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The Berghoff, A Chicago Institution, to Close


A German immigrant named Herman Joseph Berghoff opened the Chicago cafe that bears his name, The Berghoff, in 1898. At first the main attraction was his Dortmunder-style beer, a nickel a glass, with a sandwich thrown in for free. During Prohibition, the bar expanded to a restaurant which has been satisfying eaters in the Loop ever since with Wiener schnitzel, creamed spinach, apple strudel. Well, imagine the dismay when the grandson of The Berghoff's founder, also named Herman Berghoff, yesterday announced that the restaurant will close this coming February. Mike Santiago has worked at The Berghoff for 50 years. He started as a busboy, worked up to maitre d'.

Mr. MIKE SANTIAGO (Maitre D', The Berghoff): I started in 1955, August 28th.

BLOCK: Ah, you remember the day.

Mr. SANTIAGO: Yeah, I'll never forget. It was a Friday.

BLOCK: And what was that first day like there?

Mr. SANTIAGO: I was doing--I was carrying--I was busing dishes, taking dishes from the table to the kitchen. And I worked my first four hours that day.

BLOCK: Well, I guess you've seen the restaurant change a lot over the last 50 years.

Mr. SANTIAGO: Ah, just a little bit, yes. Been through quite a few changes, yes.

BLOCK: Now The Berghoff has several sort of wings to it. It has the restaurant. There's also a cafe and a bar. And I understand that the bar was men only until 1969.

Mr. SANTIAGO: Correct. Yeah, that was just the main lunch bar, the stand-up bar, they used to call them. People come in and just have the beer and their sandwich and go.

BLOCK: So you would have been there when women started going to this, like, the first time.

Mr. SANTIAGO: Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes. I was there the first time they came in. And the first--I heard the first one came in, asked for a glass of water, and the bartender told them, `We serve beer.' So finally get the girls in there, and then we have the stools now. They can sit down and--a little has changed. But there's still a lot of the old people, old folks like that bar, the regular stand-up bar, and they come in and drink for two or three hours.

BLOCK: You know, the Chicago Tribune is running an online contest. `Which Berghoff item will you miss the most?' And readers can pick sauerbraten, Wiener schnitzel, creamed herring, sauerkraut. Do you have a favorite?

Mr. SANTIAGO: Well, they're going to miss our creamed spinach. They write also creamed spinach.

BLOCK: And you would miss the creamed spinach most, do you think?

Mr. SANTIAGO: Well, I'll tell you, my favorite is the Wiener schnitzel and the Rahmschnitzel.

BLOCK: What was the second thing? The Wiener schnitzel and the...

Mr. SANTIAGO: The Wiener schnitzel and the Rahmschnitzel.

BLOCK: What's that?

Mr. SANTIAGO: That's pork, a piece of pork with mushroom sauce on it.

BLOCK: Now how--those are your favorites?

Mr. SANTIAGO: Those are my favorites. I eat that about once a week.

BLOCK: Well, tell me how it felt when you heard that the restaurant would be closing.

Mr. SANTIAGO: Well, I am very sad, yes. I'm sad and hurt. And--but I know that nothing is forever, and I know that his family had to work very hard in this place to keep this place going for all these years, and they do deserve a lot of credit, 'cause you know, sometimes places ...(unintelligible) long. So, yes, I'm very sad, and it's been my home for the last 50 years and a couple months and, yeah, I'm going to miss it. So I guess I may follow the Berghoffs and retire, too.

BLOCK: You think so?

Mr. SANTIAGO: Maybe, maybe it's time, yes. Maybe it's time, so...

BLOCK: Well, the last day, I guess, is February 28th.

Mr. SANTIAGO: That's what I was told, yes.

BLOCK: What's that going to be like, do you think?

Mr. SANTIAGO: Oh, I have no idea. What day is that? I don't know what day it is. The 28th's a Tuesday? Well, that means I'll probably be the one closing the doors.


Mr. SANTIAGO: The last one, hopefully. Ooh, I don't know. Well, it's going to be something else. I have no idea how that's going to work, but until--it's going to be a touchy one.

BLOCK: So you may be the one turning out the lights.

Mr. SANTIAGO: I might be the one turning out the lights, yes, turn off the lights for the last time.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Santiago, best of luck to you.

Mr. SANTIAGO: Thank you much.

BLOCK: Mike Santiago, closing manager of the Chicago restaurant The Berghoff, which will serve its final schnitzel in February. The owner's daughter will take the space over for her catering business.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.