Famous Chicago Berghoff restaurant closing

Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2005 08:54 am
Historic Berghoff to close
Restaurant has been tradition for generations of Chicagoans

By Mike Hughlett
Tribune staff reporter

Published December 28, 2005, 10:06 PM CST

First Marshall Field's, now The Berghoff.

Chicago will lose another commercial and cultural icon when the 107-year-old Berghoff Restaurant, a Loop landmark, serves its last schnitzel on Feb. 28.

Herman Berghoff, the 70-year-old grandson of the restaurant's founder, and his wife, Jan Berghoff, 68, are retiring. Herman Berghoff, who's been working at the German-style restaurant since 1952, owns the building at 17 W. Adams St. and will lease it to his daughter Carlyn Berghoff's catering company.

She plans to reopen the bar this spring under a slightly different name but convert the elegant dining room to a private banquet hall, thus ending the reign of one of Chicago's oldest and most fattening restaurants.

"It's hard to believe," said Rich Melman, head of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, a Chicago-based restaurant company, who recalls first eating at The Berghoff 45 years ago. "I feel such a personal loss for Chicago. It's like losing the Cubs or something."

Christopher Lackner, a spokesman for Herman and Jan Berghoff, said the decision to close "wasn't without great thought. The Berghoff family shares the sadness the city shares."

The Berghoffs never put the building or the restaurant on the market, Lackner said. Both the building and the business would fetch a high price.

"It does very well," Lackner said. "It is a very successful business." He declined to disclose its revenues.

Under the family's plan, Artistic Events by Carlyn Berghoff Catering Inc. will take over the building this winter. She will rename the bar 17 West at The Berghoff and reopen the adjoining cafe but reserve the dining room--cloaked in rich oak and graced with pictures of old Chicago--for private, catered events.

Artistic Events hasn't determined what if any changes will be made to the building's exterior, including its landmark sign, said Jennifer Connelly, a spokeswoman for the company.

The Berghoff traces its roots to Herman Joseph Berghoff's desire in 1898 to showcase his Dortmunder-style beer. At a bar at State and Adams Streets, he sold it for a nickel a mug and offered sandwiches for free.

Prohibition forced The Berghoff to expand into a full-service restaurant, which has been at its current location--next door to the original--since 1936.

The Berghoff was the first Chicago establishment to get a liquor license after Prohibition ended in 1933.

It was also known for maintaining a separate, men-only bar long after such practices faded.

For legions of Chicago men of a certain age, The Berghoff was a stop-off point for a beer before attending a Blackhawks game at Chicago Stadium, or one of the first destinations after turning 21.

The men-only tradition ended in 1969 when seven members of the National Organization for Women sat down at the bar and demanded service.

But mostly, The Berghoff has been known as an old-style, family-run restaurant where the waiters wear black jackets and white aprons. It's been a traditional stop for generations of Chicagoans and visitors.

Lifetime memories

Bill Figel, who owns a public relations firm at Adams and LaSalle Streets, is a third-generation customer of The Berghoff. His grandfather, a lawyer in the neighborhood who worked a half-day on Saturdays like others in the profession, would go there with others for a corned beef sandwich at noon on Saturdays. His father would meet friends at The Berghoff before heading to a college double-header basketball game at the stadium.

"There's nothing more authentic than the German atmosphere," Figel said.
With lines out the front door common, Figel shared a tip--an "old Chicago trick" now of limited use--for bypassing the out-of-towners. Walk through the bar to the back of the dining room, grab a table and then tip a waiter.

Crowds are biggest this time of year. During the holiday season, the number of customers served each day jumps from about 1,500 to 3,000.

Kathy Scopelliti was one of the holiday revelers Wednesday, dining with her husband and two friends, all in town for the day from the Chicago suburbs. "When our waiter told us [about the closing] I couldn't believe it was true."

Scopelliti, 51, was introduced to The Berghoff at age 5 by her grandmother. "It was a big deal to come downtown--wearing hats and gloves--and go to The Berghoff."

She still comes two or three times a year, often for lunch with her mother and her sister. "I have a lot of good memories. It's like Field's now. The Berghoff will be a memory too."

She of course was talking about the venerable Marshall Field's brand, soon set to vanish when its owner, Federated Department Stores Inc., converts the chain to Macy's.

