Episode #14: Berghoff’s, Mader’s, and Prohibition

0 Posted by - August 22, 2021 - CHI-MKE, Podcast Episode

Episode posted 22 August 2021

Episode #14: Berghoff’s, Mader’s, and Prohibition  https://cream-city-windy-city.simplecast.com/episodes/berghoffs-maders-and-prohibition

This is Cream City, Windy City.  I’m Wendy Bright.

Every episode, we explore thought-provoking connections between Milwaukee and Chicago, two cities 90-miles apart on the shores of Lake Michigan.  This podcast is an effort to lay out some of these links, to connect the stories of the two cities.

Today we explore one of the interesting connections I discovered between Milwaukee and Chicago.  Growing up in Milwaukee, I knew Mader’s – everyone knows Mader’s – but I recently researched and learned much more about its history.  And while giving tours in Chicago I often included Berghoff’s on my itineraries.  I dug into Berghoff’s history because I brought my guests into the place and people loved hearing about it.  I discovered that Mader’s in Milwaukee and Berghoff’s in Chicago shared some uncanny similarities.

This is the story of two German immigrants who found success serving beer in Milwaukee and Chicago but, when Prohibition hit in 1920, were faced with the greatest challenge to their thriving businesses.  Mader’s is Milwaukee’s oldest restaurant and Berghoff’s is one of Chicago’s oldest.  Let’s look at how Charles Mader and Herman Berghoff navigated their way through Prohibition to Repeal Day in 1933.

Herman Berghoff was born in Dortmund, Germany in 1852.  At the age of 18, in 1870, he sailed for America.

Two decades later and about 200 miles south of Dortmund, Charles Mader was born, 1875 in Rhineland-Palatinate (pull at an ate).  At the age of 26, in 1901, he sailed for America.

Berghoff landed in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Mader landed in Milwaukee.

Herman Berghoff’s brothers joined him in Indiana.  In 1887 Henry, Hubert, Gustav, and Herman  Berghoff started a brewery in Fort Wayne, specializing in Dortmunder beer: The Herman Berghoff Brewing Company.

Aerial view of the Midway at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair – view east – German Village on the left

A few years of success under his belt, Herman saw an opportunity.  The Columbian Exposition- the World’s Fair – would be held in Chicago in 1893.   This was the brewery’s big chance to get a jolt of publicity and to gain new customers.   From May through October 1893 Berghoff Brewing Company set up in a beer tent on the Midway and served many thousands of customers.  The Midway was a one-mile long stretch just outside of the official fairgrounds and was where all the more popular entertainment was featured.

The German Village was the largest concession on the Midway.  It contained German houses, government buildings, and a replica of a 16th-century German castle complete with a moat.  All of the buildings had been built in Germany and re-assembled on the Midway by German craftsmen.  Two German bands provided nonstop music in the Village.  Near the castle were open courtyards that featured restaurants and beer gardens that could seat several thousand people.  There Berghoff’s served their fine Dortmunder beer at five cents per stein and, with it, a free sandwich.  Berghoff’s was a hit.

The German Village, Midway, 1893 Chicago World’s Fair

After that six months of exhilarating success at the Fair, Herman decided that Berghoff’s needed to conquer Chicago.  His efforts to open a brewery in the city were somehow thwarted.  So, instead, he opened not one, but three saloons in the Loop downtown, still serving the five-cent special, still enjoying great success.

One of the three Berghoff saloons was on the southwest corner of State & Adams, a property that Herman leased from 1893 until 1898.  He then bought the two adjoining buildings just west on Adams Street. Berghoff’s has been at that location ever since.

Berghoff Saloon, State & Adams, 1890s

Charles Mader arrived in Milwaukee by 1902 and quickly got down to business.  He opened his own restaurant and saloon downtown — named the Comfort — on (today’s) Plankinton Avenue.  But it seems that Mader was looking for just the right opportunity as he subsequently bounced around to different locations and tried different approaches.  Finally in 1911 he partnered with a fellow saloon-keeper, Gustave Trimmel, to operate a saloon on 7th & Juneau, close to the Pabst Brewery.  Mader and Trimmel were so successful, that in 1914, the partners were ready to expand to a new location.

