Filed Under Entertainment

Herman Pirchner's Alpine Village

A Taste of Tyrol in Downtown Cleveland

Looking for a place to grab a stein of beer and show off your new lederhosen? Herman Pirchner’s Alpine Village Theatrical Bar and Restaurant, located at 1614 Euclid Avenue (directly across the street from the Palace Theater) was the place to do it. Inspired by Pirchner’s childhood home in the Austrian Alps, the restaurant featured Tyrolean décor, mountain scenes and murals of Bavarian peasant life. Pirchner’s “lusty yodelers,” om-pa-pa entertainment, ski-lodge-like bar, and waitstaff dressed in traditional leather breeches brought the Alps to downtown Cleveland.

Herman Pirchner immigrated to the United States from Tyrol in western Austria in the mid 1920s. He soon was working two jobs, one in a pretzel factory and one as a bus boy. Then, in defiance of Prohibition, he began to brew beer with his brothers Otto and Karl. “How,” he once noted, “could a beverage as wholesome and innocent as beer be outlawed?” Pirchner’s brewing career came to an abrupt close when the Mafia tried to horn in on his operation. He then opened the Alpine Shore Club (formerly Marigold Gardens) on East 185th Street and Lakeshore Boulevard. On the establishment’s second floor, Pirchner ran a speakeasy. Once again, the Mafia pushed for a piece of the alcohol pie. They harassed Pirchner and set off stink bombs in the restaurant. He fought back with the help of Cleveland Public Safety Director Eliot Ness. After that Pirchner never again was bothered by organized crime.

On November 28, 1931, Pirchner moved downtown, opening Alpine Village in Playhouse Square. Sporting a Tyrolean cap and leather shorts, he served everything from goose liver to pig’s knuckles. He gave rolling pins to new brides, led German singalongs and yodeled encouragement to folk dancers on a stage that would mechanically rise and fall. Employing skills developed during his earlier career as a carnival strongman, Pirchner dazzled guests by delivering 50 or more steins of beer sliding across the floor on his hindquarters. In 1933 Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” recognized Pirchner for this seminal act of “beer hefting.” Patrons loved it. So did the celebrities who performed there: Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Henny Youngman, Jimmy Durante and many others. Notables such as Fred Astaire, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra also gathered upstairs at Pirchner’s private Eldorado Club.

In 1961, exactly 30 years after his “grosse eröffnung (grand opening)” Pirchner declared bankruptcy and the Internal Revenue Service padlocked the restaurant. A year later, Alpine Village reopened under a series of new owners, but the magic could not be replicated. Pirchner, however, forged on—opening a travel center in the Hanna Building and co-owning the Plain & Fancy Gourmet Shoppe at Severance Towne Center.

The building on Euclid Avenue was razed in 1996 for a parking lot. Herman Pirchner passed away in February 2009 at the age of 101. A decade later, like a silvery Alpen memorial, the 34-story Lumen apartment complex rose on the site.

Video

Newsreel: World Record 55 Mugs of Beer Served, 1938 In this 1938 Universal newsreel, Alpine Village's Herman Pirchner sets a world record by serving 55 mugs of beer at once. Date: 1938

Audio

A Beer Lounge Melvin Rose of Rose Iron Works describes family visits to Alpine Village Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Atmosphere at Alpine Village William Barrow, Director of the Cleveland Memory Project relates stories about Alpine Village Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
From Austria to Cleveland Herman Pirchner Jr. talks about his father's journey from Austria to Cleveland where he eventually founded the Alpine Village Theatrical Bar and Restaurant Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Menu Cover This Alpine Village menu cover evokes Pirchner's Austrian roots and casts him as the star of his own show, as it were. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1943
Alpine Village Postcard Reverse reads: "Hail Guest! We ask not what thou art, if friend, we greet thee hand and heart, if stranger such no longer be, if foe, our love will conquer thee. - Herman Pirchner" Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Interior of Alpine Village The restaurant's coffered ceiling added to an Old-World atmosphere that set the stage for Pirchner's Alpine entertainment. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Pirchner Balances Dozens of Steins In 1938, Herman Pirchner set a world record for "beer hefting" by serving 55 beer steins. Surely few tables ordered such a prodigious quantity of brew, but the restaurateur regularly entertained his guests by delivering their drinks in this manner. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Pirchner's Famed Slide Pirchner's signature act involved balancing many beer-filled steins as he ran across the restaurant's stage, went into a slide like a baseball player, and slid off the stage as he landed on his feet again. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Herman Pirchner with Jack Dempsey Beginning in 1934, NBC broadcast national radio shows from Herman Pirchner's Alpine Village that featured the likes of Artie Shaw, Cab Calloway, and Pearl Bailey. NBC's shows made Pirchner a national celebrity. Pirchner is seen here with guest Jack Dempsey, a famous boxer who had held the World Heavyweight Championship title for much of the 1920s before going on to star as a boxer in an MGM film and open his own eponymous restaurant in New York City. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: ca. 1940
Wartime Menu If home cured pig's knuckles, ox tongue, jumbo frog legs, or goose liver sausage felt too risky, you could always turn to the sirloin steak or Lake Erie whitefish. Note the Office of Price Administration (OPA) statement at the bottom, which promised compliance with OPA-mandated price ceilings on commodities during World War II. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1943
Floor Show, 1942 Nightly cabaret shows at Alpine Village fit in with the ambience of the Playhouse Square district. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Playhouse Square, March 1940 The nearby theaters and department stores in the Playhouse Square district assured a steady flow of business for Alpine Village into the postwar years. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Snow White Mural at Alpine Village This mural was one of two outside the entrance to Alpine Village. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Alpine Village Mural at LCCC, 2014 Herman Pirchner donated a collection of public art from Alpine Village to Lorain County Community College. The colorful murals such as this one are visible on campus today. Creator: Marilyn Miller Date: 2014
Nice Work If You Can Get it Helene Sroka (Korinka), working photographer at Alpine Village, massaging man's neck with co-workers. Source: Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection
Tyrolean Dancers at LCCC, 2014 This pair of bronze Tyrolean dancers adorns a building on the campus of Lorain County Community College. Herman Pirchner donated these and other artworks from his Alpine Village restaurant. Creator: Marilyn Miller
Striking Image Alpine Village matchbook cover

Location

Metadata

Marilyn Miller, “Herman Pirchner's Alpine Village,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 19, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/79.