Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Perhaps What The Bar In Heaven Looks Like."

The picture above, taken from their web site, doesn't do it justice. The bar at the Berghoff, at 17 W. Adams in downtown Chicago, has been described as "perhaps what the bar in heaven looks like."

Heaven could do a lot worse.

The Berghoff is famous for receiving Chicago's first retail liquor license immediately after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. It was also a popular, family-owned German restaurant that began in 1898.

In 2005, the Berghoff family announced that the restaurant would close in 2006 and so -- after much memorializing and tributization -- it did.

Sort of.

Happily, they never really closed. They simply compressed what had been a very large restaurant and bar into the bar space. The bar was always separate, with a few tables and booths in addition to the bar itself. Today it is open Monday through Friday from 11:00 AM until 9:00 PM. On Saturdays it opens a half-hour later, at 11:30 AM. Closed Sunday.

That may seem awfully early for a proper bar to close, but that part of downtown mostly draws a lunch and after-work crowd, with some pre-theater business in the evening. Think of it as you would a London pub. They typically close by nine or ten, if not earlier.

In the old days, the bar served a typical bar lunch -- sandwiches, soups, salads, some munchies. At lunch they had a carving station. The 'new' Berghoff has a very substantial menu, essentially the same as the old restaurant, with all of the expected German specialties. At lunch time, a very similar menu is served at the Berghoff CafĂ© downstairs, a space created originally to absorb overflow when the restaurant was full. It is all still owned and run by the Berghoff family. They also have a catering business.

The Berghoff Bar was always famous for having its own Berghoff-brand beer and bourbon, which they sourced with care. Both were outstanding. The beer became popular enough to be sold in stores. The bourbon was for many years wheated bourbon made at Stitzel-Weller in Louisville. After the Van Winkle family sold the distillery, the Berghoff continued to buy its house bourbon first from Julian Van Winkle Junior, then from his son, Julian Van Winkle III.

Bars and restaurants should get back to having a house bourbon, just like they do a house wine.

Before the Van Winkle brands took off, the Van Winkle's post Stitzel-Weller business was mostly private label bottling. The Berghoff was their biggest customer.

If you've never been, you really should visit the Berghoff if you ever have a chance. That way, when you get to heaven, you'll know what to expect.


kevin said...

I don't know when you were last in London but in 50 years drinking here I have never come across a pub that closed at 9 o clock.The normal closing time now is Eleven on weeknights and later at weekends .Cocktail bars tend to close even later cheers kevin

Chuck Cowdery said...

Fair enough. Guess I was stretching a point. Yeah, 9PM is early.

Johnathan said...

How does one go about getting a "house bourbon". Is it illegal to slap your own label on the bottle?

Chuck Cowdery said...

You contract with a producer to make one for you.