When walking down State Street, peer west down Adams and a large vertical bulb-lit sign sporting the word “RESTAURANT” will instantly catch your eye. Many people may not think twice of this extravagant display, but any Chicago native should respect the history and significance of this city staple: The Berghoff.
Opened in the late 1800s by German immigrant Herman Joseph Berghoff, The Berghoff gained popularity for its traditional German eats and Herman’s impressive brews (including his infamous root beer). The restaurant even managed to prosper during the Prohibition.
Today, The Berghoff acts as a mecca for business-folk, who often fill the bar stools and wooden tables. I first discovered The Berghoff through my father, an accountant who invited me to lunch during a break in my classes when he had to attend a meeting in the Loop. He seemed thrilled about the opportunity to show me the place, as if its existence had some kind of deeper meaning. He had the signature wienerschnitzel, and I wolfed down a game sausage trio with buttery spaetzle.
It’s like a businessman tradition that spans all industries and generations. Any serious suit knows the best place for a crucial meeting is the same place for a lunch rendezvous or a beer to take the edge off a tough day.
The Berghoff has three different areas to enjoy comforting German-inspired cuisine. The main dining area is clad with dark wooden floors and walls, stained glass, and copper railings. The pub area shares a similar feel, sporting a long wooden bar with a row of leather stools, a buffet for lunchtime roasts and sandwiches sitting parallel to the bar. Mounted TVs above the bar stand out among the rustic d’ÛÎ©cor and murals of old-time German landscapes. The caf’ÛÎ© downstairs is a full-service buffet with a black-and-white checkered floor and cooks ready to serve up pastas, salads and sandwiches of your choice.
The Berghoff always promises a pleasant service experience. The staff is friendly and attentive, from the host to the busser, and they’re not afraid to strike up a conversation or make a suggestion. On one occasion, I was enjoying a bowl of acorn squash soup when my server suggested I add some Sriracha (Thai chili paste sauce) to the mix. After some hesitation and a funny look, I complied and was pleasantly surprised.
At lunch the other day, I found myself appreciating The Berghoff management’s latest pick for a bartender. He was welcoming and sociable, but knew when to let me read my book. Also, he expressed discontent with the quality of my Guinness pour, and though the tap would not allow for such perfection, I was grateful for the valiant effort and his professionalism.
Sometimes it’s not about the pretension of presentation and polished cuisine. Sometimes it’s about escaping the rain, finding a comfy bar stool and cozying up with comfort food and a beer.