Williams is not only "The Gateway to the Grand Canyon", but it is also one of the two great portals to Route 66 itself. I posted very, very briefly about it back in August, but it did little to actually cover the days we spent there. It was overshadowed by Seligman, easily my favorite along the route, so it is time to dive in to Williams right and proper.
Foto (above): My beautiful gypsy at Goldie's
Goldie's Route 66 Diner: This was actually the first classic diner that I've taken my LiLi to, although you can bet good money on the fact that I'll be taking her on an entire tour of the originals all throughout the North-East. Goldie's serves the traditional gunk-tasting black coffee found in every diner, old and new, and serves up sandwiches and breakfast food with their own mix of attitude. The interior is far more luscious than the food, with the upholstery and art both becoming a visual celebration of the road itself. They're not 24-hours like most diners, so get in there before midnight... or you'll be turned into a pumpkin.
Route 66 Williams: If you talk about Dirty Sixth in Austin, it's just waiting for night to fall. It doesn't "have it doing on all day". It lives for the night.
The same for the Vegas Strip. Some places favor one side of day or the other. The Route 66 strip through the center of Williams has two very different sides, mid-day and fall of night. The photo above is the strip at day, when tourist buses are coming through one after the other, and cars are pouring in from both East and West. Then there is the other side.
All hail the king!
Oh, wait, I'm getting off the subject. Shortly before sunset, the lights of Williams blink to life, neon ribbons filling signs and store windows from every angle. The colors fill the air itself as light flees behind the surrounding mountains, and the night comes to life. Downtown Williams is another world once darkness sets.
However, I do have to say that it's short lived, especially coming from someone who is nocturnal and stays awake until sunrise. Williams parties and gets it's groove on from sunset until eleven, midnight at best, then cuts the power. You only have a few hours to enjoy it all before: "Lights out. Time to go home."
In those few hours, especially the transformation at sunset, there really is magic. You can imagine yourself transported between half a century and into the original glory days of Route 66. It's beautiful. Truly beautiful.
South Rims Wine & Beer Garage: There is no mentioning Williams without mentioning the one and only South Rims! When we set out that morning in Williams, we weren't looking for a bar, nor a tasting room; we were looking for a smoking patio. Williams is the last city going West that Interstate-40 did not cut off from the rest of the world. That means a larger mainstream audience of tourism, and that means socially acceptable forms of discrimination such as anti-smokers. We'd searched the main strip in the city already, finding only one possible place.
Then we found South Rims. We were walking past when I noticed how they had set up their patio, a mix of comfort and ornate decoration that I really liked. As someone was working outside and cleaning up, I asked him if they allowed smoking on their patio. Yes. Yes, they do.
I would later find out that this man is the mutineer chef, himself, and who goes by the name of Rick. Rick, btw, has demanded that both Lili and I return so that he can cook an off-menu meal for us that he wants us to try. We will be coming back. You can count on that, Rick!
South Rims serves only craft beers and wine made right there in Arizona. Lili loved the amber IPA she drank (left in the photo), and the porter (right) was a murderer. Greg was serving us, and he not only gave us insights into the drinks, but he also filled me in on the history of the garage and how its roots grow so deep that they reach the route itself.
The classic GTO that is up on a lift inside the garage was put together by the owners, who originally converted the Route 66 garage into the beer and wine tasting room that it has become. The lift itself was used by both the auto shop and the tasting room, and it's become the icon for South Rims ever since.
Wild West Junction: While we're on the topic of patios open for smokers, I've got to mention Wild West Junction. Happy hour here is literally an hour, running from 4-5pm daily at The Longhorn Saloon, and with live shootouts on most nights right around sunset. If you're lucky, you'll be graced by a fine bit of fluffy claws -- a cat known as Tuffy who claims ownership to the entire city. No joke. Tuffy owns the place, and everybody knows it... at least he owns the land. More on that later. Back to the Wild West.
