Jack Kerouac’s US road trip
Recover from your revelry in a smart room at the Wyndham Blake Chicago, housed in the old customs building in the Loop (from £145).
New Orleans: Ferry rides and good times in the Deep South
New Orleans ‘burned in our brains’, writes Kerouac, as Sal and Dean are drawn south by the promise of the ‘greeneries and river smells’ of the city that’s regarded as the birthplace of jazz. Driving down the Gulf Coast, they click on a local Chicken Jazz’n Gumbo radio show (WWOZ is a nice proxy), Dean yelling out of the car window, ‘“Now we're going to get our kicks!”’
Yet, instead of jumping into the fray, they catch the ferry to Algiers, a sleepy neighbourhood across the Mississippi. Algiers felt like a deserted island in the 1940s. It’s still pretty removed, with quiet blocks of century-old shotgun shacks. But you should at least ride the ferry across Ol’ Man River, which has run here since 1827. It’s free for pedestrians, and can be at its most atmospheric at night, the time when Sal watches the ‘mystic wraith of fog over the brown waters’.
Sal and Dean stay in Algiers with Beat writer William S Burroughs (Old Bull Lee in the book), who lives with his family and seven cats in a ‘dilapidated old heap with sagging porches’. He doesn’t much like New Orleans – the one night they hit the French Quarter, Old Bull purposely takes them to dull bars. The district deserves more consideration; while Bourbon Street gets all the attention for its touristy nightlife, you're never far from quiet streets full of 19th-century townhouses, housing art galleries and Creole restaurants. For bigger kicks, Kerouac would have enjoyed Frenchmen Street, steps east from the French Quarter. Just walk up it and listen out for the music you want to hear, diving in and out of local bars and cafés. A stand-out, and frequently dubbed the best jazz venue in the city, is the intimate Snug Harbor, a brick-wall venue in a converted townhouse. Sal’s lingering memory of New Orleans is the sweet smell of its air, its river, its people and its mud; add the smell of meat loaf, BBQ and po’boys to the mix at Elizabeth’s. One of New Orlean’s favourite down-home restaurants, it’s situated on the levee near Frenchmen Street, overlooking the Mississippi.
Stay at the Frenchmen, a cluster of 1850s houses surrounding a courtyard with pool; some rooms have balconies (from £60).
Denver: 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 hometown 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 Street, 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.
The area has come full circle today. Larimer Street, 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 is a first-rate example of new Denver, crafting excellent seasonal and year-round beers and selling them in its tap room.