Champaign, Ill. (WCIA)
Food, Fun and Rock & Roll in Joliet
By Marcia Frost
Chicagoland is filled with towns that offer activities you wouldn’t expect, but you’d be very surprised to find out just how much unexpected there is in Joliet, Illinois.
It all started with an invitation to the very first Illinois Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction. It was put off in 2020 because of the pandemic and rescheduled for 2021.
It’s no secret that many great performers come from Illinois so the idea to start the induction and open a museum as a tribute was a no-brainer for President/Founder Ron Romero. The non-profit museum, which will be in downtown Joliet on Route 66, has not officially opened yet, but previews show they already have music treasures from Cheap Trick, Train, and REO Speedwagon.
Cheap Trick and REO were two of the members of inaugural class at this year’s Induction Ceremony, which also included Chicago, Cheap Trick, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Dick Biondi, Larry Lujack, WLS Radio – AM, Ides of March, The Buckinghams, and Chess Records.
The Covid situation kept some of the performers who originally planned on coming in person away, but there was no shortage of musical talent on stage. Performing at the event were Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon, the Ides of March, The Buckinghams, and Blues legend John Primer. Others, including Rick Nielsen for Cheap Trick and the members of Chicago, accepted their honors by video.
The event was held at the Rialto Square Theater. This beautiful and historical venue is open once again and has a full schedule that includes shows such as Hocus Pocus and Swan Lake, and performances from Melissa Etheridge and Kevin James.
The museum and Rialto are just two of the attractions to bring you to Joliet.
Our first stop on day one was at the Old Joliet Prison, which opened in 1858 as a maximum-security penitentiary and was closed to prisoners in 2002. A selection of tours is offered here from self-guided to the Haunted History Tour. (Check the website for dates, times, and prices.)
Some of this location should be familiar to those who have seen the Blues Brothers movie, part of which was filmed here. The architecture of this prison reminded me more of a castle in Europe than a prison. In fact, the same architect who designed the water tower in Chicago was responsible for creating it.
We learned during our tour that it’s about more than a correctional facility. This prison was on the cusp of the civil rights movement and a model to many of what should and shouldn’t be done in our nation’s justice system.
The tours take you inside the prison compound, which includes the cells, a school, and a church. They are planning special activities for Halloween across the street at what was the women’s prison and will be the Old Joliet Haunted Prison in October.
Our next stop was for lunch at Chevre Latin Café in downtown Joliet. It was an unusual menu and we had a delicious meal of rice bowls with plantains and Venezuelan empanadas, which are made with corn meal instead of just flour. Even the latte, with a fresh cinnamon cookie, was special.
Right next door to Chevre is Cheesecakes by James. We had to sample my favorite dessert and didn’t regret it. It was true rich and creamy New York style cheesecake with graham cracker crumbs. We shared a slice of cherry and a slice of turtle.
The last stop of the afternoon was at Bishop Hill Winery for a tasting. Their selection is almost all red wines, with grapes from California
Joliet has plenty of hotels to stay at and we spent the night at Harrah’s Joliet. The large hotel and casino is just blocks from downtown for an easy access to restaurants, museums, and the Rialto Theater. We didn’t get to try The Reserve steakhouse, but we did grab some tasty wraps and lattes from the Cross Street Grill.
We started our second day with breakfast at the Joliet Route 66 Diner. It offers a friendly atmosphere and a large menu, with a focus on any breakfast you could want. It was an easy decision for me as they actually had something called “Marcia’s Platter”: Potatoes, Onions, Peppers, Mushrooms, Swiss & American Cheeses, with two eggs on top.
No one did seem to know who Marcia was, but she had good taste!
Before we left town, we explored the Joliet Area Historical Museum. It shows the history of the area as well as Route 66, from its points in Chicagoland through the Midwest and to California. The museum also has tours and programs throughout the year.
For even more to see, do, eat, and drink in Joliet, visit their official tourism website.
Do you have any specific questions about where to go or how to plan?
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Also, be sure to check out my travel stories at my Wine And Spirits Travel blog.