The Metro Club—the restaurant & bar that time (and the neighborhood) forgot—shut its doors in 2003 after 29 years in business. Sadly, few noticed. Not even the Official Chicago Bar Guide covered Metro Club in either its 1995 or 2001 editions. Fortunately, the Chicago Bar Project has a long memory and has the ability to reach back into the past… The Metro Club was a warm place with superb Austrian fare but was rather uninviting from the outside, making it difficult to attract new business. The success Metro Club did enjoy was due to owners Pepo and Anne Koestenberger, who spent most of their time at the establishment playing the part of friendly hosts and entertainers in a manner similar to that of Euro Cafe owner-extraordinaire, Branko Podrumedic (formerly Little Bucharest). Patrons were sure to leave the Euro-tavern sated with some of the best continental food and drink. While such German classics like Chicago Brauhaus, Resi’s Bierstube and the Mirabell Restaurant & Lounge serve a very similar menu, the Metro Club was one of a kind and shall be missed at least by the few of us fortunate enough to have dropped in for a Riesenschnitzel and a shot of Gold Wasser.
With its granite tiles and faux-Fachwerk facade of white plaster, half timbers and its name spelled out in wooden letters, the Metro Club was located where the remodeled Lennox Lounge now stands (on Lincoln Avenue, just north of Wellington and only a few doors up from the Lincoln Tap Room). A well-lit Metro Club sign, depicting an Austrian coat of arms, was the only real encouragement for first-timers as not a single window offered a glance into what was to be found within. Generally speaking, a bar that you can’t see into is a bar that you should stay out of. In addition, you couldn’t just step through the plate glass door – you had to be buzzed in by the bartender, just like in the foyer of an apartment building or at Johnnie’s Lounge, a little further up on Lincoln. This was necessary during the dark days of the North Side between World War II and 1990. Since then, the gangs and crime have largely moved on and having to be buzzed in seems rather antiquated, not to mention irritating for people having never experienced that before.
Even though it billed itself as an Austrian restaurant, the Metro Club was really more of a neighborhood tavern considering its layout and local clientele. As such, primarily an older crowd of people living nearby aged 40-60 would be found perched on padded wooden bar stools at the tidy wooden bar that ran most of the length of the northern wall. The bar was actually divided into two sections with a pair of moose antlers performing the division. Behind the bar was a standard selection of German booze, of which the beer was served in steins, 1?2-liters and one-liter glasses. Accordions hung from the ceiling above, a thick wooden carving of a wooded scene could be found at the end of the bar, and an array of Austrian trinkets including a soccer ball could be found behind the bar. Two televisions were mounted at either end of the bar but were often switched off as the Metro Club’s primary entertainment came from the sound system playing the finest 1970’s era Austrian pop as well as from patrons, Pepo and Anne. Once, at 9pm sharp, I heard a loud “Clang!” as Pepo rang a brass bell that hung over a mirrored wooden case of ceramic beer steins. I then heard everyone at the bar yell out, “Tikky-takky, tikky-takky – Oi! Oi! Oi!” (in a manner eerily similar to that of the Aussies, prompting one to wonder at the seemingly coincidental names of “Austria” and “Australia”). Pepo then did a shot and kicked out an obnoxiously drunk woman in her 40’s that was knocking over empty barstools. Good stuff.
A dark green carpeted floor with a floral pattern ran through the rest of the bar, below wooden beams that held up a roof painted black (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards would be proud). A series of low-slung, polished wooden tables with Tiffany-like lamps hanging above them gave the effect of a dining room across from the bar. This area was presided over by a three-foot-tall boy and girl, decked out in traditional Austrian garb. Non-smoking was the rule in this area, even though plenty might drift in from the bar. The whole effect was very cozy and Old World-like, as real wood paneling covered the walls on which enough deer heads were mounted to make the owners of Will’s Northwoods Inn feel jaundiced. Murals of Alpine scenes broke up the taxidermy display. The menu at Metro Club featured a good variety of Austrian fare, dominated by veal and pork tenderloin dishes, including Kassler Ripchin (smoked pork loin). Personally, I found the food to be a bit pricey with most dinners going for about $35 per person (including a couple of drinks), but this was not expensive at all and the pabulum was quite good. “Smoked Spicy Sausages” was the most inexpensive item at $7.95. Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) stood out as a dessert selection, though gumballs from the machines in the doorway and next to a large booth that could seat up to 10 people, might have appealed to a more budget-conscious consumer.
