Sunday, January 22, 2006

Last Visit to the Berghoff

Yesterday we ate our last meal at the Berghoff, one of the most beloved restaurants in Chicago. When people who had never been to Chicago before would visit, we'd take them to the Art Institute and the Berghoff. Its hard not to fall in love with a city that has both Nighthawks at the Diner and a place that serves great braised lamb shanks with a side of creamed spinach.

The restaurant, which has been in business since 1898 and has the first liquor license issued in Chicago after the repeal of Prohibition, closes at the end of February. A little bit of Chicago history dies then too.

We tried to get to the restaurant at 'tween time to see if we could beat the rush. We got there at 2:30 on a Saturday and we still waited for over an hour. We were lucky enough to get a table on the main floor to see the murals and wooden wall panels one last time. We were also glad to see the Christmas lights were still up.

A table across the room was celebrating a birthday. The waiter presented a woman with a special birthday cake: A rounded pink cake shaped like a skirt with a Barbie doll emerging from the center. The waiter and a busboy started singing "Happy Birthday." The whole room joined in. When the song was over, the room started clapping. The person who had presented the woman the cake held it over his head and the clapping surged and continued.

This isn't just a restaurant with good food. This is a place rich in family traditions and memories. Throughout our meal I saw lots of people asking the people at neighboring tables to take a quick snapshot, a memory of the their last visit to the Berghoff.

Chicago will seem a poorer place without this restaurant.

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