When it comes to “food for thought” the Kronenhalle is definitely the place to be, 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 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.
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
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.
Combined with its neutrality and more than 700 years as a democratic nation (with no history of royalty), many of the world’s great 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
Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein were regular patrons, and James Joyce wrote considerable portions of Ulysses while sitting at a corner table in the main dining room.
Joyce’s presence is commemorated today with a picture 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, she recycled leftovers of unfinished dishes ordered by her wealthy customers to provide food for the artists.
Sometimes the 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 more 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
Regional specialties include smoked pork, shredded calves liver and filet of sole.Rosti, which is Swiss hash browned potatoes, 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. (Menu offerings and prices in Swiss Francs are available here.)
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, by the way, 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.
Though Gottfried and Hulda loved art, it was their son Gustav who purchased most of the family’s private collection, 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.
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About the Author: Peabod is Bob Taylor a veteran travel writer for more than three decades. His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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