The Berghoff Restaurant in Chicago holds the fine distinction of being known not only for good food and beer, but also for its status as an historic treasure. Since opening in 1898 it has been a standby in the city’s landscape.
It Began with Beer
Herman Joseph Berghoff immigrated to the United States in 1870. By 1887 he was in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and he and his three brothers began brewing beer in the style of their home town, Dortmund, Germany. Called simply Berghoff Beer, they brought it to Chicago for the Colombian Exposition of 1893. For two years they hawked it on the Midway Plaisance and knew they had a product for which the people of Chicago would pay.
Herman finally opened his cafe in 1898. He charged a nickel for the Dortmunder-style beer and offered free sandwiches.
The Prohibition Era
Prohibition was the death knell for many brewers, but instead of folding or becoming a speakeasy The Berghoff began actually charging for food and morphed into a full-service restaurant. While they kept brewing the beer they extracted the alcohol and served what was called Near Beer. They also began serving soft drinks, including the now famous root beer.
The restaurant was so successful that The Berghoff remained open. When Prohibition was lifted in 1933 the restaurant and beer was awarded Liquor License No. 1. The original is framed and hangs inside the restaurant.
The End of Men-Only
In this new era of legalized drinking The Berghoff continued to prosper. Although prohibition of alcohol was over, women were still prohibited from entering the men’s only bar. This did not end until 1969 when a group of seven women walked up to the bar and ordered. The members of the National Organization for Women were served, but the bartenders would only call them “Sir”.
Closing and Reopening
In 2006 Berghoff fans everywhere suffered a fright when they heard the beloved restaurant was closing. On what was supposedly the final day of service patrons lined up around the corner to get one last taste of wienerschnitzel and creamed spinach. Herman Berghoff, grandson of the restaurant’s founder, and his wife, Jan, wanted to retire. They sold the restaurant to their daughter, who reopened it a few months later after some renovation and re-branding that included catering. Fortunately the restaurant’s most popular features, including the legendary bar, remain intact.
The Berghoff Restaurant Today
The Berghoff Restaurant is as popular today as it ever was. To reflect the changing culinary scene the menu now includes gluten-free, lighter, and contemporary items. The classics are still there, so anyone can pop in and enjoy pretzels, spaetzles and Wiener Schnitzel. In addition to the restaurant and the bar diners can also get food to go from the downstairs Berghoff Cafe.
The Berghoff is a Chicago institution and a classic German restaurant. The reason behind its longevity is more than just tradition; it’s because it continues to serve consistently good, reasonably priced food and great tasting beer.