Drive along Wisconsin’s backroads and byways and you’re sure to run across a unique Wisconsin supper club. Local lore says Wisconsin supper clubs may have gotten their start in the 1920s as Prohibition roadhouses where gangsters stopped while moving moonshine. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, liquor licenses were first granted to establishments outside city limits that served food, thus giving birth to the supper club. Some were originally exclusive “clubs” that required you to be a member, but now they are unique dining establishments that are open for all to enjoy.
Supper clubs are a true gem in the landscape of Wisconsin’s dining culture. You’ll find supper clubs in other states, but Wisconsin, with over 300 of them, has the most you’ll find in all the other 49 states combined. Supper clubs are beloved by all generations and are the place where families gather to mark special occasions. From engagement parties, wedding and baby showers, to anniversary celebrations, supper clubs have been where special family memories have been made for years. There are even “Supper Club Clubs”, formed by groups of friends that make it a goal to regularly dine together at supper clubs.
YOU MIGHT BE IN A WISCONSIN SUPPER CLUB IF:
1. The owner greets you warmly when you come in and will likely be serving you behind the bar.
2. The owner’s mother is in the kitchen cooking family specialties, and the daughter is your server.
3. A relish tray is the first thing the server sets down on the table, complete with celery sticks, crackers, liver pate’, and pickled herring.
4. The bartender knows how to make a good Brandy Old Fashioned cocktail, and everyone is drinking them.
5. They let you order dinner at the bar and then go to your table when your meal is ready.
6. After placing your order, you’re invited to head over to a salad bar that features fresh greens, a variety of cold salads, pickled vegetables and housemade salad dressings.
7. The server brings warm cinnamon rolls or sticky buns to eat with your salad.
8. They serve a delicious fish fry on Fridays and have a prime rib special on Saturdays.
9. After dinner your server may entice you to enjoy a liquor-spiked Grasshopper ice cream drink or bread pudding with Brandy sauce to finish off your dining experience.
10. The building, and perhaps the business, has been there for more than 50 years, and the owner has interesting stories to share about it.
HOW DO I FIND A WISCONSIN SUPPER CLUB?
The best way to find a good supper club is to ask a local in the community you’re visiting. They will be more than willing to tell you where to go, when to go, and what to order while you’re there. They might even tell you which waitress to request as your server!
The Wisconsin Supper Club website is a good resource (www. wisconsinsupperclubs.net) that lists over 300 supper clubs by region. The supper club list on this website was “crowd-sourced” by locals submitting their favorites. The website also has stories about the lore and history of Wisconsin supper clubs, and lists recently released documentaries and books about supper clubs.
Once you’ve done the research, it’s time to head out on the road to start making your own Wisconsin Supper Clubs’ memories.
WHAT MAKES A GENUINE WISCONSIN SUPPER CLUB?
Well, the answer is elusive, as different areas of Wisconsin tend have their own definition of a supper club. The experience can range from fine dining at elegantly appointed tables, to casual dining at tables with red and white checkered plastic table covers. You might find a mounted deer head or a trophy walleye hanging on the wall next to a portrait of the owner’s family. Or, you might find an elegant, mid-century modern interior that makes you feel like you’ve walked into the set of “Mad Men.” Supper clubs are generally only open during evening hours (that’s where the “supper” part comes from), but often are open for Sunday brunch, serving up Bloody Marys from their own secret recipe.
In the box below describes what you’ll typically find in a supper club, but it’s not a definitive description of the elusive label of “Wisconsin Supper Club.”—SF☀
Written by Therese Oldenburg, founder of Wisconsin Supper Clubs, Inc. - wisconsinsupperclubs.net
“Wisconsin Supper Clubs are unique culinary treasures that must be savored, cherished, and passed down to the next generation.”