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The Real Zum Deutschen Eck



Dear Ms. Levine:

Re: the article printed in the February 4, 2000, edition of the Chicago Reader entitled "Zum Deutschen Ick," by Jeffrey Felshman:

1. Starting at the beginning of the article--referring to the restaurant as Zum Deutschen Ick is sickening.

2. His stating that he worked at Zum Deutschen Eck off and on from 1986 to 1992 is false. If anything he worked a few parties during 1986 and possibly 1987.

3. We do not have dressing rooms for musicians.

4. Referring to Mrs. Wirth as "aged mother" is inane. Mrs. Wirth is a fit 85-year-old woman who walks to the health club 3 times a week, swims, takes exercise classes.

5. His reference to neighbors not liking the place is not true. Many of our customers were neighbors and truly loved the restaurant and are very sad that we have closed.

6. The statement about towing your car if you leave it in their parking lot, "even after hours," is true but there are signs posted everywhere that the parking lots are for Zum Deutschen Eck customers only and cars left in the lot will be towed. This is private property and no one has the right to park there except our customers. He is implying that Zum Deutschen Eck was not accommodating to the neighborhood, which is not true. Simply having additional parking lots available was good for the neighbors so there would be room for their cars on the street.

7. "Rumors that a second parking lot it shared with the neighborhood church was illegal" is untrue. We paid for that lot and we maintained it, we paved it and had it re-striped several times. We had an agreement with the church to allow our customers to park there when the lot was not being used for church functions. Police and politicians had nothing to do with the private parking lots.

8. Liver dumplings made from "table scraps" is absurd.

9. Referring to our musicians as something you might see "on SCTV" is degrading. Our musicians wore authentic German costumes, very expensive and not comedic at all. They played songs like "I've Been Working on the Railroad," "Daisy," "Edelweiss," and "You Are My Sunshine." These are songs our guests loved to sing, not "German drinking songs."

10. It is not "part of the back bartender's job to lead the sing-along." Sing-alongs were conducted in our dining rooms and had nothing to do with the banquet department, where Mr. Felshman worked as a part-time bartender.

11. Mr. Felshman's reference to "They gave a birthday party for Hitler in the Bavarian Room," etc may or may not be true--we do not interrogate our banquet customers. If someone wants to have a party in one of our banquet rooms, they send in or bring a monetary deposit, supply us with their menu selection, and come to the party.

12. We have never had a banquet waitress from Austria as noted in the article. And to quote, verbatim, after 14 years is ludicrous.

13. Mr. Wirth never approached Mr. Felshman and said "There was a birthday party for Hitler in the Bavarian Room the other night." "So, what are you going to do?"

14. "Good evening, meine Damen und Herren" was a welcome and only used at German weddings and parties to make the guests feel at home. The author insinuates this welcome was used at all functions.

15. "Liebfraumilch and champagne--J. Roget, about 99 cents a bottle then." The cost of the champagne is of no consequence to Mr. Felshman. Many large hotels use "J. Roget" for their champagne when the client does not specify a brand name.

16. "And then an open bar until 3 AM." Zum Deutschen Eck has a 2:00 AM liquor license and has never abused that privilege. Our wedding packages (the longest package we offered) were 61/2 hours (ex: 6:00 PM to 12:30 PM). One hour of cleanup after the function and our bartenders and the staff were out of here.

17. "As usual, Wirth had informed the guests that all tips were included in the price of the party"--weddings, anniversaries, etc were parties given by a "host" and it was not our place to indicate to their guests what was paid for and what was not. "I was paid only $35 cash for the shift." We paid our banquet bartenders the minimum wage and a "tip jar" was placed on the bar at the beginning of the party that was split between the bartenders. If a bartender worked the party alone, he got all the tips. They averaged $30 to $100 per night in tips. "Any tip noted on the final bill went to the restaurant"--a "service charge," which is standard in the industry, was charged.

18. Banquet bartender shifts usually began at 4:30 PM and did not run until 3:00 AM or 4:00 AM. The bartenders, after doing his/her sidework, were usually done by 1:00 AM to 2:00 AM, the latest.

19. His reference to calling another bartender to reiterate the "Hitler birthday party" is again a verbatim quote--14 years after the fact--how can he remember "quotes"? "I think this is the third year in a row" is also untrue.

20. Constant reference to the "Hitler party" is an overall affront to Zum Deutschen Eck. We have many, many satisfied Jewish customers who loved this restaurant. During the course of the years we have done many Jewish weddings.

