Supper club interior

Anatomy of a Wisconsin Supper Club

What to expect at one of our state’s finest institutions.

The supper club has a long, storied history, beginning back in the 1930s and ’40s in Prohibition speakeasies in New York City. In Wisconsin, there’s a telltale look and culinary flavor to supper clubs, which is part of why I think they continue to have a presence here. Here’s a breakdown of common supper-club characteristics:


Relaxed and slow paced

You don’t go to a supper club for a quick in-and-out meal. (If you do, you’re really in the wrong place.) The service generally signals that. Diners will start with a cocktail, to sip while snacking on the relish/snack tray and contemplating the menu, before settling into a meal that will likely last a couple of hours.  

Often a dark interior

That can make it difficult to read the menu, but on the flip side, if you are dining with your significant other, this could be the jumpstart to a very romantic night. Extra credit if you are in a dining room featuring especially colorful or patterned wallpaper, a lot of mirrors, ornate chandeliers and light fixtures and Naugahyde-covered chairs or booths (maybe even off-white ones).

To Start

Wisconsin old fashioned

The drink that made the state famous. This is the sweet version, made with brandy, muddled orange slices and cherries with bitters and sugar (making it extra sweet), and topped off with a splash of 7-Up or Sprite.

Relish tray

They range from small and focused mainly on raw vegetables (radishes, celery, carrots, green onions) along with olives and pickles to more creative, retro-inspired plates with creamed or pickled herring, bean salad, melba toast and breadsticks, and even fresh popovers. This tray is typically included in the meal, so you’re more likely to get a scaled-down version.

Lazy Susan

This is where it gets fun. The Susan is a rotating tray which comes to the table topped with even more deliciousness, like liver sausage, deviled eggs, cheese spreads and smoked fish.

Salad bar

Not only a set-up stocked with ingredients to build your own salad (greens, veggies, cheeses, croutons and dressings, including and ranch, French and blue cheeses), the serve-yourself bar might have pickled veggies and herring, coleslaw, various “composed” mayo- or vinaigrette-based salads like tuna, potatoes and macaroni. There could be salami and other sliced meats served with crackers and cheese. And Jell-O! Still hungry? You better be. The entrée is still to come.

Food & Drinks

Prime rib

The words that sometimes accompany it are “biggest you’ve ever seen” and “slow-roasted to perfection.” Served with au jus and the potato of your choice, it may come in a queen or petite cut.

Big steaks

Not to be confused with prime rib of beef (whose preparation is to roast it medium-rare and serve with the pan juices). “Big steaks” refers to massive cuts of beef, like the granddaddy of steaks the Porterhouse (which can start at 30 ounces). You might see T-bones, too – a strip steak on one side, a tenderloin on the other.

Classy fish fry

Not the kind served in a Styrofoam container with a packet of tartar sauce and some Wet Naps. Some type of fried fish might be served every night at a supper club, but Friday could be when it’s showtime for perch, bluegill, walleye and or smelt. Sides include a choice of potato (hopefully homemade potato pancakes), coleslaw, fresh rye bread and tartar sauce and plenty of fresh lemon wedges.  

Ice cream drinks

These are simply boozy, drinkable desserts, and are a traditional nightcap. Examples are the Pink Squirrel (made with an almond-flavored crème liqueur, white crème de cacao and heavy cream), Grasshopper (green creme de menthe, white crème de cacao, light cream) and the Golden Cadillac (made with a creamy herbal liqueur called Galliano, white crème de cacao and cream).



Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.