CC and I bid farewell to Chicago’s famed Berghoff restaurant tonight. No, we’re not going anywhere, but after February 28, the Berghoff will be closing for good after 107 years. The reasons why are not entirely clear to me. The place is still owned by the Berghoff family, and I saw one article in which it was stated that the family just thought it was time to stop. I find that answer not only unsatisfying, but frankly hard to believe. Hell, if they didn’t want to run it, they could certainly sell it and let someone else run it, and make many millions of dollars in the transaction. It is speculated in some circles that this is part of a long-range plan to sell the building to the federal government. It is on the same block as the Federal Building, and it has been claimed that the Feds are buying up a lot of real estate in the surrounding area, but I don’t know that any of this goes beyond mere speculation. So I will say no more about the possible intrigue surrounding the closing, and move on to more personal observations.
I’ve eaten at the Berghoff around, oh, 12-15 times in my 13+ years in Chicago. It has long been a favorite place to take my out-of-town guests. A few of them have spoken fondly of the house brand Berghoff Beer long after their visits. But I’m finding my affection for the place a little difficult to put into words. It’s not the best restaurant in town, not by a long shot. There has always been a tendency for the waiters to be older white males with German or Slavic accents and decidedly surly dispositions. There are certain items on the menu that should just be avoided, period (though I should have known better than to expect wonderful crab cakes at a German restaurant, so I’ll accept part of the blame for that one). Let me tell you about tonight’s visit.
CC got there ahead of me and waited in a line that was longer than one might have expected, given that it was after 8:00 p.m. on a cold, windy Thursday night. It was obvious when one scanned the line that the crowd trended older. It was undoubtedly populated by a great many folks who’d been coming there all their long lives, and they were coming back to say goodbye, just as we were. When we were finally seated, I was happy to see that they were taking us far across the room, which meant that I could take a good look around and really soak up the atmosphere. The ceiling is high and the walls are covered with gorgeous dark stained wood paneling. The chandeliers are rather severe and almost austere, yet somehow lovely and appropriate to the building. One suspects that this interior looks much as it did in great grandfather’s day. I went with the broiled salmon, which I know is not a terribly traditional German dish, but which was nevertheless broiled to utter perfection. I helped it along with a glass of very decent pinot grigio and finished my meal with a sinful Black Forest cake. CC went more traditional, ordering the sauerbraten, which I could tell she enjoyed tremendously. To sum up, the Berghoff gave me tonight what it has always given me – a delicious and satisfying meal in a comfortable and comforting setting.
There is one other thing about the Berghoff that I ought to mention. It’s something that is well known in Chicago, and which would probably be the most valuable single artifact from the Berghoff were it ever to be auctioned off.
That is Chicago liquor license Number 1. It was the first liquor license issued here after the repeal of Prohibition, and belongs to the Berghoff. While I suppose they could have an enormous tag sale after they close and sell off the chandeliers, wall sconces, serving trays, and roach traps, I have to suspect that Liquor License #1 will remain in the Berghoff family. Or maybe that’s just me. Farewell, Berghoff!
Now, if someone could recommend a good German place here in town to fill this coming void, I’d be much obliged.