Route 66 News

Bob Kraft, former co-owner of the Riviera, dies

Bob Kraft, a co-owner of the regrettably gone Riviera Roadhouse bar and restaurant along Route 66 in Gardner, Illinois, died last week at age 90 in a nursing home, according to an obituary in The Daily Journal of Kankakee, Illinois.

Kraft and his wife, Peggy, who died in May 2013, owned and operated the Riviera for 37 years. Their business was inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 1994. They retired in 2008.

The restaurant and tavern were known as a hangout for gangster Al Capone during the late 1920s. Actors Gene Kelly and Tom Mix reputedly stopped there as well.

The bar for many years served as a local hangout, but gained a second wind the last 10 years or so of its existence when the Krafts’ friendly reputation and the bar’s old-school vibe start to gain Route 66 travelers from far and wide.

Daily Journal writer Robert Themer, a few days after Robert Kraft’s death, recounted a memorable hour with him at the bar in 2002.

Bob had the look of absent-minded retired English professor — glasses slightly askew, as if he had just awoke from a nap, solid blue bow tie, striped shirt with plaid trousers and a shaggy gray and white cardigan of horizontal stripes.

It wasn’t his outfit, though, or even the whiskey that made the flooding problems of the Mazon take a seat at the far silent end of the bar.

It was Bob’s gift of genial conversation that he carries on with as he tends to the bar customers, pushing closing time — relatively early weeknight 11 p.m. But then, Bob was 77 and on that mid-February night was two months from his 55th anniversary of polishing his act as a barman.

The Ace Jackalope blog in 2010 also posted a lot of photos and memories of the Riviera.

A suspicious fire destroyed the Riviera in 2010. Officials from the state investigated, but no cause was found, and no arrests were made.

Surviving are one son and a daughter-in-law; three nieces and one nephew; five grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.

Kraft was cremated, and there was no funeral service. Memorials may be made to the National Historic Route 66 Federation. An online guestbook also has been set up here by the funeral home.

(Image of Bob Kraft courtesy of Ace Jackalope)

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