Perhaps the largest German restaurant and “bierstube” in Chicago, many mourned the abrupt closure of Zum Deutschen Eck in January 9, 2000. In recognition of the sixth anniversary of its departure, the Chicago Bar Project presents this page in memoriam for what in German meant, “The German Corner.” Not to be confused with many hotels by the same name in present day Germany, Zum Deutschen Eck was one of the most popular German restaurants in all of Chicago since it originally opened in the 1950s. Since it closed, many felt great sadness and dismay as this piece of Chicago history was torn down and replaced by a parking lot for the Athenaeum Theatre, which took a fair bit of doing considering that the old Tudor-style building took up the entire corner of Southport and George. Several have since had to find a new place for their regular pilgrimages to what many regarded as the best Bavarian chalet in the city. Some blame the son of the original owner, Al Wirth Jr., for taking the money and running, leaving the loyalists without their beloved Zum Deutschen Eck. But, as with anything, life moves on…
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Plaque just beyond the parking lot where Zum Deutschen Eck once stood
(click on the photo to enlarge)
“Festive sing-alongs on weekend evening have become famous at the big bustling, popular Zum Deutschen Eck in the heart of Chicago’s old German neighborhood. The place also is known for warm hospitality of the Al Wirth family who operate it, for a long time and loyal clientele, and for hearty, old fashioned German fare at surprisingly moderate prices, Wirth founded the restaurant 21 years ago, and is co-host and co-manager now with his son, Al Jr.
“Sauerbraten and spaetzels; beef tenderloin à la Deutsch (sliced loin of beef cooked in red wine sauce with fresh mushrooms, green peppers, onions, shallots, and tomatoes); roast duckling with red cabbage; wiener schnitzel; and barbecued baby back ribs are among popular specialties. In this changing time of inflation, dinners remain tale d’hôte, except for modestly priced desserts. Most in demand of those is the apple strudel, made in Zum Deutschen Eck kitchens. A number of draught beers are served by the liter 1/2 liter, or 1/4 liter steins. Wines are reasonably priced.”– as reviewed in A Chicagoland Restaurant Guide (1978) “presented with Pride and Prejudice” by Kay Loring
“In the shadow of St. Alphonsus, the half-timbered Zum Deutschen Eck serves hearty (though not outstanding) fare at reasonable prices. At this multiroomed spot, the joviality peaks on weekends when live music and community singing create a happy din, which makes the food taste just about perfect.”– Chicago Magazine Guide to Chicago (1983)
The handcrafted bar at Zum Deutschen Eck found in “Zum’s Lounge” was made of solid oak, matching the wooden doorway arches – the latter of which, along with some of the stained glass cartoons of German lore and sayings found in the bar area can be found today at the upscale Irish restaurant, Mrs. Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro, opened by the wife and sons of Jim Murphy, the late owner and heart & soul of Murphy’s Bleachers. One may have found the bar’s décor even more enjoyable after a shot of Goldwasser, Edelkirsch, Himbergeist, or Jägermeister. In addition to the bar, were a warren of three banquet rooms and two dining rooms, spread about the impressively wooden beamed structure, where waitresses in Bayern dirndl skirts would flit between bringing steins of beer and plates of traditional Bavarian fare. The dress was casual although coat & tie and lederhosen could sometimes be found worn in the banquet rooms. On the weekends, five-piece oompah band provided the entertainment, just as the Chicago Brauhaus does today. The Hans Rager Duo also led the ever-popular sing-a-longs.
