Northwoods Wisconsin is to supper clubs what New York City’s Broadway is to theater.
That is how I explained this area’s significance to an East Coast editor a while back. We love our supper clubs in Wisconsin, but I think no one loves them more than the northern part of the state, where supper clubs seem to flourish everywhere and help define the appetite and character of one community after another.
What is a supper club? That’s bait for more banter. Sometimes out-of-staters ask the question with innocence and genuine perplexity. They want to know about club membership fees and wonder whether vacationers are excluded.
Supper clubs began as the working family’s answer to the country club — a special place to relax, eat, linger and maybe dance cheek-to-cheek. Fees and exclusions weren’t a part of the proposition. Everybody was welcome, and these restaurants retain a “Cheers” kind of atmosphere today.
That means the bartender likely knows the regulars by name. The chef might take more than one break from the kitchen, to ask guests about their meals. The owner often is the person who greets you, seats you and maybe even prepares your cocktails or food.
In a perfect world, a supper club also is family owned, for multiple generations, and open only for supper. Some of the best offer diners waterfront views.
The interior tends to be dimly lit, with a comfortable bar. Circular seating at the bar eases conversation among
friends and strangers. Customers, especially on weekends, expect at least a one-hour wait for a table and don’t mind. This is their destination for the evening, so there is no reason to hurry.
The menu, big on steaks and seafood (plus a fish fry, at least on Fridays), might seem predictable. You might know what to expect and want it that way, year after year.
If the meal begins with a relish tray, it likely includes house-made nibbles. Maybe you’ll get a cheese spread, liver pate, pickled herring or dips for raw veggies.
Dessert choices might well include a minty grasshopper, Brandy Alexander or other ice cream drink. There’s a sense of nostalgia, but what really fills you up is the supper club experience — a sense of place, acceptance and camaraderie.
Especially in the Minocqua area, the supper club is embraced as a culture as much as a meal.
There are a number of supper clubs in the Minocqua Area. For a list, go to the Supper Clubs section of www.minocqua.org.