"It makes me sick, first Field's, and now this," said Laura Howell of Chicago as she was about to order dessert.

Distinctive Chicago brands are increasingly giving way to seemingly rootless chains, she said. "Are we supposed to take up our next year's holiday traditions at Victoria's Secret?"

O'Hare cafe to stay open

The Berghoff Cafe at O'Hare International Airport will remain open. It has a somewhat different ownership structure, and includes Carlyn Berghoff as an owner.

Her catering business, Artistic Events, has been around for about 20 years, and is housed in the West Loop.

But Berghoff's landlord bought out her lease recently in order to redevelop the building into condominiums, Connelly said, so Artistic Events has to vacate by the end of March.

Artistic Events has about $5 million in annual sales and has 45 full-time employees.

The Berghoff has 92 full-time employees, including several waiters who have been employed for decades.


Staff reporter Rick Popely contributed to this story.
[email protected]

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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2005 08:56 am
Photos below from the Chicago Tribune , print (Midwest) version, December 29, 2005, front page and page 12:

http://img492.imageshack.us/img492/543/clipboard38tb.jpg http://img492.imageshack.us/img492/7938/clipboard13xx.jpg


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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2005 09:00 am

Homepage Berghoff restaurant
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Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2005 09:50 am

Have you ever been there? Our family, immigrants from Germany, moved to Chicago in 1958. My parents took me to that restaurant several times in the 1960's.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2005 09:55 am
No. I haven't. And now I can't in May. Crying or Very sad

I've read a bit about them and their place, when I researched some other stuff in the Dortmund (the hometown of the the first American Berghoffs) State and University Library.
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Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2005 09:59 am
I feel sad for you, Walter. They made excellent "Sauerbraten".
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Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2005 11:21 am
I'm not a big spinach fan, but the creamed spinach at the Berghoff is superb. The restaurant will be sorely missed.

With the closing of the Berghoff we are down to about three or four German restaurants in Chicago -- a sad decline, considering the large German presence in Chicago during its earlier days.
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Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2005 11:23 am
The hamburgers were talking about the good food at the Berghoff on the weekend.
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Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2005 08:16 pm
oh no !
mrs h and i went to the berghoff a few times in the late '70's when i went to conventions in chicago (we stayed at the drake - the company paid - and had breakfast at the "playboy club" - very respactable ... for breakfast anyway).
one thing i remember about the berghoff is , that the waiters had to pay for the food that the patrons ordered before they could pick it up at the kitchen . i'm not sure if that may have been an old german custom .
(another restaurant no longer around is "jack dempsey's " in new york city . jack dempsey would sit in a corner of the restaurant with his cronies and sign postcards depicting one of his boxing matches . still have the postcard and a menu somewhere in the house . full course dinners started at $4.95 - including matzo ball soup ! that shows you how long ago that was ) . hbg
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Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2005 08:31 pm
I heard this on the radio this morning and couldn't believe it. I have only been there a couple times but will definitely have to make one last trip before it closes.
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Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2005 08:50 pm
It's always the damn condos, isn't it.
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Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2005 08:58 pm
I've been crying all over A2K about this.

It's a sad, sad day in Chi-town. Crying or Very sad
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Fri 30 Dec, 2005 07:33 am

The wonder years

The Berghoff is not about power lunches. It's not about tourists. It's the experience.

By Kurt Ullrich
Published December 30, 2005


I am not bothered by the possible transformation of Marshall Field's flagship store on State Street. Yes, I have memories of the place, memories going back half a century, memories hinged directly to a Chicago-born mother and father. Memories having little to do with retail. Field's quit selling ambience years ago, and the rest is available at department stores all over town. Does it matter that Field's will evaporate into the ether of diesel-fueled capitalism? Nah, not really. It's the way stuff works in America.

Restaurants, too, come and go with great regularity, and I've grown accustomed to this fact. However, having said that, the closing of The Berghoff on West Adams Street feels like a gut punch. It is one of the few places in the city where I feel I can relax.

