New Web Site!

After first using Blogger (AKA Blogspot) in 2002 for a journo class that I taught, I'm finally getting with the times and created a website using Wix. It's free and easy. Check it out!

Going to Mile of Music Festival in Appleton, Wis.?

Are you headed on a road trip to MOM3 in Appleton, Wisconsin, this year? Here's a little road reading about the festival's birth, development and the idea that music is a birthright for all. Enjoy my article in the summer 2015 issue of Wisconsin People & Ideas Magazine!

The Documentary, "Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club" Debuts at the Wisconsin Film Fest April 9-15, 2015

I was so very excited to learn this morning that my friend Holly DeRuyter's feature documentary, "Old Fashioned, The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club" will debut at this year's Wisconsin Film Festival, April 9-15, 2015 in Madison. You can learn more on Facebook when the premiere is scheduled (WFF page and the film's page). Here's Holly talking about the film on Wisconsin Public Radio.

I first met Holly right after publication of my Summer 2009 12-page tome on supper clubs, "Supper Club State: A Brief Cultural History of the Wisconsin Institution" for Wisconsin People & Ideas Magazine, the quarterly journal of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. She was seeking expert sources, and I was pretty happy someone had actually read my article! She came up to my neck of the woods several summers since 2009 to film and I brought her around to supper clubs here and gone in western Wisconsin. Here's a recent preview of the film from Wisconsin Public Television's Director's Cut program. The segment starts at 41:44. Here's the trailer, too:

A little backstory on how we met. WPI editor Jason Smith had seen my 2007 Chicago Tribune article, "State of the Supper Club Scene," and a couple of pieces I did for before that, and invited me in 2008 to write up what we thought was one of the state's first in-depth, primary and secondary sourced articles. Prior to that there was a great article from the Wisconsin Historical Society on supper club architecture by Jim Draeger, who is also one of the subject-matter experts featured in the film, a few wonderful Journal-Sentinal pieces over the years on the topic by the late restaurant critic Dennis Getto, and a stray review here and there. My 12-page article took months of research, interviews and photos because I wanted to touch on both the cultural and historical aspects, explore their survival and demise, and paint a picture of the future. When Holly called she was already seeking sources for her film, we connected immediately on the subject, and I was thrilled to be asked to be a source. I feel fortunate to enjoy her friendship then, now and in the future.

What I think is very cool about the film is that Holly recognizes that all ages and types of people in Wisconsin understand and treasure the supper clubs that remain in our state. The love of the supper club and mid-century fine-dining restaurants has just taken off in the Upper Midwest, with a couple of books, dozens of articles and a short film out in the last year or two. I'm so excited that all this is working to help clubs that remain open enjoy a mini-renaissance.

That said, places near me like Nye's Polynnaise Room in Minneapolis and the Lakeside Club in White Bear Lake, Minn., are closing in 2015  in part because land values in urban and suburban areas have rebounded and are so lucrative -- as I covered in my article in what happened to clubs in more popular vacation areas of Wisconsin like Lake Geneva.

Rest assured, out in the woodlands of Wisconsin and Minnesota you can still find authentic supper clubs, and there is good news in the nouveau supper club world.  Someone bought the state's beloved Gobbler Supper Club and is turning it into a dinner theater, so that is a fabulous reuse for a bygone supper club. That place was the absolute cat's pajamas of Googie architecture (I stayed in the bygone matching motel in 1988 when I got a scholarship from the Wisconsin Newspaper Assn)! Then there are new-school, old-school restaurateurs like the Red Stag Supper Club and Betty Danger's Country Club in Minneapolis and the Old Fashioned in Madison that are keeping the vibe alive. And people like the Minneapolis restaurateur father-son duo who rescued Jake's Supper Club in Menomonie from the history books. Unfortunately many just don't have the entertainment component anymore with competition from bars with live music and the plethora of theaters, art center and other venues. That said, I'm very excited to visit nouveau old-school establishments like Crooner's Lounge and Supper Club, which opened in suburban Minneapolis in late 2014. I've been told it's true to the supper club recipe, including live music every day of the week! Hands down that's my favorite ingredient of the drinking-dining-dancing trifecta of the supper club.

