In the 1930s, one hungry Wisconsinite, named Lawrence Frank, traveled to Beverly Hills, California. He packed only his desire and determination to open a fine dining restaurant that would be available to all social classes. His “come one, come all” stance was met with high success in the west and spread like butter on warm bread over to the Midwest, forever changing the world of dining out.
With the conclusion of WWII, Americans were finally able to regain their livelihoods and have some fun money again. Families and returning soldiers piled into their cars to take road trips across the country via routes like the Lincoln Highway. When it was time to grab a meal, the supper club concept restaurants of Lawrence’s creation quickly became filled with people. Ready to park the car and head inside to see what the big deal is? Here’s the dish on what it means to dine at a supper club.
It’s important to know that supper clubs are family run restaurants. This means the level of homestyle hospitality is higher because the family is always around to take care of you. To them, it’s like having family over for a meal every night. Also, most supper clubs have unique themes about them. They range from classy and contemporary, to nautical and holiday-themed. The first of their kind, supper clubs inspired the idea that everyone, no matter what their income, could enjoy the perks of a classy cocktail hour, hors d’oeuvres, and a multiple course meal at a price that wouldn’t empty their wallets.
Take Timmerman’s Supper Club for example. Established in 1961 and tucked into the hillside foliage, Timmerman’s rests high above the Mighty Mississippi in East Dubuque, Illinois. (Don’t be confused about the fact that Dubuque, Iowa is five minutes across the river!) The moment you open the doors you’re escorted to the bar for banter and beverages with fellow guests waiting to be seated. The current owners enjoy telling patrons stories of how the original owner of the supper club, Helen Timmerman, would greet guests at the door wearing a long, flowy gowns encouraging returning diners to dress up for dinner.
After drinks, you’ll find your way to a white linen-draped table decorated with candles, water glasses, and the supper club staple, the relish tray. Once seated you’ll have the picture-perfect, panoramic view of the river and railroad below. Waiters dressed in crisp, white shirts and black slacks deliver your well-prepared prime rib with all the fixins to your table. You never have to lift a finger. Just your fork.
It was common, after digging into some homemade desserts, to find other diners up dancing their dinners off. Back then, Timmerman performances included big band names like Count Basie and Harry James! Can you imagine? Nowadays, you’ll find local percussionists and jazz musicians playing away during dinner hours.
Many supper clubs, like Timmerman’s, still operate today, and many are filled with historical happenings, like the Lighthouse Inn Supper Club in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. On your next Midwest road trip, ask locals about their favorite place to grab a bite. (Especially in Wisconsin. They have more than 300 altogether!)
Have you ever broken bread at a supper club? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.