The Comfort, Charles Mader’s saloon and restaurant

In Chicago at the turn of the century, Herman Berghoff was pleased with his spacious new property on Adams Street – two buildings combined into one.  The structures were both built in 1872, the year after the Great Chicago Fire.  The east building with limestone façade was three stories tall.  The west building by architect Charles M. Palmer with its rare surviving cast-iron façade rose four stories.

Berghoff’s enjoyed continued success in the early 20th century serving good food and great Dortmunder beer … until Prohibition.

In Milwaukee, in 1914, Mader and Trimmel opened a new saloon on North 3rd Street.  It was a brand new, one-story building designed by architects Leiser and Holst.  Soon the sign out front read, “Trimmel & Mader.”  But within a few years, Trimmel had moved on.  As Prohibition neared, Charles Mader was on his own.

Mader’s first building on North 3rd Street

The dry era in America began slowly, starting in June 1919.  The Wartime Prohibition Act (even though World War I had ended in 1918) prohibited the sale and production of alcohol.  It took effect on June 30, 1919.  The next day, July 1st, was dubbed the “Thirsty First.”   The temporary prohibition would carry through to January 1920, when the Volstead Act would officially enforce the 18th Amendment, which explicitly prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.”

As the dreaded day approached, Charles Mader hung a large sign in his Third Street window:  “Prohibition is near at hand. Prepare for the worst. Stock up now! Today and tomorrow there’s beer. Soon there’ll be nothing but the lake.”

Pre-Prohibition sign at Mader’s

Many Milwaukeeans and Chicagoans never seriously gave up drinking during the 13 years of Prohibition.  Many did what Mader had advised: they stocked up ahead of time.  Some who could afford it bought liquor smuggled in from Canada.  Some took to making their own beer and gin at home.

And there were always the illegal bars or speakeasies.  Some establishments hid in secret back rooms or basements, some used legitimate business fronts such as posing as a soft drink parlor.  But some illegal bars brazenly made no effort to hide.  Milwaukee’s Italian Third Ward was a notoriously lawless place at the time.  Patrons could easily obtain any kind of booze they craved plus good homemade Italian-style wines at reasonable prices, while enjoying music and dancing.

Americans drinking during Prohibition (in Paris, Wikimedia)

The Volstead Act was created to enforce the prohibition edict. But the Volstead Act had some exceptions. Section 6 of the Act reads in part:  “No one shall manufacture, sell, purchase, transport, or prescribe any liquor without first obtaining a permit from the commissioner so to do, except that a person may, without a permit, purchase and use liquor for medicinal purposes when prescribed by a physician as herein provided.”

Some 1,000 druggists in Milwaukee suddenly found themselves filling prescriptions for medicinal whiskey in astonishing numbers.   And, in Chicago, the small chain of 20 Walgreen’s pharmacies, established there in 1901, suddenly hit the big time.  The company experienced phenomenal growth in the 1920s, expanding from 20 to 525 stores.  What explains this incredible growth?  According to Walgreens’ official history, it was the 1922 invention of the milkshake, of course.  Walgreens soda jerk “Pop” Coulson had come up with the popular shake served at every Walgreens.  Meanwhile, Walgreens pharmacists had to stock large amounts of medicinal whiskey in the back, all so that they could fill the scores of prescriptions flooding in.  Walgreens had suddenly become a very popular destination.

Prescription for medicinal whiskey

1920 to 1933 was a difficult time for all of the industries related to alcohol, such as Chicago and Milwaukee’s many breweries, saloons, and liquor distributors.

