The funny thing about Oktoberfest in downtown Chicago is that it happens every year in September, not October. The Berghoff, one of Chicago’s oldest favorite restaurants, hosts an annual Oktoberfest at Federal Plaza, also known as the John C. Kluzynski Federal Plaza, just a half block from The Berghoff itself. The Berghoff has been doing this for 28 years, and it seems to be more popular each year.
This year, it opened on Wednesday, September 11, and is going on right now. But you still have time to get over there for its last day, Friday, September 13. Chicago is getting another break from the heat and humidity, and Friday evening’s weather should be perfect for dancing outdoors among the hip downtowners.
Its location makes it extremely convenient for those who work in the Loop to simply wander over from the office after work and join the throngs of people enjoying live music and of course beer and food. Because alcohol is served, it’s fenced in, but that doesn’t stop the crowds from showing up and squeezing in year after year no matter what the weather to enjoy the festivities. Chicagoans are a hearty lot.
There’s a daily beer tasting every afternoon during the fest. If you get off early on Friday, stop on down for this. Even better: proceeds go to charity.
If you want to really do it up with class, you can opt for the VIP ticket, which seems like the best way to go if you don’t want to be part of the standing-room-only set. But for this, you have to book early. It’s not cheap, but the VIP package is not scrawny: you get with lots of tasty German food--all you can eat--and all you can drink. No wonder this festival is so popular and very lively.
Food at the fest includes the traditional German fare that has made The Berghoff a Chicago standard and perennial hot spot: hot pretzels, bratwurst, sauerkraut, creamed spinach, German potato salad and luscious strudel.
The John C. Kluzynski Federal Plaza is notable in itself. It’s the home of Alexander Calder’s Flamingo which is flanked by three buildings designed by renowned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The plaza has an extremely contemporary look and feel to it. During Oktoberfest, however, the plaza is barricaded and polka-dotted with tents and tables. The festivities are indoors at The Berghoff as well as outdoors.
From several blocks away as one approaches the plaza, the music echoes off the tall buildings and sounds rather surreal. Up close, passers-by find themselves listening to some of the most popular bands in the Chicagoland area with several styles of music from old-country German, in costume, to modern day rockers with screaming guitars. The opening band this year was The Johnny Wagner Band. Wednesday evening the ever-popular Wedding Banned was featured. Thursday, it’s The Party Faithful. And Friday’s closing band will be Spoken Four; don’t miss it!
But even though Berghoff’s Oktoberfest lasts only a few days in September, The Berghoff carries on the tradition at its nearby restaurant throughout October, ending with the Prost, the final toast to Oktoberfest, on October 26 of this year. The Berghoff will be rolling out the barrels. Can you imagine reveling in a communal toast every half hour--what a party!