Chicago's Berghoff Restaurant to close after more than 100 years

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chicago's oldest restaurant is closing after more than 100 years in business. The Berghoff will serve its last meal February 28.

The federal government is in the process of acquiring a lot of the buildings in the block around Berghoff's using meant domain, but they say they wouldn't dare to touch this restaurant, because it's too much an important institution in Chicago.

Mayor Daley issued a statement Wednesday saying the Berghoff family has been a very important part of Chicago history, and he says he speaks for many Chicagoans in saying he is sad to see the restaurant close.

The Berghoff is more than just a restaurant, it's part of Chicago history. The news comes three months after the announcement that Marshall Field's stores will be renamed Macy's. Some Chicagoans are worried the city is losing some of the character that makes it so unique.

On Wednesday night the line to get in ran halfway down the block. The Berghoff is not hurting for business. Inside, it's a bustle of activity, cooks preparing food, passing it off to waiters who hustle from table to table.

Chicago author and historian Studs Terkel calls it an important link to Chicago's past.

"Berghoff seems to be one of the connecting links to the early Chicago that still healthy good and meant what it said -- good food and service," said Terkel.

The history of Berghoff's began in 1898 when founder Herman Joseph Berghoff opened the place looking for a way to showcase his authentic Dortmunder-style beer. It went for a nickel a glass back then.

Berghoff survived the prohibition by selling food, and when it was over Berghoff got the city's first liquor license. It hangs in the restaurant to this day.

Greg Johnston practically grew up at The Berghoff. His father was a waiter at The Berghoff for 39 years.

"It's a total shock, with Marshall Field's turning over to Macy's, a chicago institution that's not going to be here much longer. It is something that should always be here," said Johnston.

Many diners are mourning the idea that their meal Wednesday evening might be their last meal at this Chicago institution.

"I'm sad to see it go. You would think after 100 years in the family, they'd keep the tradition going," said Richard Carey, customer.

Herman Berghoff, grandson of the original owner, has worked at The Berghoff for more than half a century. He bought it in 1986 and says the reason he is closing is simple. He wants to retire.

"Herman is 77-years-old and been in the business since he was 18. For 53 years he has been working in a restaurant, six, seven, days a week, 12, 14, 16 hours a day, and that gets a little tiring after a while," said Chris Lackner, Berghoff spokesman.

But not without a long look at the past. Terkel says Berghoffs has always been a real Chicago place, with real Chicago people, not celebrities, a place where you would go not to see and be seen but simply to have a good bite to eat and a beer. "One more link to the past is gone," said Terkel. "Here's to the memory of Berghoff's and a beer." Herman Berghoff's daughter will be moving into the Berghoff's space with a catering business. The restaurant, however, will be closing for the last time on February 28.

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