Chicago institution closing after more than 100 years

The Berghoff Restaurant shutting down in February

Thursday, December 29, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) - It's hard not to feel a sense of Chicago's history inside the 107-year-old Berghoff Restaurant, where hand-painted murals depict the 1893 World's Fair and the city's first post-Prohibition liquor license proudly hangs.

But in a few months The Berghoff - one of this food-loving city's oldest and most beloved restaurants - will become history itself, leaving its hordes of devoted patrons crying in their German lager and plates of sauerbraten.

Third-generation owner Herman Berghoff, 70, announced Wednesday that he and his wife, Jan, will close the restaurant in February. Their retirement will dim the lights on a Chicago institution that has quenched cravings for warm apple strudel and cold beer for generations of tourists and trade workers, politicians and lawyers.

"You just don't get places like this anymore," said 65-year-old Peter Schauer, a German immigrant and Berghoff regular for more than 40 years. He stood sipping a dark red beer Wednesday evening while tapping the restaurant's polished oak bar. "It really reminds you of the old country. It is solid."

It is the second fresh chink in the city's historic identity, already stung by the recent news that its venerable Marshall Field's downtown department store will be renamed Macy's after being bought by the Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores Inc.

News of the closure even elicited an immediate comment from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

"The Berghoff always had a special place because of its location, its atmosphere, its reasonable prices and its longevity," Daley said. "I think I speak for a great many Chicagoans when I say I'm sorry to see it go."

Berghoff's grandfather, German immigrant Herman Joseph Berghoff, opened the restaurant in 1898, one door down from its current location in the heart of Chicago's Loop. He served free sandwiches to lure men to belly up for 5-cent steins of his Dortmunder-style beer.

During Prohibition, Berghoff served near beer and Bergo Soda Pop, but the slide in alcohol sales forced its expansion into a full-service restaurant.

Over the decades, battalions of career waiters in white aprons and bow ties served countless plates of wiener schnitzel and creamed spinach, washed down with German brews and custom bourbons. Generations of Chicago power brokers have dined and drank alongside regular folks in the dimly lit, oak-paneled restaurant, which holds 700.


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