Friday, July 4, 2014

Zurich’s Kronenhalle Restaurant: A perfect blend of cuisine and art

Kronenhalle's staff of culinary artists  (Photo: Kronenhalle)
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND July 4, 2014 – The Kronenhalle Restaurant in Zurich, Switzerland is one of those unusual places where fact and fiction merge to make it bigger than life.

When it comes to “food for thought” the Kronenhalle is definitely the place to be in Zurich, and it is as popular with locals as it is with travelers.

Imagine elegant cuisine served within a grand museum where the likes of such creative masters as Picasso, Miro, Matisse and Chagall join you for dinner. If that comes to your mind, you have conjured the concept that Gottleib and Hulda Zumsteg had when they opened their landmark restaurant in 1921.

Hulda Zumsteg  (Photo: Kronenhalle)
The Kronenhalle was originally a beer hall until Gottleib and Hulda put their life savings into the venture. Soon it became a haven for musicians, writers and artists from all over Europe. By the mid-1930s and the onset of World War II, Kronenhalle’s legend had grown to grand proportions.

Not only was the restaurant a major gathering spot for Europe’s greatest thinkers and artists, thanks to Swiss neutrality, it also became an important international crossroads for espionage before and during the war.

Switzerland has an art heritage that is frequently overlooked due to better known museums and collections in surrounding countries. Combined with its neutrality and more than 700 years as a democratic nation (with no history of royalty), many of the world’s great private art collections reside in this country and remain intact.

Seeking refuge from a world gone mad, many members of the international creative communities over the ages made their way to Switzerland. Because the Zumsteg’s were art lovers and collectors themselves, the Kronenhalle became an important place to see and be seen.

Kronenhalle: Where dining is art  (Photo: Kronenhalle)
Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein were regular patrons, as was James Joyce who wrote considerable portions of Ulysses while sitting at a corner table in the main dining room. Joyce’s presence is still commemorated today with a portrait that hangs over his favorite table.

It is difficult to determine where truth ends and legend begins at Kronenhalle. The story goes that Hulda would provide free meals to many of the impoverished artists who patronized her establishment. Basically, what she really did was recycle leftovers of unfinished dishes ordered by her wealthy customers to provide food for the artists.

Sometimes, so the legend goes, artists would donate original works of art in exchange for meals, but Hulda also encouraged them to hang their work in the restaurant in the hope that customers would like what they saw and buy something.

The concept was a win-win for everyone. As the artists became increasingly famous in their own right, the restaurant walls were now covered with priceless works of art. Kronenhalle had become a museum of dining as well as artistic pleasure/

In addition to the art, Kronenhalle became known throughout the region for its cuisine by employing world class chefs from Bavaria, Alsace and Switzerland. The most popular item on the menu remains the classic traditional dish called “Zurcher Geschnetzeltes” or sliced veal in gravy.

Regional specialties include smoked pork, shredded calves liver and filet of sole. Rosti, or hash browned potatoes Swiss-style, is also a favorite.

As might be expected, any place catering to the jet-setting lifestyles of the rich and famous will take a bite out of your wallet when you finish eating your meal, but if you plan in advance, then Kronenhalle is a dining experience to be remembered.
Giocometti and Picasso unite at the Kronenhalle bar  (Photo: Kronenhalle)
One suggestion if the menu is too rich for your taste: take a brief tour of the restaurant and then enjoy drinks in the bar. The house specialty drink is called the “Ladykiller.”

The Swiss sculptors Alberto and Diego Giacometti created all of the furnishings. Marc Chagall designed the stained glass window on the outside wall of the bar while Pablo Picasso donated several sketches, including a self-portrait.

Just look around and you will discover plenty of other original art adorning the walls.

Dining is an experience at Kronenhalle  (Photo: Kronenhalle)
Though Gottfried and Hulda loved art, it was their son Gustav who purchased most of the family’s private collection which sold at auction after his death for approximately $10-million. It was through Gustav that the family became personal friends with Chagall, Matisse, Miro and the Giacomettis, and today, when the current family proprietors are on site, they will gladly share delightful personal stories of their associations with these famous artistic acquaintances.

Simply put, Zurich’s Kronenhalle Restaurant is dining that is state-of-the-art.