Chicago man ends his beer-only diet—now his goal is to revive his restaurants [Updated]

Illustration for article titled Chicago man ends his beer-only diet—now his goal is to revive his restaurants [Updated]
Photo: Dominic Burke (Getty Images)

Update, March 26, 2020: Over the course of 40 days eating nothing but four beers per day, Pat Berger has lost 33 pounds, 6 inches around his waistline, and all sense of normalcy in his life. Since we initially wrote about Berger, he has succeeded in his plan to survive Lent (or rather, a modified version that shifted the 40 days up a bit in the calendar) entirely on beer—but he’s also had to close down both of his Chicago restaurants, Kaiser Tiger and Paddy Long’s, due to coronavirus concerns.

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First things first: There are virtual tip jars for both restaurants’ employees, to which you can donate here and here. Secondly, as Block Club Chicago notes, while the restaurants were shuttered beginning March 15 and all 57 employees between them were laid off, Berger revived both establishments this week as takeout/delivery operations, allowing some staff to pick up shifts cooking the food and running the deliveries.

Berger’s unusual Lenten diet and the fate of his restaurants don’t seem related, but good luck to anyone who’s trying to stick to such a strict diet while the businesses they’ve worked so hard to build cave in around them. “I almost threw in the towel last week because I was just overwhelmed with stress,” he told Block Club. But his wife encouraged him to stick to the 40 days of beer as planned, and I like to imagine that the conversation somehow involved the phrase, “Honey, you’ve just gotta drink your way through this.”

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Now Berger is working his way back on to solid foods, such as a Czech garlic soup that’s often used as a hangover cure. He’s even taught his 10-year-old son how to cook over the last few weeks, and might now be able to taste the fruits of that labor. While the beer-only diet saw some unexpected benefits (reduced snoring, lower cholesterol), he joked with Block Club that he’s not going to encourage anyone else to try it. “I’m not promoting this as a healthy diet or a healthy way to lose weight. It is simply a mental challenge. If you choose to take it on, the consequences are on you. I’m taking zero responsibility.”

The victory of sticking to his goal (despite the overwhelming temptation to stress-eat amidst business concerns) has Berger newly dedicated to reviving Kaiser Tiger and Paddy Long’s. While he’s not sure when they’ll open again for regular business, he’s working to find solutions day by day—just like all restaurant owners out there right now.

Original post, March 4, 2020: Stop! Wait! You are, perhaps, about to make an assumption that this story is about some brah who is just gonna crush Lent, man. You might start to think that the abstainer in question is someone who thinks they’re totally hacking the whole deprivation thing by slamming a few Silver Bullets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast of champions! Tubular! (I do not know how people speak anymore!)

But that’s not this story. Pat Berger, the owner of Chicago joints Paddy Long’s and Kaiser Tiger, explained his decision to forgo all food for Lent—and the steps he’s taking to not mess up his health in the process—in a great interview with Chicago magazine. At the time of the interview, Berger was two weeks, around 60 beers, and precisely zero sandwiches into the process. He sought some advice from friends who are doctors, and they encouraged him to also incorporate vitamins into his beer-only diet:

The big warning they gave me was about thiamine, because there’s zero in beer and you need that on a daily basis. Vitamin C is also a big thing. It’s not present in most beers but it helps your immune system, and I didn’t want to get sick.

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Wise. Berger has also been writing about his experience occasionally, in a post on the Paddy Long’s website:

I really feel like I’ve turned a corner and found my groove. I have a routine down and the hunger pains are subsiding. Spacing out the beers throughout the day has made all the difference. If you had asked me last week what my chances were for all 40 days, I would have said 50%. Today I’m 90% sure I can finish this.

One of the unexpected side effects of this fast has been the variety of beers I’ve been drinking. The first few days were nothing but doppelbock, but soon I found myself wanting more. With beer being my only source of sustenance, I had to branch out. My love of hops has returned with a vengeance. Good old fashioned double IPA’s (the bitter kind, not the hazy kind) are tasting great! I’m drinking stouts, brown ales, and all manner of Belgians. I even willfully drank a fruit beer yesterday and it was delicious!

I guess after 25 years in the craft beer business, I had started equating strange flavorful beers with work. When I was drinking socially I didn’t want to think about the beer in my hand. I just wanted to drink it. Now that I’m forced to mix it up, or risk going insane, I’m back to appreciating the many flavors of beer.

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Berger, who grew up Catholic, was inspired by the “legend of the Paulaner monks,” he told Chicago, “about 25 years ago. It caught my attention and I thought, ‘That sounds like fun. That’s a Lent I’d like to do’ ... Two or three months ago, I was determined to do it. So I set the dates to fit it into my schedule since I couldn’t do it over the exact dates of Lent. And here I am.” Vinepair has more on that particular legend, which involves a beer so delicious it no longer qualified as a sacrifice. It was then sent to the Pope for his ruling, but spoiled on the way; he then ruled that of course it was valid for Lent because it was super gross, and they merrily brewed their delicious Dopplebock, which is still made today.

Berger has a Dopplebock of his own, though as he indicates in his post for Paddy’s, he’s not sticking to that one beer exclusively. Still, the beer, a collaboration with Great Central called (appropriately) Fastenbock, sounds great. Berger writes that it’s “a wonderful malty, full-bodied amber lager that clocks in at about 7.1%. There’s a touch of sweetness to satiate my hunger but just enough hops to balance the malt and beg another sip. The lighter Czech and German lagers that I normally drink were not going to cut it, so I needed something with a little more oomph. If you’d like to taste it yourself, it’s on tap at Paddy Long’s, Kaiser Tiger, Great Central’s taproom and other discerning establishments.”

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So, he’s making it work, is finding that it’s reigniting his love for beer, and as of March 2, he’s lost 18 lbs. (per Block Club Chicago). If all this sounds a little familiar, it’s because someone did this last year, too:

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And it’s not a coincidence, as Berger specifically shouts out (raises a glass to?) Del Hall of Fifty West Brewing in his post. Good luck, Pat Berger, and let’s hope you still like beer at the end of all this.

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!

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DISCUSSION

While I wouldn’t do this for the entirety of Lent, good for him. Once in a while I’ll skip a meal (usually dinner) because I’m full from “liquid bread,” and those food-abstaining monks are always the first thing I think of.

I think the side effect of Berger rekindling an interest in a variety of beers styles is pretty interesting too; I know firsthand how too much focus on one style or another can dim your enthusiasm, so it’s cool to see it in reverse.