Wisconsin lays claim to the supper club, where relish trays replace the Lazy Susan and juicy steaks are served by a waiter who remembers your name.
Many of Wisconsin’s oldest supper clubs began as simple taverns (near lakeshores, forests, or farmland) with more choices of alcohol than food. Over time, the establishments elevated their food and drink experience to what we know today: ‘Friday Fish Fry’ with the “perfect” Wisconsin Old Fashioned, in a family-friendly setting.
Ironically, the term ‘supper club’ doesn’t have a proper definition, per McKim Boyd, owner of Union Hotel & Restaurant in downtown De Pere. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the family-owned hotel since 1918 boasts the state’s only-standing pay phone in operation and art-deco’d supper club—featuring aged Angus steaks carved to order, great grandma’s four-ingredient dinner rolls, and the longest wine list in the Greater Green Bay area. Customary “ice cream drinks” mean frozen Grasshoppers and Brandy Alexanders, too.
Fun Fact: The Packers’ “G” logo was created by team equipment manager Gerald “Dad” Braisher on the fourth floor of the Union Hotel.
In 1964, the Willems family flipped a retro hotel and dance hall in Sister Bay (on the Door peninsula) into a six-lane bowling alley and supper club restaurant. Locals today load up on Wisconsin favorites at Sister Bay Bowl & Supper Club – cough cheese curds, fried lake perch… and old and “new” fashioneds – starring Woodford Reserve bourbon, maple syrup, black walnut bitters, and splash of cherry juice (fitting as Door County runs Wisconsin’s cherry industry).
The hand-muddled Old Fashioned combines California brandy, bitters, sugar, and Squirt grapefruit soda for “sour,” or 7-Up lemon-lime soda for “sweet” structure. However, regulars’ preferences outlaw the “perfect” spec with a cheap whiskey base and garnish of choice like Maraschino cherry, green olive, and pickled vegetables (mushroom buttons, Brussels sprouts, etc.). We surveyed four guests on how exactly they like their
• Lindsay, 39: “whiskey, sour, mushroom”
• Cameron, 32: “whiskey, sour, olives”
• Rachel, 43: “brandy, sweet, olives”
• Nick, 34: “bourbon, pressed, mushrooms”
Preparation: As for me, brandy, pressed meaning half-sweet (that’s combining lemon-lime soda and soda water) with a Maraschino cherry – not far from a cooled, diluted cherry cola.
Did you know Wisconsinites consume more than half the world’s brandy?
Per Ed Lump, CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association: “the two things on the ‘to-do’ list for most Wisconsin visitors are to dine [or drink] in a supper club… and see Lambeau Field.”
With nearly 250 operating supper clubs in Wisconsin, folks can easily find that “feeling at home” (pre- or post-Packers game) with large portions, long-time family recipes, and décor that reflects local history.
The “Perfect” Wisconsin Old Fashioned
• 2 oz. Korbel brandy
• ½ tsp. sugar
• 2 dashes Angostura bitters
• 1 orange slice
• 2 cherries
• Splash of Squirt grapefruit soda or 7-Up lemon-lime soda
Preparation: Add sugar, bitters, orange, cherries to the bottom of a rocks glass and muddle. Pour in the brandy and a few crushed ice cubes. Stir and top off with soda of choice to taste. Garnish with a cherry or two.