Because a beer and a burger have never gone wrong.
One of America’s great gifts to dive bars and historically-rich local diners is Route 66 and Amarillo’s stretch along the highway is no exception. A pocket on the westside of the city boasts some of the city’s best offerings (like the nearby Broken Spoke Lounge), including the GoldenLight Café, first opened at its current and enduring location in 1946. The bar’s web site tells the tale of not only the line of owners starting with Chester “Pop” Ray, born in 1889, but maybe more interestingly, the unique and sometimes lost chili recipes associated with each generation of ownership.
The space resembles an old West, movie-style prison (in a good way), a short brown brick building with bars on the windows. The signage, updated a time or two since 1946, uses a simple golden circle to set off the name of the bar & diner, as well as the attached music venue, The GoldenLight Cantina, opened in 1966. Route 66 mentions are included not only on the sign, but throughout the interior space, paying homage to the road that has ferried customers to GoldenLight’s front door for over 75 years.
Inside, the space resembles a season’s worth of American Pickers episodes, with all manner of metal signs dotting the walls, interspersed with a little bit of beer neon just to complete the look (I see you, Pabst). A short, and I mean short, bar area borders the open-air flat top and provides the best sense of the space, the fastest route to a cold beer and a clear line of sight to meat smashed and grilled. Though signage inside is quick to make the distinction that GoldenLight is certainly no fast food joint, the food whipped out of the kitchen on this reviewer’s last visit, burger after burger off to a steady stream of customers.
Beyond the bar, low, long tables make up the rest of the seating, a single row opposite the bar and a few more in back as the room opens up into a slightly larger space. But the old West prison aesthetic extends to the square footage inside, and this is no open concept roadhouse. The intimate quarters do, however, fit the ambiance of the place, the history, the food, the beer, to position the small area as a plus rather than a minus.
Amid the metal soda signs and beer lights, more original offerings dot the wall, from a mural depicting what look to be a set of regulars across one wall, to a series of framed, aging photos and newspaper clippings throughout the space hinting at the space’s immense history and longevity. The imagery conveys well the feeling that this is a place well-loved and well lived in both through the series of owners who have cared for the space as well as the regulars that have kept it alive for so long.
Though the Cantina space next door opened over 50 years after the original space, the concert venue feels like a seamless extension of the vibe, from the wall art to the equally intimate dimensions of the room. A stage up front houses a rotating set of local and touring artists, a recent but entirely fitting extension to the GoldenLight’s connection to American travel.
The GoldenLight Café hits every note that it should without ever veering into feeling like the touristy cash grab that some Route 66 destinations have morphed into over the years. At its heart, the GoldenLight is a local, friendly, neighborhood dive bar and diner cranking out hamburgers on the flat top and beer in chilled glasses. That you can see a concert a few steps away is only an added bonus.