Fritzel’s was an incredibly popular place. For more than 30 years, the restaurant at 201 N. State Street in the Loop was the place to be seen. Friztel’s catered to the celebrity, politician, athlete and upper crust of society in and visiting Chicago.
Famous sports names such as Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle would visit when the Yankees were in town. Joe Dimaggio was said to be a lifetime member, and during the halcyon days, then-wife Marilyn Monroe would accompany Joltin’ Joe. Mayor Richard J. Daley, singer Tony Bennett and comedian Phyllis Diller were just some of the Fritzel’s regulars.
How did the restaurant get so popular? The answer: food. Their menu of as many as one hundred exquisitely prepared items dazzled. The restaurant was spotless. No detail was overlooked. Joe Jacobson was the man responsible for Fritzel’s success.
Ironically, Joe Jacobson was more identified with Frtizel’s than Mike Fritzel, Jacobson’s former partner. The two were proprietors of the Chez Paree nightclub at 610 Fairbanks Court in Chicago and opened Fritzel’s in 1947. Mike Fritzel retired in 1953 and Jacobson became sole owner. Fritzel’s really started then.
“Joe was very particular about the food,” Nancy Jacobson, his widow, recalled in the 1980s.”He would go into the kitchen, and if he saw a baked potato outside an oven, he would throw it in a wastebasket and tell the kitchen help, ‘Don’t ever send anything out to anyone unless it’s straight from the oven.'” The staff was also under strict cleanliness and preparation guidelines. Joe Jacobson was no-nonsense.
Jacobson himself was always incredibly neat and tidy. With a trademark, long black cigar, the debonair restaurateur would often walk the floor and became well-known to the clientele. He was a celebrity to the celebrities.
Frtizel’s boomed through the 1950s and ’60s. However, tastes were changing and the restaurant would soon struggle. Fritzel’s fell victim to negative perception about the clout of its patrons. Dennis Swenie, a former police officer in Chicago, allegedly told a grand jury that “it’s taboo for policemen to write tickets for autos illegally parked in front of Fritzel’s.” The restaurant also felt dated. The interior was a reminder of the “good old days” that people wanted to move past in the late 1960s.
In the late 1960, Fritzel’s attempted to modernize with an expensive redecoration. People interested in the new Fritzel came to see it, but only once. The Loop was no longer very safe at night and the style of the restaurant was still just too passe.
Fritzel’s closed in June 1972, when the then Genral Manage Wayne Boucher (Jacobson sold out in 1968 to food service business Interstate United Corp) determined that the restaurant was not meeting it’s break even point of $125,000 and closed the restaurant for good.