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“Chicago’s Finest Eating House”

For Food Friday, let’s revisit an old Chicago favorite—Fritzel’s. Before air travel was common, Chicago was a popular stopping point for celebrities traveling by train between New York and Los Angeles, and there were certain restaurants where a star sighting was more or less guaranteed.

Located at State and Lake Streets in the Loop, Fritzel’s was founded in 1947 by Mike Fritzel and his business partner Joe Jacobson, who took over when Fritzel retired in 1953. The restaurant was known for not only the exceptional quality of its food, but also the nearly 100 items on its menu. In a 1967 interview with Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Kay Loring, Jacobson admitted, “It doesn’t make sense to have so many things on a menu. It’d be easier on the help, and we’d make more money if we cut it down. But it won’t be cut as long as I’m around.”

Fritzel’s at 201 North State Street, Chicago, April 12, 1959. CHM, ICHi-059848; Betty Hulett, photographer

At the height of its popularity in the 1950s and ’60s, the restaurant welcomed the biggest names in showbiz, sports, and Chicago politics. Among its regulars were comedian Phyllis Diller, singer Tony Bennett, and mayor Richard J. Daley. Members of Chicago’s baseball, hockey, and football teams frequented the establishment, as did many of the New York Yankees when the team was in town, including Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra. 

However, a combination of factors led to Fritzel’s steady decline: in 1967 the massive fire at McCormick Place drastically reduced trade shows in Chicago for a period of time; the movie theaters in the Loop ceased showing family-friendly films, resulting in less foot traffic; and the increasing popularity of air travel meant fewer people traveling by train. By June 1972, the restaurant closed after being unable to break even for four weeks.

Trace Chicago’s evolution from meatpacking capital to foodie paradise through the Museum’s collection of historical menus and restaurant photographs. See more menus.

The historical menu collection is housed in the Chicago History Museum’s Research Center, which holds our printed material, archives and manuscripts, prints and photographs, architectural drawings, and assorted ephemera. On Thursday, July 9, join CHM director of Research and Access and chief librarian Ellen Keith as she moderates a free virtual talk about how Chicago’s cultural organizations are confronting the turbulent events of this year and how collaboration can help organizations prepare for and address future challenges. Learn more.
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