Viva La Supper Clubs!

Thanks all who attended the Wisconsin Historical Society Event on Supper Clubs at Hudson Brewing Company!

I felt perfectly at home -- in my hometown brewery in front of a wooden beer barrel -- giving a presentation on the wonderful history of St. Croix Valley Supper Clubs for the Wisconsin Historical Society once again. Some event pix are here.

A special  thanks to John Warling and his dad, Wayne, who put icing on the cake of the presentation with some artifacts from the old Country House, which grandfather/father Vern founded in 1955. It burned in 1974 and to hear why, well, you would have had to attend the presentation. John and Wayne also had quite the stash of old menus from Twin Cities and Valley supper clubs including the Blue Horse, on University Ave. in St. Paul, which Vern bought for Wayne's brother, Cliff. Wayne let John do the talking as he was a little shy, but he's got the stories and was something of a foodie in his day at his dad and brothers' restaurants, creating recipes at night while working for the USPS by day.

Thanks to Linsey Laufenberg and all the WHS staff who organized the event as well as Molly and Greg Harris, who are the cat's pajamas and their Hangar taproom the bomb at American Sky Beer/Hudson Brewing Co. Love love love American Velvet Coffee Stout, which is brewed with cold-pressed Dunn Bros. coffee. And thanks to Mary and other Hangar staff for a great event. I mentioned to someone, maybe Mary or Molly, that I needed a podium, and shazaaam, the most perfect podium *ever* appeared. Great bratwurst lunch that fit perfectly the setting, too, from award-winning RJ's Meats in Hudson. And thanks to Nate/Chad from the local River Channel. I'll post the YouTube if/when.

I was pleased to see in attendance Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Wis., 30th) [excuse the journalism holdover, folks] and his lovely wife, Joy, who used to be our cats' veterinarians when they had a vet hospital in Hudson. I was extremely pleased to see Dean nodding vigorously when I shamelessly plugged preservation of all or part of the old Buckhorn sign on the new Stillwater Crossing bike trails that will connect the old Stillwater Lift bridge with the new.

Diane Nixa, executive director of the Wisconsin Historical Foundation, welcomed the group.  She grew up in Mahtomedi, Minn. and we talked a few White Bear Lake, Minn. supper clubs (and hey, I'm going to the Lakeside Friday night with two MN pals). Also welcoming the group was Ellsworth Brown, director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, and in attendance, too, was Christopher Berry, president of the Wisconsin Historical Foundation.

Wisconsin Historical Society Event: Supper Clubs at Hudson Brewing Co.

The third time's a charm, right? I'm once again giving a presentation on the state's supper club history for the Wisconsin Historical Society, Saturday, Nov. 2 from Noon to 2 p.m. at the Hudson Brewing Company, 1510 Swasey St., Hudson, WI. Cost is $10 for WHS members and $15 for public. RSVP ASAP to 1-888-748-7479.

Plan to lunch a little, quaff Hudson's new brew and tour the brewery, and learn a little history of St. Croix Valley Supper Clubs on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border.

My special guests will be John Warling and his father Wayne Warling of St. Paul. Vern Warling, John's grandfather and Wayne's dad, built the Country House supper club near the Hilltop Supper Club strip in Houlton, Wis., in 1955. It was designed by noted Art Deco designer Werner Wittkamp and was the swankiest joint around until it burned down in 1974 (and that's a great story John and Wayne will tell).

In addition I'll talk a little supper club architecture, including Wittkamps's other work in the Twin Cities, like the Lexington, and also talk about architect Al Svenson, who designed a remodel of the Dalles House in St. Croix Falls (still there, and still a great supper club) plus his bygone supper clubs from the London House in Duluth to the Shakopee House in Shakopee.

If that's not enough, I'll also talk about how I got interested in this topic: the frog leg "legacy" that this area was known for back then. This area, the St. Croix Watershed, had once had two turtle/frog "farming" operations for lack of a better term in Houlton and Somerset, Wis., that supplied "fresh Wisconsin frog legs" ("grenouilles" for fancy folk) to supper clubs from Chicago and Milwaukee to St. Paul and Minneapolis.

