A Midwest Tradition: Can Someone Please Explain Supper Clubs to Me?
I spend way too much time on TikTok, but that's not what this is about! Somehow I've found my way into the Supper Club side of the popular platform. I'm constantly scrolling across videos of guided tours through various supper clubs across the Midwest. However, I must admit something: I don't really understand the hype and tradition around the popular dining clubs.
Not only do I not understand it, I don't think I've ever been to one in my life. What technically qualifies as a supper club and what sets it apart from a traditional restaurant? I have questions.
What Defines a "Supper Club"?
Depending on who and where you ask, you may get a widely different answer! According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel there are several common themes you'll find that determine whether a supper club is in fact, a supper club:
- Owners: Often these clubs are family owned and operated
- Menu: You'll find offerings of seafood, steak, and soup. There's often bread service and a relish tray too. Don't forget all-you-can-eat fish Fridays!
- Portions: Expect a "generous helping" at that! Typically the portions are as big as your head-- if not bigger.
- Décor: I would describe this as "cabin chic". There's bound to be at least one taxidermied animal hanging over your dining table.
- Location: These clubs are often found just outside of town and in areas with large rural communities.
Origins of the Supper Club:
You might be surprised to learn supper clubs actually started out in Hollywood, according to Wikipedia. Legend has it a Wisconsin native named Lawrence Frank established the first supper club in Beverly Hills. These type of dining clubs became especially popular in the '30s and '40s.
Isn't It Just a Restaurant?
On the basic level yes, a supper club is in fact a restaurant. However, from what I gather the major difference that sets these two apart is the experience. Wisconsin supper club the Hotel Seymour notes,
These restaurants are meant to be seen as destinations. At other restaurants, you arrive, place your order, eat and leave. But supper clubs are meant for people who aren’t in a hurry...there is often a feeling of community in supper clubs—people are here to socialize.
What I find fascinating is that you typically aren't seated upon immediately entering the supper club. You may be asked to place your order and will be seated once your food is ready. In the meantime you're meant to be socializing, perhaps by ordering a drink at the bar or taking in the live entertainment.
Do You Have to Be a Member?
I guess that's one thing that confuses me most. When you hear the word "club" that usually requires a membership but I don't think that's necessarily the case in this situation. It seems the word "club" just refers to like-minded people who gather to do the same thing: eat. Often these clubs are only open during dinner hours.
Where Can You Find Them?
Though supper clubs are most often associated with Wisconsin, you can find them all across the Midwest in states like Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, and Michigan. I even saw a couple when I spent several years living in Nebraska. Supper clubs are truly a Midwest tradition!
Do We Have Supper Clubs Near Kzoo?
A quick Google search tells me in fact we do have supper clubs in our area. The now-closed Webster's Prime was considered a supper club. Now that I know what they actually are, was the former Sam's Joint considered a supper club? I've definitely been there a time or two! There's also a private supper club, the Delish Supper Club, located near Mosel and Westnedge. Memberships at Delish range anywhere from 99 cents to $99 per year.
Do you know of any other supper clubs in the Kalamazoo area?
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