Route 66 in the News

Riviera Roadhouse Burns Down

2010-06-09 11:56:43

GARDNER, Ill. - A restaurant along the historic Route 66 that was a popular hangout for Al Capone went up in flames overnight.

Fire crews tried to save the Riviera Roadhouse, at 5650 S. Illinois Route 53 in unincorporated Grundy County near Gardner. But the historic building was destroyed.

The owners say they were recently advised to install a new sprinkler system, but could not afford to do so.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is located on the historic Route 66.

The small tavern with its blue and white exterior and hanging Schlitz beer sign dates back to 1928. South Wilmington, Ill., businessman James Girot moved structures from Gardner and South Wilmington and combined them to build the structure, according to the Web site The Road Wanderer.

During Prohibition, a restaurant was located in the basement, and a bar was accessible through a linen closet upstairs, according to the Chicago Now blog, Chicago Political Commentary.

The roadhouse was a regular hangout for Al Capone, and Capone and his crew are reputed to have hid illegal booze and slot machines in a vault in the building during police raids, according to Chicago Now.

In the 1930s, the grounds housed a park and a zoo. Later, the nearby Mazon River made it a popular fishing spot.

More recently, the Riviera Roadhouse was operated by Bob and Peggy Kraft, and was well-known for its Italian dishes, barbecue ribs, and $1.25 Schlitz beer, according to Chicago Now.

Capone memorabilia was found all around the restaurant, including a large safe used to hide profits in a downstairs closet. In the men's room, there was even a sign that read, "Al Capone passed gas here in 1932," according to Chicago Now.

The restaurant closed on New Year's Eve 2008, but reopened this past December in hopes of drawing customers as a Route 66 hot spot.

Earlier in the year, the restaurant was also shut down because of a fight over fire safety. The new owner of the business had been at odds with the Gardner Fire Protection District and state fire marshal's office because the building didn't have the required sprinkler system to comply with fire safety codes.

Fire marshals said in February that the Riviera building's spot on the National Register does not make it exempt from fire safety laws. The owner appealed the decision.

~CBS Broadcasting, Inc.


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