The Allure of Wisconsin Supper Clubs

Each one is unique, and yet you know what to expect when you visit. Their origin are far from the Midwest, but it’s easy to see why Wisconsin claims supper club supremacy.

Supper clubs were born in London, England's theatrical society in the late 19th century. However, it wasn't until Prohibition that supper clubs began to flourish in the United States. By the 1950s and '60s, supper clubs were a nationwide phenomenon. They were adult playgrounds where dining, dancing, and drinking, reflected post-war prosperity and abundance.

5 O'Clock Club Sign Ron Faiola
Pinewood relish tray Ron Faiola

Nostalgic and Historical

Wisconsin’s supper clubs started as taverns, resorts and dancehalls where fried chicken and perch were served along with a beer. Eventually these places transformed their food and decor, and as a result, the classic menu we know and love came into being: Friday fish fry, Saturday prime rib, Sunday broasted chicken and ribs. Plus relish trays, cheese and crackers at the bar and the undisputed cocktail: a hand-muddled brandy old fashioned.

However, it’s not only the food that draws people back. Plenty of nostalgia is served up with each visit: memories of dressing up for supper and having your first kiddie cocktail, or celebrating a high school prom, graduation, anniversary or birthday.

Every supper club is steeped in history, with stories of misfortune, serendipity and mischievous ghosts. It’s fun to imagine that the walls could talk or to go back in time when lobster was three dollars and drinks were half a buck. This type of restaurant feeds the soul like no other, and we’re fortunate to have so many exceptional supper clubs scattered around the state.

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Photography and Text by Ron Faiola