For much of the 20th century, the Rathskeller Restaurant was a cultural and culinary landmark in Chattanooga.
Located at 618 Cherry St., the Rathskeller was an outgrowth of the Turner Club (also known as the Turnverein Club), a German-American social and fitness club with roots here going back to the 19th century. The club, which billed itself as the oldest social club in Tennessee in the 1960s, occupied the top floors of the vintage, 1888 building with the restaurant below.
This photo, taken by Chattanooga attorney Hugh J. Moore Jr., shows the building before it was leveled in the 1970s. The block later became a parking garage, and the Turner Club relocated to the Shallowford Road area, Moore said.
"I went to the Rathskeller frequently with groups (reporters/photographers) from the News-Free Press and the Post when I worked at those papers, off and on (from) 1962 (to) 1969," Moore said in an email interview.
A gathering spot for media, government workers and University of Chattanooga college students, among others, the Rathskeller specialized in German fare. As early as 1939, a local newspaper ad for the Rathskeller Restaurant touted "hasenpfeffer (peppered rabbit), spätzle (egg noodle pasta), green beans, drink and dessert" for just 30 cents.
In German, rathskeller means "bar or restaurant," according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and several eateries in the Chattanooga area used "rathskeller" in their names during the 20th century. A search of newspaper archives shows "rathskeller" restaurants here on Broad Street, Walnut Street and Georgia Avenue. The Rathskeller Restaurant pictured here on Cherry Street appears to have been the most enduring and perhaps the most well known.
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Two men dominated the proprietorship of the Cherry Street restaurant after Prohibition, according to newspaper archives. Albert Schlickling, who immigrated from Germany in 1909, reportedly reopened the Rathskeller on Cherry Street in 1933. A subsequent owner, Coleman Kelley, once told the Chattanooga Daily Times that the bar/restaurant picked up pace after World War II, becoming a favorite watering hole for veterans.
"Any soldier around knew that if he just came in wearing his discharge button, he'd get a book of tickets worth 20 free beers," Kelley, who purchased the business in 1960, told the Chattanooga Times. "The place was filled with soldiers all the time."
Kelley remained an owner until the Rathskeller Restaurant closed in 1970.
In a feature story about the Rathskeller Restaurant's closing in 1970, Chattanooga Times reporter Anne Hart wrote, "Old-timers around town can remember when (the walls) were covered with the words to German songs. Patrons would sing along with the piano as they drank their beer — and if they didn't know the words, they didn't have far to look!"