“The entrées are pretty standard Bavarian fare (Sauerbraten, bratwurst, schnitzels of various varieties, etc.), but usually very well done. My favorite is usually Rahmschnitzel, a breaded, sauteed veal cutlet smothered in a rich creamy mushroom sauce. The only consistent dud I’ve ever had here seems to be the Sauerbraten, which always seems to come out very dry, but maybe that’s the way it’s SUPPOSED to be, who knows? The pork roasts are usually a good bet, too, very juicy, or the smoked pork chop. Side dishes are usually red cabbage, yummy sauerkraut, boiled red potatoes in parsley butter, and fresh veggies.”– posting on Eopinions.com by Jerry (May 16, 2000)
“…I have a few dishes that help me get a fix on a German restaurant. How the schnitzel is managed is one. The wiener schnitzel at Zum Deutschen Eck is first-rate. A tender veal cutlet arrives smartly cloaked in a breading that is golden brown and tight to the meat. (A bad coating would be one that puffs up and releases from the meat). The measure here, too, is that the breading be light, not greasy, and that the veal still have moisture. OK on all of that. The schnitzel comes with warm potato salad of little consequence. Speaking of consequences, the truth is that there should be at least six degrees of separation between you and any member of your family who is a vegetarian should you be of a mind to order the schweins hazen. This giant pork shank, as big as a wrestler’s forearm, takes no prisoners. Let’s just say that it looms large on the plate. A tender meat-falling-off-the-bone behemoth of eating enjoyment that I find hard to resist.”– Sun Times review by Pat Bruno (January 30, 1998)
“Murals, stained glass, pewter vases, steins, wallplates, and other artifacts ornament the walls; Bavarian chandeliers hang from the ceilings; and European chinaware and tablecloths grace the tables at this enormous, Bavarian chalet-style restaurant, banquet hall, and lounge. Since 1956, this has been one of Chicago’s favorite places for old world gemütlichkeit. Though the food is out of most folks’ ‘budget category, dessert or a stein of beer is enough to enjoy the live weekend bierstube music and infamous sing-a-longs. Schwarzwalder Kirsh Torte (Black Forest cake), Bavarian Apple Strudel with real whipped cream, or Zugspitze (Cherries Jubilee) are specialty desserts.”– A Native’s Guide to Chicago (1999) by Sharon Woodhouse
“The potato pancakes bear a fascinating resemblance to the aliens that attacked Spock in the Star Trek episode ‘Operation: Annihilate.'”– The Official Chicago Bar Guide (2001)
While Zum Deutschen Eck went down like the Bismarck and other gone but not forgotten Germanic restaurants and bars like Schwaben Stube, Golden Ox, Schulien’s, Metro Club, Heidelberger Fass, Von Stuke’s Hofbrau, Hogen’s Restaurant, and most recently, Berghoff, I am happy to say that you can still get a mean schnitzel here:
- Chicago Brauhaus
- Resi’s Bierstube
- Laschet’s Inn
- Hansa Clipper
- Glunz Bavarian Haus
“What a great establishment, I visited Zum Deutschen Eck as a little tyke, most likely since its very cozy look and very permissive staffing, and great buttery and beer-tasting foods. I was born and grew up just down the street 100 paces from St. Alphonsus (where I went to catechism, at 1429 W. Wellington). It was a symbol of my neighborhood, just as Wetterling’s on George Street and Lincoln as well as the chicken factories on Lakewood (at the time, they have now since been gentrified into condominiums). Other great icons included Lakewood Park, and that candy factory with the train car outside all the time on Diversey and Lakewood. In and about all of these, Zum Deutschen Eck was surprisingly delightful, very homey and a great crowd would visit, actually some true Germans to my surprise (I thought it was a ‘theme’ bar type of place, it was actually real). I would pass by this beloved establishment and admire its Germanic look, the brown wooden frame and yellow/egg white paint, almost as if it were a sort of German saloon or cozy home. I wish it was still around so I could enjoy it to this day. A lot of gentrification took place and the damned Athenaeum theatre took hold for a damned parking lot. All we get now is a flimsy brown sign, the neighborhood feels so corporate, impersonal and desolate without the excitement.”– Jeff (February 17, 2007)
“Believe it or not, this German restaurant’s French onion soup was the best French onion soup I ever had! I think they put a splash of vinegar in the soup.”– USTRESAGT (January 27, 2008)
“I guess I would say I grew up in one of the last German families in Lakeview and Zum Deutschen Eck was always our ‘special occasion’ restaurant. While a flood of memories came back after reading your page the one that stands out as my favorite has to be my 21st birthday, the last time we ate there. During dinner, I decided that I wanted one of the beer mugs they had for sale. When my parents told our waitress what I wanted she told us ‘no’ that it was my 21st birthday and she insisted that I take the one I was drinking out of. For free of course. Even after pointing out that the one I wanted was ceramic and the one I was drinking out of was glass she still insisted I take the one I was drinking out of. Well, I still have that beer mug, I use it occasionally, the logo is almost worn off completely but, I am glad I have it and would be mortified if it is ever broken.”– K.R. (December 2, 2008)
All that remains of Zum Deutschen Eck is an honorary street sign on George that says, “Zum Deutschen Eck Strasse,” as well as the memories of its patrons.