One Lincoln Park/Lakeview restaurant which changed our restaurant scene forever, educating the yuppies of the 1980s and 1990s on food that was American, local and direct in its simplicity, Charlie Trotter's, is already closing. Now comes word that another spot which can lay claim to many of the same things, erwin, will be closing July 1. Chef-owner Erwin Drechsler and his wife Cathy will close their iconic neighborhood restaurant after 18 years, according to an email sent out to their mailing list last night.
The Drechslers, both originally Chicago public school teachers, made their original splash on the Chicago scene in 1984 with Metropolis at 163 W. North Ave. Metropolis and their subsequent restaurants were casual bistros, not gastronomic temples like Trotter's, but they shared similar values which helped move American dining out of the era of rigidly imitation French dining and into a fresher, more seasonal approach. Among the employees who would later carry that influence into their own restaurants were Paul Kahan, Mindy Segal and future Spiaggia sommelier Henry Bishop, with Kahan in particular frequently citing Drechsler as having opened his eyes to what's produced by midwestern farmers and launching his relationships with farmers he works with to this day.
A second version, Metropolis 1800, opened in the short-lived "art mall" at 1800 N. Clybourn (which you may recall from this post), but both had closed by 1994, and at that point the Drechslers returned in the Lincoln Park/Lakeview area with erwin, the lower-case "e" representing Erwin's slight sheepishness about naming his restaurant for himself. The restaurant was an instant success, named one of the top ten openings of the year by Bon Appetit, and though it would be supplanted in attention by many highly-hyped openings since, it enjoyed a nearly two-decade run as a respected neighborhood spot. In 2010 Erwin Drechsler was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award at the Time Out Chicago Eat Out Awards, presented to him by his former employee Paul Kahan.
Here's the text of the email erwin sent out (h/t Ted Naron):
We have experienced a great run and developed relationships along the way that will always be cherished and remembered.
This month is warmly dedicated to all our customers who have broken bread with us, to the cooks who have baked it, to the waiters who have served it and to the dishwashers who have cleaned up after us all!
Tell your family and friends to join us as we celebrate the last days of serving you - we will be open through Sunday dinner, July 1.