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 David 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.