Neighborhood Restaurants: The Glunz Tavern
For the first time since Prohibition began in 1920, The Glunz Tavern on Wells Street in Old Town is open for business. Barbara Glunz, who owns the tavern with her son Christopher Donovan, describes it as a “neighborhood” restaurant, although this particular neighborhood is fairly pricey. At the same time, the menu is eclectic and the prices moderate enough to encourage frequent visits, even if you’re not a CEO.
Louis Glunz, a recent German immigrant, bought the tavern and adjacent retail liquor store in 1888, and the business has been family owned and operated ever since. Barbara, Louis’ granddaughter, grew up in the apartment over the store, as did her father. For more than ninety years, the space that’s now the tavern was used for special dinners, wine classes and even for storage. Restoring the property was akin to a treasure hunt.
“We found a lot of small pieces, things like the lights and pictures, up in the attic,” Glunz explains. “The floor and hammered tin ceiling are both original, and when we took off the paneling, we found the original wainscoting. Some of the other pieces are original to the period, but not the property. The chairs, for example, are from Berghoff’s, the gilt mirror from the Ambassador East Hotel, which is now the Public.”
Back when the original Glunz Tavern opened, food was offered almost as an afterthought. It was the alcohol that was the main event. One whiff of chef Erin Jecl’s steamed mussels, and it’s obvious times have changed.
With consulting chef Allen Sternweiler (Butcher & the Burger) on board, a great burger is a given, and this one comes topped with blue cheese, tomato marmalade, onion confit, hand-cut fries, and an $11 price tag. Adding a sunny-side-up egg brings the tab to $12.
From the bratwurst and smoked thuringer to the wiener schnitzel and apple strudel, the menu has an unmistakable German accent, which is no surprise given its lineage. On the other hand, there’s also hand-rolled gnocchi; sautéed white fish; sweetbreads and escargots Bourguignon; and a dynamite, border-straddling coq au vin made with Riesling, smoked bacon and dumplings. And if the true measure of a restaurant is in the details, as some contend, then it’s important to note that the restaurant’s coffee is Julius Meinl, the ice cream is from Homer’s, and the al a carte order of fries is served with black truffle mayonnaise.
Good as the food is, the selection of beer, wine and spirits are its equal. Louis Glunz had a Schlitz Beer concession at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition and eventually became a Schlitz bottler and distributor. During Prohibition, the Glunz family sold the supplies used to make legal home brews. In the years since Prohibition ended, the House of Glunz has developed a reputation for carrying an outstanding line-up of beer, wine and spirits. This same concern for quality is evident in the selections included on The Glunz Tavern’s menu, from the classic cocktails to the dessert wines.
The Glunz Tavern, 1202 N. Wells Street, 312.642.3000
Filed under: Neighborhood Restaurants