21. Mr. Felshman's short time here as a banquet bartender is obvious in his misconceptions of the restaurant and its purpose. The purpose of Zum Deutschen Eck is to provide excellent and authentic German and American cuisine and to provide an outstanding banquet and dining facility.

22. "The real reason that I was spooked. For the first time in my life I'd felt the fear that comes from being a Jew in a place where Jews aren't wanted." How can he say something like this--if a Jew was not wanted, he would not have been hired as a banquet bartender in the first place, and if he was so anti-German, why did he apply for the job! It is quite clear that Mr. Felshman is Jewish, he wears it on his lapel like a scarlet letter.

The True Story of Zum Deutschen Eck

Once just a corner bar, the Wirth family had transformed Zum Deutschen Eck into a beautiful chalet featuring 2 beautiful dining rooms, a unique bar, and 3 elegant banquet rooms. After serving the public for 3 generations, Zum Deutschen Eck, a landmark in Chicago for 44 years, has closed its doors.

As was usual, Zum Deutschen Eck was scheduled to close for their annual 2-week vacation on Monday, January 10, 2000. However, on Sunday, January 9, 2000, at a party commemorating the birthday of the owner and his mother, Al Wirth thanked his staff and announced that the restaurant would close forever at midnight. Eight key employees were spotlighted that evening for their loyalty totaling 154 years of service and 2 of those employees with the company for 30 years and one for 16 years were scheduled to retire this spring. Due to the retirement of these key employees as well as his concern with difficulties maintaining a quality staff that was required to provide the high level of service that has been the restaurant's reputation for 44 years, Al Wirth felt it was time to retire.

Many, many years of hard work have gone into the making of Zum Deutschen Eck. Al Wirth Sr., owner and founder, came to the United States in 1929 and started in the downtown hotels working his way up the ladder of success. He used this knowledge to start his own restaurant in the late 40s. Dedicated to great food and atmosphere, Zum Deutschen Eck quickly became popular with immigrants from Europe. Many of which made Zum Deutschen Eck their first stop after arriving in Chicago to meet up with family and friends. Germans, Jews, Irish, Polish, Ukrainians, and more all came for the warmth, familiarly and the gemutlichkeit. In the 50s, dances that were held in the banquet rooms every weekend became a haven for the young and old alike. Numerous couples met here, dated and married here at Zum Deutschen Eck. Throughout the years, they still came back to reminisce and introduce family and friends to the greatness of Zum Deutschen Eck.

Mr. Wirth and his son ran all phases of the restaurant and after Al Sr. retired, Al Jr. carried on the tradition, dedicating 40 years of his life to the restaurant. Great food and service was the focus and he demanded perfection. Everything was made from scratch and nothing would leave the kitchen unless it was up to his standards. Evidence of his dedication was the building itself, inside and out. Upon entering the beautiful bar and dining rooms you knew what to expect: EXCELLENCE--what else!!

In the last 44 years, Zum Deutschen Eck has served over 3,300,000 meals in their dining rooms and have hosted over 3,000 weddings, 750 anniversaries, 700 baby and bridal showers, 3,800 corporate parties, and 1,100 funeral luncheons (an infinite number of them were at the last request of the deceased). It goes on and on.

So many people's lives have been touched by Zum Deutschen Eck as affirmed by the letters and phone calls received after the closing announcement. Telephone calls from old and new customers with comments such as: "You're breaking my heart! I love your restaurant, I've been coming for 20 years!!" and "I'm so sorry--you've ruined my whole day! I cannot believe it" and "It's a damn shame you are closed, I met my wife at your place" and "A colleague told me you were closed--I got married there in 1990 and had our children's christenings there and an anniversary party. It is quite a blow and a real shocker, I felt like I lost a family member--Zum Deutschen is like a foundation--we always knew that if everything else was going wrong, Zum Deutschen Eck would be there to comfort us with a great meal." These tearful comments and heartfelt letters don't come from just serving excellent food; they come as a result of the devotion and dedication to create an atmosphere where everyone was welcome and felt at home. A place where you could come for just a casual dinner, or with family to celebrate a special event or entertain business clients. That was Zum Deutschen Eck! This legacy will remain in the hearts and minds of those who were privileged to be a part of its history.


Albert J. Wirth


Jeffrey Felshman replies:

Mr. Wirth has me dead to rights on one point: I misremembered my dates of employment. I worked there in 1986 and '87.

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