In Chicago, Herman Berghoff’s Prohibition strategy was to serve a fairly enticing alternative beverage menu, which included their new “Bergo” soft drinks, root beer, ginger ale, malt tonic, and the .5% alcohol Near Beer.  He also decided to emphasize their food offerings.  Many more of their authentic, hearty, large-portioned German dishes were now served in their expanded, full-service restaurant.  Berghoff’s food would ensure the restaurant’s long-term success.

In Milwaukee, Charles Mader’s wife was the one credited with saving Mader’s during Prohibition.  While Charles was the bartender, Celia was the cook who created Mader’s popular German dishes.  In 1920 Mader’s turned its focus to food.  In the kitchen Celia met the challenge by introducing many of the rustic German recipes to enhance the Mader’s menu.  While beer was no longer served, people continued coming for the food itself.  Mader’s was doing so well during Prohibition that, in 1931, they expanded the restaurant.

The repeal of Prohibition was a long-awaited joyous occasion for people in Milwaukee and Chicago.  It was especially good news for both Berghoff’s and Mader’s.

Although Prohibition would be officially repealed in December 1933, April 7 of that year was a very happy day because the sale of beer was now legal.

In Chicago, Herman Berghoff was first in line at Chicago City Hall to get a liquor license.  One family story relays that Herman’s buddy, Oscar Meyer, was with him and encouraged him to wait however long it took.  It was worth it: Berghoff obtained Chicago liquor licenses #1 and #2 for his restaurant and his bar.  These would be a cause for fame for Herman and for Berghoff’s for decades.  Today you can still view the original licenses displayed in the bar.  You will also see a large, framed photograph of a beaming Herman Berghoff holding his liquor licenses.

Herman Berghoff with Liquor License #1

The liquor licenses on display at the Berghoff Bar

April 7th, 1933, also known as “New Beers Day,” was a jubilant occasion at the Berghoff bar, crowded with happy tipplers and harried bartenders.

Berghoff Bar – April 7th, 1933

In Milwaukee, Charles Mader was ready to make the most of the historic repeal date.   Waiting until the stroke of midnight, patrons lined up outside, eager to enjoy their first legal draft beer in 13 years.  The atmosphere was jubilant.  Charles Mader was to serve the first legal stein of beer in Milwaukee and it would be announced live on the city’s only radio station.  On that most memorable night, the crowds packed the restaurant and bar and raised their steins in tribute to Mader and the long-awaited return of beer.

Berghoff’s had made it through the challenging years of Prohibition.  But the following year, on New Year’s Eve, 1934, Herman Berghoff died at 82 years of age.   Two of his sons would continue and expand the business, while successive generations would carry the Berghoff legacy in Chicago into the 21st century.

A few years later, Charles Mader would also die, in March 1937 at age 62.  His sons also took over the business, expanding and enhancing the restaurant, followed by several generations.  The only traditional German restaurant left in Milwaukee, Mader’s has survived and succeeded by keeping current while maintaining its popular German traditions.

Both Berghoff’s and Mader’s were started by ambitious German immigrants.  Good beer was their key to success… until Prohibition.  Both Berghoff’s and Mader’s pivoted to an emphasis on their authentic German cuisine to see them through Prohibition.  And this strategy paid off then – one century ago – as it has continued to pay off in the 21st century.  The end of Prohibition called for great celebration: the return to serving beer, their claim to fame, but now joined by the newest claim to fame: their hearty German menus.  Repeal was also a celebration of having survived an intense economic challenge that had destroyed other businesses.  Berghoff marked the occasion with Chicago’s first liquor license.  Mader marked the occasion with Milwaukee’s first legal pour.   These two iconic restaurants not only survived but prospered.

Thanks so much for joining me.  I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.  You can leave them at the blog post for this episode at wendycitychicago.com.

If you would like to know more about the title of this podcast, take a listen to Episode 1.

Many thanks to my son, Zack Goehner, for his brilliant graphic design work.

Intro music: “Chicago Blues,” by the Kenny Dorham Quintet.

Outro music, “I Lost My Baby In Milwaukee,” by KEdKE.

See you next time.


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