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.

supper club meal
Photo courtesy of Jen B via Yelp

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.

supper club photos
Left photo courtesy of Susan Stienstra via Flickr. Right photo courtesy of sfgamchick via Flickr

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.

timmermans supper club
Photo courtesy of Dayna Bateman via Flickr

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.

timmermans supper club
Photo left courtesy of Daniel D via Yelp. Photo right courtesy of Alan Light via Yelp

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20 Comments

20 thoughts on “The History of Supper Clubs: Bringing Families Together for Dinner”

  1. julie

    The best supper club we have been to is Ishnala in Wisconsin. The decor is Rat Pack meets rustic lodge. The food is tremendous! The view overlooking Mirror Lake is beautiful and the service is superb! Next time you are in the Dells area of Wisconsin don’t miss dinner at Ishnala!

  2. Alice Garry

    My parents used to take us kids to The Ranch Supper Club near Cedar Rapids for our birthdays in the 1970s. I am sure it is long gone now, but it was out in the country and I thought we were in Hollywood. I would get a Shirley Temple to drink and the small birthday cake would come with a sparkler on it. I remember it being so magical.

    Thanks for bringing back the memories!

  3. Christie Maas

    We love staying at historic hotels and our favorite is Hotel Julienne in Dubuque, Iowa. Just across the bridge into Illinois sits the Timmerman Supperclub. We have commented that we need to go there sometime and this article has made us decide to do just that on our next visit. Thanks for posting this piece. Enjoyed!

  4. Debra

    Each time we visit neighboring Galena , IL we have a meal, or Brunch at Timmermans. Very old school, and always a delicious meal. Over 30 years ago we had the pleasure of meeting Helen Timmerman. We were staying in Dubuque Iowa, there was a bad snow storm coming through, and the bridge over the Mississippi River was closed for a couple hours. As long as we were safe and dry we stayed put at the Supper Club, with Helen mingling with the dinner guests. Very nice memory.

  5. Melissa gansemer

    I use to visit Timmermans frequently as a little girl.. it’s where I learned to dance I would stand on my grandfather’s shoes and he would lead me around the dance floor, my sister and I both had fancy little dresses with bells in the hem that mad noise as he would twirl us. My grandfather died this summer at the age of 100 just weeks short of 101. We had his 100th bday party at Timmermans with an orchestra and he sang and entertained as he did us so many years ago, however this time I did not stand on his shoes or have bells in my hem but I felt like that little girl standing on his shoes again. My grandfather also owned a dairy and made an invention for Timmermans bar that kept the ice cream cold but soft perfect for ice cream drinks and in return Timmermans bought his milk from him. End of my story but memories I will always have.

  6. Jeannie

    Love your show,you and Frank are a hoot ,especially in the truck together n a long trip. Keep up the great work,salvaging America one piece at a time! Thank you

  7. Jocelyn

    Hi Mike‼️ That was just so awesome to read. I am a Canadian living in Nashville, TN for the last
    13 years. I love antiques, Collectables, rustic and etc…. I love Art, old pictures, and more.
    It’s amazing where your mind can take you just by looking at a Photo, or a Art piece.
    To me, l think wow what did they use to create this beautiful photo!! It’s like traveling in
    Time and seeing all the history you collect and able to talk about it.
    I had family members in July come to visit, my brother and sister and her hubbie.
    Yes we went to visit your place downtown. My brother is a big fan of your show.
    We took all kinds of pictures. As you know it was a very HOT summer. I was sure glad
    The line was moving along…. Once we in there it was like awwwwwwww look at that!
    Look at this! Over here!! we were in another time of our life. I don’t think l missed a spot
    Of the place. When we left it was like coming out of a time machine. Keep up all the great
    Things you do for people like us that enjoy history. Thanks for making history MATTER‼️

  8. Rod

    Digger Stings in Lacrosse is our favorite, Rat Pack themed, excellent steaks and Old Fashions as well as Pink Squirrels…great waitresses!

  9. wayne peninger

    me and my wife visited your store in Nashville and thought it was great, we watch your show every week it is our favorite show, thanks for doing the show.

  10. Bob Miller

    Even after Mom and Dad divorced once a year on my birthday, they would take me to the Blackhawk supper club, on the Rock River on route 2 in Oregon IL. What a time I would have, having had mom and dad all to myself for the whole evening. It seems that is where i learned about manors. Mom would say “don’t point it’s not polite”, or “don’t put yyour elbows on the table. I could have anything I wanted. Usually went right for the fried shrimp dinner. At 8 years old fried shrimp was one of the best things I ‘ve have ever put in my mouth. Just the drive was beautiful. Down the twisting and turning route 2 that paralleled the beautiful Rock River. My dad has long since passed, but it seems like yesterday I could see his smiling face sitting across the table. Oh what a treat on my birthday.

  11. Robin Walker

    I grew up working in a supper club across the street from my house, The Blue Heron Supper Club in Woodruff, Wisconsin. I first babysat for the family at the age of 14 and I soon after moved into kitchen work. By the time I was 20, I was a full time manager. The employees and owners were like my family, I grew up there and I have some wonderful friends and memories that I will cherish forever! I remember once a vacationing family from Louisiana saying that they came up every year to eat there specifically for my Seafood Pasta Salad!

  12. Barbara Kidzus

    My husband and I discovered Timmerman’s on a trip to Galena. It so happened that it was prom night and we were surrounded by tables of beautiful teens dressed in their finest. The food was amazing and the atmosphere even better.

  13. Matt G

    I have stayed at Timmerman’s Motor Inn, and eaten at Timmermans Supper Club circa 2005, thank you for this article. I remember the Prime Rib very easily, it was easily the BEST Prime Rib to ever adorn my palate. The staff was very nice, and very friendly. It was a great weekend getaway. Galena Ill just mere minutes away made for a fantastic weekend getaway, Timmermans iced the cake.

  14. Teresa Quass

    Supper Clubs have been a staple in our family for decades. I started by going to Ced Rel Supper Club, Atkins, Iowa when I was a senior in high school in 1969. We just met with old friends there last week and the meal was just as scrumptious as ever. Fried shrimp and beef tenderloin as well as their relish tray are the best in Iowa. Went to the Lighthouse on Christmas Eve. Some great ones we loved but have lost are The Ranch, The Lark and The Highlander. Great food, hospitality and memories.

  15. Lauri Bailey

    I had the privilege of dining at Timmermans Supper Club on the evening of my high school prom, 1982. Dressed in my finest gown, accompanied by my boyfriend in a sharp tuxedo, we feasted on a delicious meal, enjoyed wonderful music, and marveled at the breathtaking views. It was nothing short of wonderful!

  16. Rhonda Schwarz

    Another great supper club in the Dubuque, Iowa area, is The Maraco. It is actually located on the south side if Dubuque, in Key West area. It a family owned restaurant. It’s a great place, and great food. Give it a try…

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