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On the drive back from John's, I heard the story of Berghoff's Restaurant closing on NPR. For those not familiar with Chicago, the restaurant is one of those founding city icons for me, like the Art Institute, Parthenon Restaurant, the Lyric Opera, and Wrigley Field. Imagine closing Spago's in LA, or Tavern on the Green in NY. I'm still in denial: they *can't* be serious. Where would the loop be without Berghoffs?

The sad truth is that Berghoff's is a Chicago institution that I visited maybe three times, and it never quite lived up to its billing. The service was terrible, and the food only fair. I always wanted real kraut and roulade, Kasseler ribbchen, grüne Sosse, and waiters in white aprons like something out of a Chaplin film. That was my dream of Berghoff's, but frankly it hasn't been true for some time, and Milwaukee has much higher standards in German fare. Berghoff's was trading on its reputation with tourists for decades, rather than on its quality.

Their last day in business will be on my birthday, February 28th. Makes me sad, but the city changes, and Berghoff's is a remnant of an older, German immigrant crowd that just doesn't exist the way it did in Chicago around 1900. If it still did, they would never have let it slip into such a state. It's like an old but beloved pet: better not to see it suffer.

Goodbye, B. I'll hoist a Pilsner in your direction come the 28th.

Next thing you know, they'll turn Marshall Fields into just another Macy's…


( 3 sutras — Your wisdom )
Dec. 30th, 2005 03:56 am (UTC)
I read the Chicago Tribune every day, despite never having lived in Chicago--my boss thinks informed employees are more useful than a clipping service, so we get a half-dozen major newspapers distributed around the office--and my attention was caught by the details of the story. Apparently the Berghoffs elder are retiring and passing the space along to their daughter, a caterer, who plans to convert it into a combination bar and private banquet hall.

It's funny that you compare it to Tavern on the Green, which a) is still doing a booming and thoroughly modernized business and b) I wouldn't miss for a moment. (Well, okay, the paper lanterns are cool.) To me it sounds more like the Automat, a beloved relic of a previous era that hung stubbornly on until well after its time had passed.
Dec. 30th, 2005 06:07 am (UTC)
Yeah, the catering is probably the smarter move, businesswise. Restaurants often disappear when their founders retire; the ones that survive two generations are exceptional, never mind three or more.

I admit I've never been to Tavern on the Green, but it's was the first NY restaurant I could name with a national rep.

The Automat sounds like it was a fascinating place, but I don't think I'd want to eat there. I hear Times Square is a figment of the old days; whether it's an improvement is open to interpretation.
Dec. 31st, 2005 06:16 pm (UTC)
the last schnitzel
you don't understand, unfriendly waiters are a German invention. Since you must by law pay them their 15% they don't have to try very hard. It is a credit to Berghoff's that they kept up this tradition in an environment where the size of the gratuity is determined by the satisfaction of the customer.

Kidding aside, I never had a problem with the service at Berghoff's. It was matter-of-fact, businesslike and very prompt. You just had bad luck. You are right about the cooking though. Somewhere they lost the connection. The worst blow for me was when they took pig's knuckle of their menu. Now I have to fly to Germany, or will Milwaukee do? Still, their creamed spinach was very good, better than in Germany.

( 3 sutras — Your wisdom )

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