“Lincoln Avenue was once the main street of Chicago’s German community, earning it the nickname Sauerkraut Boulevard. It still sports several of the North Side’s authentic beerhalls, including the cozy Metro Club. Founded eight years ago by Pepo Kostenberger[sp], an Austrian musician who settled here after his band broke up during a U.S. tour, the club has become a favorite rendezvous for European immigrants from many countries.”– excerpt from “German Bars Offer Cold Beer, Warm Welcome” by Jay Walljasper in the Chicago Tribune (December 24, 1982)
The closing of the Metro Club is just the latest indication that these are sad times for Austrian cuisine in Chicago. Mirabell is now the lone restaurant serving Austrian fare in Chicago, though it mainly serves German specialties (what the difference is, I do not know). If only Pepo and Anne could have updated the space a little to appeal to a different crowd, maybe the Metro Club would be serving plenty of Hopfenkonig today. On the other hand, that would have cost a lot of money and the Koestenbergers weren’t getting any younger, so it may have been the right time for the Metro Club to recede into the past. Whatever the case, auf wiedersehen Metro Club!
I was also a long time patron of the Metro Club and was distraught when late last year I discovered it had closed! Unfortunately, it had been a couple of years since I had frequented the place. I was wondering if you keep in touch with the Koestenbergers, and could find out their recipe for that wonderful Schnitzel that Pepo, Anne and their daughter used to cook up? I have yet to find one here in Chicago or elsewhere to match, and it would be a shame to let such a paragon of Austrian cuisine fall into oblivion.
Thanks for your message. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to get to know the Koestenbergers and I don’t have a way to get in touch with them. I did a quick search on the web for Pepo and found the following link: [webpage no longer published] and it appears that Pepo passed away in 2003. That would explain the closing of the Metro Club. Hopefully, future generations of the Koestenbergers will keep their marvelous schnitzel recipe alive. In the meantime, I would recommend Mirabell, Resi’s Bierstube, Laschet’s or the Chicago Brauhaus – their recipe may not be as good as the Metro Club’s, but I reckon they’re pretty close.
Am so sad to see that this place has closed. I left chicago winters behind and headed west a few years ago, but I close my eyes and can still see this place inside, along with the big glass boot being passed around. Ah, the physics of that boot as it got closer to the bottom. Made a yard of ale seem simple. I also remember a dark liquor / liqueur that Pepo used to pour shots of — some for free, especially when it got late.
– K.B. (April 5, 2004)
I just ran across your memorial to the Metro Club.
What a great place it was. My friends and I would go there twice a year for dinner. We did this for probably five or six years before they closed. We took a limo from Lincolnshire for the first few years before we could find a volunteer to be a designated driver. We always drank and ate too much. Our group now goes to Chef Paul’s in Naperville
Pepo would get us going by buying us a shot of Kabanes. Four of five of those and four or five Erdinger Weisse beers and we were feeling good. Pepo would play the accordion and one night we did a snake dance out the door onto the sidewalk.
We all miss the food terribly. Have never found wienerschnitzel as good anywhere. The roasted potatoes, the green beans and carrots were even fantastic. Especially the potatoes. As the other writer mentioned it would be great to get their recipes published somehow.
It is too bad that they could not find away to keep the place going. It is especially sad to hear that Pepo has passed away.
Thanks again for your posting, I have been trying hard to find another place that would be as much fun or have food as good and have not been able to find it.
– J.D. (December 5, 2005)