Night spots ‘up north’ have their own ways, history and nameOur niece Zara Pirsig spent a recent holiday with us, coming all the way from Carmel, Calif., to partake in the cultural attractions of Pierce and St. Croix Counties.
By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal
Our niece Zara Pirsig spent a recent holiday with us, coming all the way from Carmel, Calif., to partake in the cultural attractions of Pierce and St. Croix Counties.
Zara has always liked it here and, in her observant way, sees things about River Falls that those of us who live here take for granted.
She loves, for instance, the River Dazzle chili crawl.
A few years ago she was here and tried eleven different chilies in one afternoon. This time, I tagged along for a few and Zara noticed everything.
At Emma’s she noticed on the back bar that Wisconsin drinks its vodka in countless permutations. At Coach’s Bar and Grill she marveled that everyone seemed to know each other.
“Bars here seem more like extended living rooms,” she opined.
Of course we had to wine and dine her.
One night we dropped in at the West Wind and she saw the Pioneer Press review that called it, “Not your Ordinary Supper Club.”
Two days later as we made our way to Shady Grove, she asked what kind of a place is it. I replied, “Oh, it’s another supper club.”
On the way home to River Falls, Zara asked, “Uncle David, what’s a supper club?”
“What do you mean? It’s just a supper club.”
Zara admitted how she had never been to such a thing. Then it all came clear: “Do you have to be a member of the club to eat there?”
“No. The owners are happy just to serve you, whether you’re a Rotarian or not.”
“Then why call it a club?” she persisted.
“I don’t know,” I said, stumped again by this inquisitive young woman.
She dug in her purse, brought out an electronic gadget and Googled “supper club,” and read to us all the way home.
Turns out supper clubs were invented in Wisconsin and Michigan during and after prohibition.
They were places where you could eat and drink at the same place, where you first went to the bar, had a drink, after which a waitress sidled up and took your order and said, “You sit still and enjoy yourself and when your table is ready I’ll come and get you.”
When you were finally seated, a relish tray that you didn’t order appeared. You munched on celery sticks and chopped chicken liver until you weren’t hungry anymore, after which a huge steak or a pile of jumbo shrimp appeared.
Don’t you have supper clubs in your hometown of Augusta, Ga., or in Carmel?
Nope, she said, we have night spots with food and often entertainment, but no supper clubs.
The next day Zara got on a big silver bird and headed back to California.
We stopped and picked up a Sunday New York Times. And what to my wondering eyes would appear?
A full page story and pictures in the big travel section of supper clubs in Wisconsin.
Reporter David McAnnich explained that he grew up in Chicago in the Fifties and his parents owned a cabin “up north” in Wisconsin.
He described how they would hit their favorite supper club on Friday night for the featured fish fry, something they couldn’t do in suburban Chicago.
So reporter McAnnich convinced his editors to send him this year to Wisconsin to his parents’ old haunts — like McGregor’s Blink Bonnie Supper Club in St. Germain, and the White Stag in Sugar Camp.
They were all still there. He and his wife went to one for cocktails, relish tray and dinner, then moved on to one down the road where his wife drank a grasshopper made with ice cream and he a brandy Alexander with ice cream.
Most of the places had changed very little, including one weirdly named Al-Gen, after the original owners AL and GENevieve Nelson who built the place in the 1930s.
So I sent the story off to Zara and thought of all the great supper clubs of my past, where our parents took us for special occasions.
Like The White House in Eau Claire (now gone), Gib Reiter’s on Lake Wissota, The Hillside Fish House in Bluff Siding.
I remembered the relish trays, the husky waitresses wearing corrective hose, and how those darned grasshoppers mucked up my wash tank when I tended bar at the Towne Room at the Hotel Eau Claire, which wasn’t a supper club, but a night spot because it had entertainment headlined by the Lovely Anita Neuheisel.
That answer your question, Zara?