beer menu here is always changing as new batches are brewed, I ordered a flight of beer to sample the most current offerings.
My siblings and I claimed a table and played a few of the board games that were available, laughing until our sides hurt while still vying to be the ultimate winner.
But the time eventually came for us to bury the hatchet – literally, not figuratively. We walked to Main Street Axe Company (215 S. Wall Avenue) and prepared ourselves to throw sharp blades at a wooden target…for fun. And what fun it was! Using ax throwing to work through any discord formed in childhood (and adulthood) was unexpectedly therapeutic and enjoyable.
We began the day visiting Grand Falls (5400 Riverside Drive), the largest, continuously running waterfall in Missouri – which is right here in Joplin! Not only was the beauty of the falls inspirational, it also made for an idyllic backdrop for family photos.
Next, we were ready to go to market, to market, to buy a fat pig. Well, maybe not a whole pig, but some local bacon and other goodies at Joplin Empire Market (931 E. Fourth Street).
This enclosed, year-round market features vendors from a 150-mile radius selling produce, meats, eggs, local products, crafts, and art. On this Saturday exploration of the market, my family members bought some coffee and pastries for breakfast, and found some locally made products like salad dressing and lavender room spray to bring back home with them. My favorite moment was watching their expressions as they examined the jewelry and art pieces crafted by our area artisans. I could see the appreciation in their eyes, and I knew the creative juices were flowing in their veins – which was the ideal setup for our next stop.
Firehouse Pottery (112 S. Main Street, Suite A) is a paint-your-own-piece studio in downtown Joplin, where we can be creative with some guidance provided by the staff. The pottery pieces here are already made; we just needed to paint them and add our personal touches and, to me, that’s where the real fun begins.
Here, family members picked out things like coffee mugs, bowls, and serving trays, and put their own imaginative designs on them.
Bookhouse Cinema (715 Broadway Street) is Joplin’s only micro theater (with only 45 seats), and plays independent, artsy movies.
We had booked tickets online for the 2:30 p.m. movie, and still had plenty of time to eat lunch at Bookhouse’s pub. With vegan options like Tofu Banh Mi, and carnivore options like Roast Beef Sliders, Bookhouse had a dish for everyone. Bonus: We were welcome to bring our adult beverages into the theater to sip on while we watched our movie. My big-city family members thought that was tres chic
After the film, we sneaked in some down time at home before regrouping and venturing out for dinner at Blackstone Gastropub (1521 E. Broadway Street). This English-style pub is Joplin’s go-to place for dishes like poutine, and smashburgers piled high with inventive toppings. No one leaves here hungry.
We eventually did leave (stuffed to the gills), and made our way to our final destination for the evening: Blackthorn Pizza & Pub (510 S. Joplin Avenue). No, we weren’t there for a second dinner; we were there to listen to the live music. That night, the local band, Me Like Bees, was performing. We snagged a table, ordered some beers on tap, and settled in to enjoy the pulsating sounds of a live band, along with the company of our family.
As I collapsed into bed that night, exhausted from the busy week, I thought about the fun times our family had, and the lasting memories that we had made. The experiences that we had shared together strengthened our bond as a family, and added to the story of this town, this place on Route 66, right in the heart of the country.