Crescent City crestNew Orleans, LA

New Orleans sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Speaking of Crescent City icons, in my humble opinion there is no finer example of utilitarian design anywhere. It’s been a long time since the era when “municipal” could be synonymous with “beautiful,” but the fact that these little meter box covers are still so famous and beloved today gives me hope. With any luck, other cities might just get on board, and inject a little beauty into even the most minute details.

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A street corner named desireNew Orleans, LA

New Orleans sketch by Chandler O'Leary

People like to categorize cities by things like food, or architecture, or climate, or whatever. Me? I like to categorize places by their signature style of lettering. So if I want midcentury neon Googie script, I might look along Route 66. For a good all-purpose wild-west Clarendon, look no further than Wall Drug. But if I want beautiful inlaid tile street signs, I’m heading straight for New Orleans. It’s not just the tile, either—the lettering itself is so unique it’s become an icon of the Crescent City.

Good thing, too—no offense to the designers of Highway Gothic and other way finding typefaces, but the French Quarter deserves something a little fancier than your standard green street sign.

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Ranch to tableWilliams, AZ

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

When it comes to road food along Route 66, sometimes a hot dog just doesn’t cut the mustard. When you’re traversing the Wild West, sometimes you just want a darn steak already. If a slab o’ steer is your cuppa tea, there’s no better place than Rod’s Steakhouse in Williams, Arizona.

We stayed three nights in a motel kitty-corner from Rod’s, so I ended up spending a lot of time staring at that neon sign—no complaints here, it’s a real beauty. What you couldn’t see from the motel was that the steer sign was just the tip of the fluorescent iceberg:

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

A whole block of gorgeous neon! They had me at hello.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

So on our last night in Williams, we sat down for a steak dinner. Between the neon signs and the juxtaposition of cowboy decor and scores of Italian and French tourists, I was already in heaven. But you should have seen the rapture when I saw what was waiting at the table:

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Die-cut menus and vintage custom china pattern? Swoon.

I mean, yeah. The steak was great, too—actually, my rib eye was downright perfect. But no matter how unforgettable the meal, it’s the visual details I’ll always remember.

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Griddle-r on the roofLindstrom, MN

Lindstrom sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Well, I guess if you sell hot dogs, it’s pretty hard to compete with the frankfurter meccas of Chicago and New York, where they have mastered every wiener gimmick known to man. Still, if you set up shop in a small town like Lindstrom, Minnesota, you don’t exactly have to work too hard to stand out.

I’m glad these folks don’t seem to have gotten that memo, because this place just charmed the heck out of me. I mean, go big or go home, right?

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Why a papaya?New York, NY

New York papaya sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Chicago may be America’s hot dog capital, but leave it to New York to own the hot dog in the most unique way imaginable. Manhattan certainly holds its own when it comes to high concentration per capita of dawg dives, but what really interests me is New York’s history of washing their franks down with papaya juice. Yes, papayas and hot dogs are a thing—at least in Manhattan.

Well, the last time I was in town, I was determined to follow through on something I’d wanted to do for years: have a papaya showdown. So I dragged the Tailor and my two best native New Yorker friends with me for brunch dawgs in the dead of winter. (I have very patient friends.) We could have made a whole day of it, as there are many sausage-and-juice purveyors in the city, but I was mostly interested in comparing the two biggest and oldest rivals. (Besides, I wasn’t sure I could actually consume two hot dogs in succession, let alone a whole city’s worth.)

The first stop was Gray’s Papaya—this is the place most people think of when they think papayas (do people think papayas?). Open 24 hours a day at its original location at 72nd and Broadway, its cameo appearances in several films has made it something of a household name. The franks have a solidly dirty-water quality to them—order the “Recession Special” and add a swig of papaya juice to round out the experience. I have to say, though, that the kitsch factor here was surprisingly low. The crepe-paper fruit hanging from the ceiling was a nice touch, but that’s about where the fun stuff ended. Gray’s has been in that location for over forty years, but everything there was a low-rent version of slick and modern.

New York papaya sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Papaya King, on the other hand, delivered on every front. The kitsch, the colors, the history, the design, even the food. Papaya juice, it turns out, is entirely too sweet for my taste, but the dogs were downright good. And best of all, Papaya King is the original, the real deal, the very first hot doggery to come up with the fruit-n-franks idea. The King has held court on the corner of E. 86th Street and Third Avenue since 1932, and the absolutely gorgeous neon pays homage to the original decor.

Papaya King has already won one hot dog war, when Nathan’s Famous opened a franchise next door in 1976, then capitulated when it lost the resulting price war. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s no surprise it came out on top this day, too. I am still no closer to understanding why someone would want papaya juice with their hotdog, but I’ll raise a bright yellow paper cup of the stuff to the King.

