Iconic Route 66 Cafe Closes Due To Pandemic

One of Illinois’ classic Route 66 restaurants just announced its closing. Travelers will miss the fresh pie and coffee—and will have to hope that new managers might take over in post-pandemic times.

The Palms Grill Café in Atlanta, Illinois—a favorite stop for travelers along Illinois’ stretch of Route 66—served its last meal under the current ownership on Aug. 2, joining hundreds of restaurants across the Midwest that have shuttered due to the pandemic.

“The negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have left us no choice but to close,” the restaurant announced in a Facebook post. “It is our hope that the landlord, the Atlanta Public Library—which owns the grill and all its equipment/contents—will find a new management team to reopen after the pandemic is behind all of us.

“Being part of the Route 66 community is a unique opportunity and we believe that the grill should continue to be a part of the quintessential road trip.”

Travelers were quick to react. “I am in shock over this news,” Douglas Mark Thompson wrote on Facebook. “The Palms Grill Café is an iconic place on Route 66…This café brought years of happiness to many, many people. This is truly a sad day in Atlanta. 😢”

Midwest Living visited the café last fall as part of a four-day Road Rally along Route 66 with the Illinois Office of Tourism. “Like a scene from Twin Peaks,” we wrote, “fresh daily pie and coffee call the shots in this vintage diner.”

The grill opened in 1934 and served home-cooked meals, hosted bingo games and also functioned as the local Greyhound bus stop. The original grill closed in the 1960s, but it was restored and reopened in 2009 by the Atlanta Library and Museum in partnership with other supporters.

Across the Midwest, as all over the United States, restaurants are closing—many permanently—because of the pandemic. Chicago’s lengthy list of closures includes well-known city eateries like veggie-centric Bad Hunter and Michelin-starred Blackbird.

In the Twin Cities, The Bachelor Farmer and Moose & Sadie’s are among the restaurants that are gone; in Omaha, the Flatiron Café—in business for 24 years in the historic Flatiron building—has closed as well.

Local papers and websites are chronicling the losses elsewhere, including in Cleveland, the Columbus area, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and St. Louis.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition has estimated that 500,000 independent restaurants and 11 million jobs “are on the brink of going away forever,” urging Congress to pass a $120 billion Independent Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

But new restaurants are opening as well, hoping that months (or years) of planning will pay off even during challenging times. On Monday, August 3, Dr. Murphy’s Food Hall opened in Chicago’s Cook County Hospital building, featuring a dozen vendors, including nine minority and women-owned businesses.

With an outdoor patio, spacious seating areas, online ordering and contactless payment systems, the food hall believes it can navigate pandemic concerns and provide a variety of food options to medical professionals, students, educators and others.

The hall is named for pioneering physician Dr. John Murphy, who studied, interned and taught at Cook County Hospital at the turn of the last century.

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