Monday, October 1, 2012
Tracing The Tracks of Kerouac out On The Road
This is from a recent article published on TheAustralian.com.au:
From baseball games to old-school bars in the West
On the Road is driven by the allure of the West and, in particular, Denver, Neal Cassady's home town and a Beat hub in the 1940s and '50s. Kerouac came to the Colorado capital every time he travelled, lured by Denver "looming ahead of me like the Promised Land, way out there beneath the stars, across the prairie of Iowa and the plains of Nebraska".
Built as a frontier mining town in the 19th century, Denver was booming in the '40s. The characters from On the Road convene in the Windsor Hotel on Larimer St, built during the Gold Rush and once Denver's most luxurious lodgings. By the time the Beats made it their meeting place, it was a flophouse with bullet holes in the walls. The hotel was demolished in 1959.
Larimer St, the heart of skid row in On the Road, is now Lower Downtown, or LoDo, a hip area of restaurants, loft apartments and microbreweries created from century-old warehouses. The Great Divide Brewing Co (greatdivide.com) is a first-rate example of new Denver, crafting excellent seasonal and year-round beers and selling them in its tap room.
On his second trip to Denver, Sal Paradise watches a game of softball played under floodlights on Welton St, a "great eager crowd" roaring at every play. These days, equally excitable crowds gather a few blocks away at gleaming Coors Field (colorado.rockies.mlb.com), home to the Colorado Rockies baseball team. Games cost from $38 or tour the stadium for $4.50.
Original Beatnik haunts do survive in the city. Kerouac used to visit the tiny, timeless El Chapultepec (thepeclodo.com), a no-frills jazz legend with red chequered floors and a stage that's hosted Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Local jazz bands now take the stage nightly. Armed with a great old neon sign and beaten-up vinyl booths, Don's Club Tavern (donsclubtavern.com) is another relic of the Beats' time, an old-school dive bar that opened in 1947, and was allegedly another of Kerouac's drinking holes.
Before leaving town on the last leg of your trip, it's worth checking out the '50s-era signs scattered along Colfax Avenue. Stretching east as US 40, it's one of the country's earliest cross-country routes. Sal and his Beat mates spend a lot of time here, living in an apartment and drinking in its bars.
Go2: The Brown Palace is one of America's great historic hotels. It opened in 1892 after its owner had been refused entry to the Windsor Hotel because of his cowboy get-up (from $160; brownpalace.com).
Denver is 19 hours by train from New Orleans (from $160; amtrak.com); 2200km by car; or a three-hour flight (from $75; united.com).