We actually haven't gotten around to trying the coffee at Wild West junction, as we'd fueled up on caffeine earlier at Brewed Awakenings (incredible!). The environment, however, is not only smoker-friendly, but also filled with camera bait at every angle. It's like a little piece of Tucson's Trail Dust Town done in the style of Northern Arizona. Add to that a few drunken cowboys and spots for shade, and you've got one of my favorite patios in all of Williams.
Now, I'm not getting out of this alive if I don't mention the cars...
This car above does not exist anywhere online. I googled the phrase "dead kings chop shop" and came up absolutely empty. At least online, this hot rod doesn't exist. Oh, but it very much does exist, and it's incredible. Sitting on the ground, and looking at it from different angles, I swore it was a sculpture and not a real car. The wooden carvings on the back, and fine detailing, the sculpted and layered license plates -- everything about it screamed form, not function. I was wrong. I saw this car start up outside of Twister's Diner, then stand up on all fours and drive off. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
This is only one, although certainly the best, example of the classic and custom cars that come through Williams every single day. While we found many of them downtown, as well as simply driving right down Route 66, we found that they seemed to center on Twister's Diner. The city is quite the hub of these cars that border on art.
A History Written in Iron & Smoke: One thing I wasn't expecting to find in Williams was such a rich history and culture surrounding trains. I'm not talking just one train line, but all the major train lines of the States. Remember, I'm an old hobo; I've ridden at three of the four major cargo lines, and grew up hearing the tales of my blood-grandfather Horus, who was an engineer for Union Pacific. I know these rails well.
From the Grand Canyon Railroad, to the boxcar bridge seen above, to the visitor center along the rails, to the cargo cars strewn across the city -- Williams is a city that truly celebrates the great iron dinosaurs that own the rails of the United States. You'll find plaques and information about each line hanging up along Route 66.
You'll find so many more photos attached, including some shots of the public art and murals along the route in Williams. Now, however, it's on to some quickies...
The Crows: The Crows own the city. Tuffy owns everything he can reach, but the sheer number of black feathers that paint the sky are unbelievable... even for Northern Arizona. I'm not joking. They own the place. Other birds aren't allowed. I actually saw pigeons landing just at the edge of town, but not stepping a foot inside of it. When one of the pigeons tried to walk nearer, a single crow flew down and scattered the whole bunch of 'em. Given how I love hanging with corvens, I quite enjoyed having such a large murder flying over the city.
Loves: I have to shout out the best sleeping spot in Williams! Not only are they good for some proper zonk, but the view from their lot is open to the mountains, forest, and the city below. It's also turned to face the setting sun, making for a beautiful and scenic hangout area.
The Pines: Huge shout out in tasty thanks to the Pine Country Restaurant. As it's located on 2nd just off Route 66, there's no missing it. Order the chili cheese fries with the chili on the side, and order a side of brown gravy. You'll get poutine and chili fries all in one, and at a sick price. The taste, btw, sets them apart as the best spot for chili fries in all of Arizona. Mad respect to the Pines, as I've been eating there since I was fourteen, and they're still mad rocking it!
The Library: If I were just mentioning the library, I'd say it was about average for a small town, perhaps lower than average relative to all towns. It's closed Sunday and Monday, with some zany hour changes the rest of the week. It has only two outlets that I found, average WiFi, limited seating, and passable service. The bathrooms, however, are what sets it aside. They're clean, personal bathrooms with locks on the door, as well as outlets inside. For anyone who hasn't traveled on a long-term basis, that might not translate. What that means is a personal space for a quick cleanup, even an electric shave, and for changing clothes. That makes it a bit of a gem in travel terms.
The Map: I've made my own map of Williams that you can use to quickly reference spots to eat, see, sleep at, and drink at. Plenty of photo ops also marked on the map. I'll be adding more to it when next we return, as we will return. After all, Rick said we're required to come back to South Rims so that he can cook for us. We can't say "no" to that.
To Do When Next We Hit Williams:
- Have Rick's cooking at South Rims
- Test if Goldie's has WiFi
- Hit up Twister's Diner and see the inside
- Check out other spots for sleeping and not just Loves