In the 1930s, my German immigrant grandfather would park his car on Adams Street and spend time in the Berghoff bar. My guess is he spent most of his time arguing politics and religion. He was one of those "never in doubt, often wrong" characters who insisted on being right. While he quaffed and debated at the bar, his little daughter, my mother, sat in the car and waited for him, which would indicate that he was either a marginal father or the Loop was slightly safer than it feels today. The truth, as in most issues, undoubtedly lay somewhere in the middle.

Alas, my grandfather and my mother are long gone, gone to that ancient German altstadt where the beer is bitingly strong and the veal is always tender. After their passing, it became my duty, as well as my pleasure, to dine at The Berghoff. Admittedly, I adore the place. I don't let the brusque hosts or hostesses put me in a dark corner near the bar or, in the old days, send me to the basement. For me, eating at The Berghoff means a seat in the elegant large dining room where murals of the 1893 Columbian Exposition keep guard over gorgeous oak paneling and hungry diners.

I admit to pedestrian tastes and I have three favorite restaurants in the world that I try to visit as often as possible. They are the Sternbrau in Salzburg, Austria, the Augustinerbrau in Munich, Germany, and The Berghoff in Chicago. All three places are of similar vintage and similar feel. The major difference between The Berghoff and the other two restaurants is that in Munich and Salzburg no one seats you. You simply walk in and look for a table, and tables are shared. There is nothing better than sharing a table with Austrians and Italians on a cold December day in Salzburg. I did just that two weeks ago, and three days after arriving home I was driving the 3 1/2 hours to Chicago to eat at The Berghoff.

At 107 years old, The Berghoff is old school. It's not about being seen. Not about power lunches. It's not even about tourists. It's about the food. Some might call it "honest" food . . . I don't know what that means. But I do know that in a world where perky waiters and waitresses introduce themselves and say "I'll be your server tonight," The Berghoff offered longtime, world-weary waiters who were glad to bring food to your table; but don't expect them to act happy about it. The Berghoff is where you eat and drink. Period.

You could never rely on The Berghoff to give your life meaning. You bring your own meaning to the place, placing it next to you at one of the wooden tables, telling it to relax and offering it a dark beer. You got problems? Leave 'em at home. Want the world to think you're a big shot? Go somewhere else. Care to try a very good sauerbraten with creamed spinach? Welcome home.

Will I miss The Berghoff? Absolutely. Will its closing change anything in my life or in the life of a vibrant city? Probably not. Its essence will always be there, whether I'm sitting at my kitchen table in Iowa or in a comfortable restaurant in Munich. Much like my longing for my German grandfather and my mother, I simply know that I'll not see The Berghoff again, at least not in this life.


Kurt Ullrich lives in Maquoketa, Iowa.
Source /page 11 of today's offline published Midwest issue
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satt fs
Reply Fri 30 Dec, 2005 09:37 pm
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Reply Mon 2 Jan, 2006 05:09 pm
I was privileged to eat dinner at the Berghoff once last year. (Chicken noodle and Schweinsbraten, and Schwarzwälder Kirsch Torte.) My expectations were kind of low -- eating German food isn't the reason I travel 6000 miles away from Germany. But not only did their Schweinsbraten melt on the tongue, as did the vegetables that came with it. For this 21st century German, they were almost a like trip in a time machine. The Berghoff's recipies, at least the one for Schweinsbraten, were straight out of the 19th century cookbook. They were refreshingly uncorrupted by the low-fat fads, the minimal portion sizes, and all those other symptoms of decay that have turned me into a cultural pessimist on fine German cooking.

Rest in peace, Berghoff, I'll miss you. And I hope Chicago doesn't close this Russian place around the corner from Symphony Hall before I can eat there again. (Russian Tea Time I think was its name.) If they do, I will be extremely pissed.
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Reply Mon 2 Jan, 2006 05:28 pm
That remins me of the famous Luchow's in New York City.
A day before its final closure I was fortunate enough to
experience the nice "Gemuetlichkeit" and the excellent food.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Mon 2 Jan, 2006 11:31 pm
I like this postcard from an unknown German barroom in the USA, from 19hundred something

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Reply Tue 3 Jan, 2006 12:12 am
Oh yeah Walter, that's the Luchow's - there, pictured in the middle, that's me!!
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Tue 3 Jan, 2006 08:23 am
<I'd thaught that I'd met that girl somewhere>
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