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Chicago Loop Landmark, the 107-year-old
 Berghoff Restaurant, Closing
By Mike Hughlett. Staff Reporter Rick Popely Contributed To This Story, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Tribune
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Dec. 29, 2005 - First Marshall Field's, now The Berghoff.

Chicago will lose another commercial and cultural icon when the 107-year-old Berghoff Restaurant, a Loop landmark, serves its last schnitzel on Feb. 28.

Herman Berghoff, the 70-year-old grandson of the restaurant's founder, and his wife, Jan Berghoff, 68, are retiring. Herman Berghoff, who's been working at the German-style restaurant since 1952, owns the building at 17 W. Adams St. and will lease it to his daughter Carlyn Berghoff's catering company.

She plans to reopen the bar this spring under a slightly different name but convert the elegant dining room to a private banquet hall, thus ending the reign of one of Chicago's oldest and most fattening restaurants.

"It's hard to believe," said Rich Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, a Chicago-based restaurant company, who recalls first eating at The Berghoff 45 years ago. "I feel such a personal loss for Chicago. It's like losing the Cubs or something."

Christopher Lackner, a spokesman for Herman and Jan Berghoff, said the decision to close "wasn't without great thought. The Berghoff family shares the sadness the city shares."

The Berghoffs never put the building or the restaurant on the market, Lackner said. Both the building and the business would fetch a high price.

"It does very well," Lackner said. "It is a very successful business." He declined to disclose its revenues.

Under the family's plan, Artistic Events by Carlyn Berghoff Catering Inc. will take over the building this winter. She will rename the bar 17 West at The Berghoff and reopen the adjoining cafe but reserve the dining room--cloaked in rich oak and graced with pictures of old Chicago--for private, catered events.

Artistic Events hasn't determined what if any changes will be made to the building's exterior, including its landmark sign, said Jennifer Connelly, a spokeswoman for the company.

The Berghoff traces its roots to Herman Joseph Berghoff's desire in 1898 to showcase his Dortmunder-style beer. At a bar at State and Adams Streets, he sold it for a nickel a mug and offered sandwiches for free.

Prohibition forced The Berghoff to expand into a full-service restaurant, which has been at its current location--next door to the original--since 1936.

The Berghoff was the first Chicago establishment to get a liquor license after Prohibition ended in 1933.

It was also known for maintaining a separate, men-only bar long after such practices faded.

For legions of Chicago men of a certain age, The Berghoff was a stop-off point for a beer before attending a Blackhawks game at Chicago Stadium, or one of the first destinations after turning 21.

The men-only tradition ended in 1969 when seven members of the National Organization for Women sat down at the bar and demanded service.

But mostly, The Berghoff has been known as an old-style, family-run restaurant where the waiters wear black jackets and white aprons. It's been a traditional stop for generations of Chicagoans and visitors.

Lifetime memories

Bill Figel, who owns a public relations firm at Adams and LaSalle Streets, is a third-generation customer of The Berghoff. His grandfather, a lawyer in the neighborhood who worked a half-day on Saturdays like others in the profession, would go there with others for a corned beef sandwich at noon on Saturdays. His father would meet friends at The Berghoff before heading to a college double-header basketball game at the stadium.

"There's nothing more authentic than the German atmosphere," Figel said.

With lines out the front door common, Figel shared a tip--an "old Chicago trick" now of limited use--for bypassing the out-of-towners. Walk through the bar to the back of the dining room, grab a table and then tip a waiter.

Crowds are biggest this time of year. During the holiday season, the number of customers served each day jumps from about 1,500 to 3,000.

Kathy Scopelliti was one of the holiday revelers Wednesday, dining with her husband and two friends, all in town for the day from the Chicago suburbs. "When our waiter told us [about the closing] I couldn't believe it was true."

Scopelliti, 51, was introduced to The Berghoff at age 5 by her grandmother. "It was a big deal to come downtown--wearing hats and gloves--and go to The Berghoff."

She still comes two or three times a year, often for lunch with her mother and her sister. "I have a lot of good memories. It's like Field's now. The Berghoff will be a memory too."

She of course was talking about the venerable Marshall Field's brand, soon set to vanish when its owner, Federated Department Stores Inc., converts the chain to Macy's.

"It makes me sick, first Field's, and now this," said Laura Howell of Chicago as she was about to order dessert.

Distinctive Chicago brands are increasingly giving way to seemingly rootless chains, she said. "Are we supposed to take up our next year's holiday traditions at Victoria's Secret?"

O'Hare cafe to stay open

The Berghoff Cafe at O'Hare International Airport will remain open. It has a somewhat different ownership structure, and includes Carlyn Berghoff as an owner.

Her catering business, Artistic Events, has been around for about 20 years, and is housed in the West Loop.

But Berghoff's landlord bought out her lease recently in order to redevelop the building into condominiums, Connelly said, so Artistic Events has to vacate by the end of March.

Artistic Events has about $5 million in annual sales and has 45 full-time employees.

The Berghoff has 92 full-time employees, including several waiters who have been employed for decades.

mhughlett@tribune.com

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Copyright (c) 2005, Chicago Tribune

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