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Dog daysChicagoland and Springfield, IL

Chicago sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Okay, I’m starting this post with a few sketches that are not on Route 66, but that provide a good bit of context—which is to say, if you’re hankering for a roadside red hot on your travels, there’s no better place to go than Chicago.

There’s some debate as to the origin of the humble hot dog. There is the German frankfurter, of course, but what has become the ultimate American street food seems to have murkier beginnings. Various cities with German-immigrant roots lay claim to the invention, including New York (where sausages were served on rolls at Coney Island in the 1870s) and St. Louis. But thanks to the persistent legend that the modern dawg, as we know it, was first served at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, Chicago has taken the story and run all the way to the bank with it.

Chicago sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Today, Chicago is the weenie capital of the world. Chicagoland Mom & Pop hot dog stands outnumber the city’s combined tally of McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s franchises. And many of them, like the fabulous (and slightly creepy) Superdawg Drive-In above, have been mainstays for half a century or more.

Chicago sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And just like the infamous Hot Wiener Sandwich of Rhode Island, a true Chicago Dog wouldn’t be caught dead in ketchup.

I started with these non-66 hot dog stands so you could see how high Chicago sets the bar for its tube-steak signage. If these wiener masterpieces could be found across town from the Mother Road, imagine how high my expectations were for Route 66’s offerings.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Well, I’m here to tell you, I didn’t come away disappointed.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And if you’re heading west on Route 66, you’re in for an added bonus. Just when you think you’ve left the Dog Days behind, you’ll reach the state capital of Springfield and meet the Cozy Dog Drive-In. The Cozy Dog was founded by one Ed Waldmire, Jr. (remember the name Waldmire—there’s more 66 lore there to share another day), who, at a USO during World War II, invented the “crusty cur,” a cornbread-battered hot dog on a stick that would become a staple of State Fair cuisine. The recipe was an enormous hit with the troops, so in 1946 Waldmire rechristened his creation the Cozy Dog, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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(Dairy) king of the roadCommerce, OK

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

If you happen to drive Route 66 in the summer, like we did, you might just find yourself pulling into Commerce, OK at the hottest part of an absolutely scorching day. If that’s the case, this former filling station will appear on the horizon first like a desert mirage, and then like a beacon of hope.

Apparently the unique draw of the Dairy King is the legendary Route 66 cookie (yes, a cookie shaped like US Highway shields!), but I have to confess: sometimes all you want on a hundred-degree day is a little something frosty.

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Roadside zigguratMonrovia, CA

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Here’s a unique one. If you drive Route 66 through the seemingly unending sprawl of greater Los Angeles, you’ll pass an ornate oddment around the halfway point of the Valley. The place is called the Aztec Hotel, and it’s apparently one of the best (and only) still-standing examples of Mayan-Revival architecture.

Did you know that was a thing? Me, neither.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Nevermind that the Aztecs and Mayans were two completely different cultures, and the implications of approximating either or both in America—whatever your opinion of the genre, the Aztec Hotel’s unique relief work is quite a beauty. And amazingly, the “Mayan” style dovetails beautifully with the Art Deco era in which this place was built.

The Aztec is currently closed, but rumor has it that the building is owned by a Chinese investor, who is supposedly fixing the place up with plans to reopen in the near future. I really hope that’s the case, because based on vintage photos I’ve seen of the interior, I’m dying to get in there with my sketchbook.

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Burro boroughOatman, AZ

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

I think this is the closest I’ve yet come to experiencing the phenomenon of the sacred cow. In Oatman, Arizona, they have sacred donkeys.

Well, if not exactly sacred…then, I’d imagine, lucrative.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Oatman is something of a living ghost town: what’s left is a relic of the gold rush, a dessicated hamlet tucked away in the craggy, bare mountains of western Arizona. The place is so unbelievably remote, it’s a wonder that any highway reached it at all, let alone the Mother Road.

At the time of the gold rush, prospectors brought burros with them to do the heavy lifting for them. Far more hardy than your average horse, the donkeys could tough it out in such an inhospitable place. The ore veins dried up during the Great Depression, and at the start of World War II, the mines were formally closed as nonessential to the war effort. The last few miners turned their beasts of burden loose onto the surrounding hills, and left town for good.

The burros, being burros, thrived on their hardscrabble existence, and before long had produced an entire population of feral donkeys. Their sleek, well-fed descendants roam the streets of Oatman today, stalling traffic (such as there is) and biting the fingers of unwary tourists.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

You have to hand it to Oatman: someone there saw the potential for a feral donkey to become a serious—and sacred—cash cow.

I’m a little ashamed to say I didn’t part with any tourist cash in Oatman. I didn’t even get out of the car. It was 116 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and while I’ll do almost anything for a good tourist trap, frying like an egg isn’t on the list. But then again, stubborn as I may be, I’m no burro—just a pale Irish gal from a cold, rainy climate.

Maybe I’ll visit in the winter next time, and buy an extra t-shirt as penance.

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