From Sullivan’s in Trempealeau to the Black Angus in Prairie du Chien, and The Freight House and Digger’s in La Crosse, supper clubs are an old-fashioned Wisconsin tradition.
Places where you can drink a brandy “old-fashioned,” or go on a weekend for a fish fry or prime rib.
The La Crosse Public Library celebrated the Wisconsin supper club this weekend by showing a documentary on the subject, called “Old Fashioned.”
Filmmaker Holly De Ruyter of Madison brought her movie to La Crosse, and she has theories about why supper clubs seem to be unique to the Badger State.
“Culture that was not really for Prohibition, so you had a lot of ‘speak-easies,’ and when Prohibition ended, you had a lot of these rural buildings and structures where they’re looking to lure people in, and they turned into supper clubs,” De Ruyter said. “You have a lot of rural paved roads,” which she says were necessary for dairy farms to get their milk to market.
De Ruyter says supper clubs don’t seem to have caught on in Illinois, but Iowa is close to Wisconsin in the number of clubs statewide. And the dining places also are popular on the East and West Coasts.
Supper clubs have been endangered in recent years, partly because of the pandemic, but De Ruyter says the tradition appears to be making a comeback.
“Supper clubs were in great decline” when De Ruyter started making the movie in 2009, “but since then, we have seen a rejuvenation and people interested in the supper clubs.”
De Ruyter says baby boomers want to go back to their roots, and she also sees millennials wanting to keep the clubs alive around Wisconsin.