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 TravelWisconsin.com 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!