Supper clubs got their start in London in the 1880s, as late-night, members-only establishments where the theater community went for post-performance food, drinks, and dancing. The idea took root at out-of-sight roadhouses and speakeasies in the United States during Prohibition, and then as more elegant iterations, which flourished across the United States in the 1950s and ‘60s.
“Everybody knew that a ‘supper club’ meant steaks, seafood, and great cocktails,” says Ron Faiola, an author and filmmaker who has produced a documentary about Wisconsin’s supper clubs and is working on his fourth book about them, Wisconsin Supper Clubs, Second Edition, due out in December 2023. “There was dining and dancing, and you’d spend the whole evening there.”
The popularity of American supper clubs faded in the 1970s and ‘80s, but they’ve remained steadfastly popular in Wisconsin, where vacationers come to hike, fish, kayak, and refuel with steaks, seafood, and chops. In the last decade, these supper clubs have enjoyed a resurgence among diners attracted by the nostalgic vibe of the generally affordable, family-run eateries.
The dancing has mostly fallen to the wayside, along with the once-ubiquitous tray of relishes, pickles, black olives, and sliced vegetables that supper clubs were known to serve, but many still offer a Friday night fish fry, a Saturday prime rib special, and broasted chicken and ribs on Sunday.
“It’s comfort food, and it’s a friendly place for the community to hang out,” says Faiola, who was introduced to supper clubs on fishing trips in Wisconsin with his grandfather. “You may run into people you know, it’s relaxing, you have a big cut of prime rib or your favorite steak and potato, and you always go home with a doggy bag.” Another standby of a supper club? Hand-crafted cocktails, usually an old fashioned made with brandy, plus ice cream drinks like grasshoppers and pink squirrels.
Today, nearly 300 supper clubs still operate around Wisconsin. Here are several that are not to be missed.
Lake Delton, Wisconsin