The Berghoff is without a doubt the product of a long and colorful history. It represents the nature of our restaurant and is something we pride ourselves on. From the actual physical building in which we do business to the food we serve to the story of the Berghoff family, every aspect of the Berghoff legacy is rich in history. The Berghoff was originally located at the corner of State and Adams Streets and was founded by Herman Berghoff, a young German immigrant (via South Bend, IN) who was looking to enter the Chicago bar business, in 1898. However, years later that building got torn down, forcing Herman to relocate a few doors west to the current 17 W. Adams location. He did so, bringing with him the original bar from the first building, which to this day is located in the Berghoff Café’s East Room. The bar upstairs was established as a standing bar in which the strictly male-only customers could purchase a stein of beer for just a dime, and get a complimentary Reuben sandwich! Herman’s business boomed, until in the 30’s Prohibition threatened to kill his industry. Realizing a change was necessary (and unwilling to break the law), Herman transformed the bar into primarily a restaurant. At this point, he expanded into the next building, combining his bar with what is now the main floor, and made the Berghoff a full-service restaurant, serving historically German cuisine and near-beer (beer with trace amounts of alcohol) as well as Berghoff-brewed sodas, including root beer, black-cherry, and orange sodas. Eventually, Prohibition was repealed, allowing Herman Berghoff to re-venture into the alcohol business. He was even granted Chicago’s Number 1 Liquor License due to his close relationship with Oscar Mayer of the hot dog company (Berghoff allowed Mayer to use his building to carve meat), who was friends with the mayor at the time.
Skipping ahead, Berghoff eventually acquired the additional westward building that is The Century Room, making the establishment total three storefronts. The Century Room is used for restaurant seating and also functions as a private events venue. Moving even further forward, the Berghoff Bar eventually made the all-male rule defunct when legendary feminist leader Gloria Steinem stormed in during the year 1969 and demanded to be served. The restaurant saw no reason to deny service to a paying customer, so from that day forward the bar has been open to all patrons. Still, remnants of its male-only days can still be seen from the fact that the only main floor bathroom (located at the back corner of the bar), is a men’s room.
This all constitutes just a small fraction of the Berghoff’s ever-evolving history. The restaurant has transitioned smoothly through time, incorporating modern developments while still preserving its strong and interesting past. Considering the richness of the Berghoff’s history, we enjoy celebrating it regularly, through features like our weekly Facebook challenge, #TriviaTuesday, through which contenders can answer questions posed about our history to win cool prizes. Another venture we have recently pursued is our weekly History Tour Series, which occurs every Saturday and takes guests on a guided tour throughout our building, concluding with plates of some traditional Berghoff classics! Regardless of the mode, we take every opportunity to integrate our history into The Berghoff experience, for it is our long endeavor in the restaurant business that has made us so good at it! Check out The Berghoff Family Cookbook for deeper stories about The Berghoff’s long history as one of Chicago’s premier restaurants.
Visit our Gift Shop to purchase your own copy of “The Berghoff Family Cookbook” and our Calendar Page to learn more about our History Tours.