And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about booze! I'll cover how Prohibition caused the start up the urban night clubs and supper clubs across the country, why supper clubs survived in the Upper Great Lakes and specifically Wisconsin, and how a difference in liquor laws between the two states (Minnesota banned on-sale liquor in restaurants on Sundays) created this vibrant border supper club strip until Minnesota changed its law in 1967, in effect 1968.

Plus many more interesting tidbits and tales. See you there!
My tome on supper club history that appeared in the Summer 2009 edition of Wisconsin People & Ideas Magazine, published by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters. Available online at

Photos from Wisconsin Historical Society's Taste of Wisconsin: Supper Clubs!

We had great food, good conversation and samples of Leinenkugel's beer at the Wisconsin Historical Society's Taste of Wisconsin: Supper Clubs event in June at Swearingen's Al-Gen Dinner Club outside of Rhinelander, Wis. 

Here are photos from the event. 

This is the Wisconsin Northwoods, so one must expect to eat (and drink) well.  Rob and Amy Swearingen of the Al-Gen and their expert staff served prime rib, fried haddock, ribs (the Al-Gen's signature entree with the recipe passed down since its founding in 1935), chicken wings, cheese curds, salads, and a buffet-style supper club relish tray (charcuterie, cheese, crackers and fresh veg crudites). 

TMI but I ate entirely too much before speaking, which as anyone who speaks knows is a big no-no. (It's probably a good thing, then, that son Cole, who was event photographer, took no photos of me during my presentation.)

To kick off the event I proclaimed that 2013 is the Year of the Wisconsin Supper Club! It's the 80th anniversary of Repeal (aka the Blaine Act, intro'd by Wisconsin Sen. John Blaine), a couple of books on Sconnie supper clubs have been published this year, one short film has come out, and Holly DeRuyter''s feature length documentary Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club will be out this fall (Holly served on the discussion panel). 

Then I gave a little eulogy and showed slides of The Turk's Inn in Hayward, whose owner Marge Gogian, died in February. Turk's, which has a fantastic story and history, will never be open again as her wishes are that it be sold and used for scholarships for Hayward area students.  (Wouldn't it be great if the Wisconsin Historical Society would buy it and turn into a historic site? After the event, I mentioned that to Rob, who is the representative for his district in the Legislature, and said he should get on the idea! Not sure if he thought I was serious or not.) 

Anyway, from there I took the guests down to western Wisconsin to the Hilltop supper club strip in Houlton, Wis., just across from Stillwater, Minn. I talked about how the difference in Sunday liquor on-site laws really made this region thrive from 1933 until Minnesota changed its law and allowed on-site sales of liquor (1968). (Minnesota still has the blue law prohibiting off-sale on Sunday.)

I didn't have a good ending for my presentation but had a brainstorm and bought a couple of bags of Pearson's Mint Patties (made in St. Paul, Minn.). Backstory: If you grew up in the Twin Cities, you might recall getting these for free or 1-2 cents each at the all Hilltop supper clubs and others around St. Paul. Tony and Cole handed them out at the end, and it was just what the supper club chef ordered. 

The panel of supper club owners included (L to R) Rob Swearingen, owner of the Al-Gen, Chris Copisky, owner of The Silver Birch Supper Club, and Karen and Da
vid Widule of the White Stag Supper Club, filmmaker Holly and me, the moderator. We had a great time, and it would be fab to do this yet again for the WHS. Three times a charm, right?

PS: I found it interesting that Rob Swearingen's dad played in the Rhythm Royals, a band was of some note in the Midwest in the 1960s. They charted with the song "I Don't Wanna Go Back To School" on Sahara label. Also Rob's regular pianist was there for the event, which was pretty cool as the entertainment component is SO important to the supper club holy trifecta of dining, dancing and drinking, so I had to give him a nod right at the beginning. 

Also Rob mentioned that his bartender came with the real estate when he bought the place 20+ years ago.  (Both staffer's names elude me.) Anyway, you can't take the St. Paul out of us border folk, my husband being from St. Paul; afterward the bartender made us a great Jameson ginger and bourbon Old Fashioned, although both are very St. Paul-ish and almost sacrilegious in Wisconsin, home of the Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet.