It was my grandfather's favorite restaurant. Whenever he was in town for Steelworker stuff he would make sure to stop in for some good old German food like his momma used to cook on the farm. My father would eat lunch there when he worked in the Loop in the '70s. And my wife chose to eat there for her birthday last summer. And now, it seems, the Berghoff - proud owner of Illinois Liquor License Number 1 - will close at the end of February. It appears that the business has actually been doing quite well, but that the third-generation owners of the bar and restaurant, established in 1898 as a way to promote Herman Joseph Berghoff's locally brewed beer, are retiring. And their daughter, Carlyn Berghoff, doesn't want to run the restaurant, preferring instead to focus on her catering business and open some sort of trendy bar in the space.
Yuck. I wish they could have been persuaded to sell the business, a Chicago institution, to someone who would keep it open. It's hard to explain the value of the restaurant to out of towners - the building is one of the last post-fire commercial structures and a neighborhood dominatied by Modernist skyscrapers interspersed with a few remaining Guilded Age masterpieces. It's one of the first things that comes to mind when someone mentions the Loop, and has been for about five generations now. They still make their own German style lagers, as well as a damn fine homemade bourbon - what's going to happen to the bourbon? Even the cheap stuff takes ten years to make, imagine all that whisky, sitting in the basement for four, eight, ten years - what will happen to it now? The horror.
Anyway, the family is saying they plan to use the dining room as a banquet hall for private functions, along with the trendy bar. They can afford this because they own the building outright - but certainly the plot of land in the heart of downtown is worth a pretty penny in this market. I'm sure it will come down within the decade. The irony is, the Loop is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, as old-school office buildings are converted to condominiums, and new condo towers go up. What used to be the region's depopulated business core is once again becoming a densely populated neighborhood. People have been flocking to be downtown so they can be steps away from institutions like Marshall Field's and the Berghoff - instititions that will have disappeared in the time between the new residents dropping their down payments and their move-in dates. I, for one, would feel ripped off.