The supper club of the Upper Midwest is unmistakably authentic, as unique to the region as great lakes, cheese curds, and Curly Lambeau. The far-flung locations and creative decor give each supper club a unique ambience, but the owners, staff, and regulars give it its personality. Author Dave Hoekstra traveled through farmland, woods, towns, and cities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, and Illinois, eating at salad bars, drinking old fashioneds, and most of all talking to old-timers, local historians, and newcomers. He discovered that far from going the way of so many small establishments, supper clubs are evolving, combining contemporary ideas such as locavore menus and craft beer with traditional Friday night fish fries and Saturday prime rib. He brings to life the memorable people who have created and continue the tradition, from the blind dishwasher at Smoky’s to the Dick Watson Combo playing “Beyond the Sea” at the Lighthouse and the entrepreneurs and hipster crowd behind the Old Fashioned. Corporations have defined mainstream eating habits in America, but characters define supper clubs, and this combination oral history and guide, with more than one hundred photographs, celebrates not only the past and present but the future of the supper club.
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About the Author
Dave Hoekstra has been a staff writer for the Chicago Sun-Times for 27 years, and has also written for the Chicago Reader, the Journal of Country Music, and Playboy. His previous books include Ticket to Everywhere, a collection of his Sun-Times travel columns, and An Unofficial Guide to Chicago.
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The Supper Club Book
A Celebration of a Midwest Tradition
By Dave Hoekstra
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2013 Dave Hoekstra
All rights reserved.
Turk's Inn and Sultan Room
11320 North US Highway 63, Hayward, Wisconsin (716) 634-2597
It is unclear if Turk's Inn and Sultan Room is the oldest supper club in Wisconsin. But it sure feels like it.
Turk's opened in 1934 on the northern outskirts of Hayward (population 2,312), known for the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum and the Moccasin Bar, a tribute to the art of North Woods taxidermy.
You wish Turk's could also be captured in time. So far it has been.
The supper club is a Turkish bath bubbling over in bric-a-brac like stuffed pheasants, collector's plates of almost all US presidents, gold tassels, paintings of all sorts, and black-and-white photographs of famous customers like President John F. Kennedy and Mike Connors from the late 1960s television show Mannix. President Kennedy and Senators Robert and Ted Kennedy all visited Turk's. Actor Mickey Rooney came in once, admitting he was lost.
Beatrice "Marge" Gogian was doing her best to keep all this afloat in the early summer of 2011. She wore her black hair in a 1950s pageboy style, and she slowly moved about the tchotchke-filled club recovering from a 2009 fall that broke her hip and a leg. Marge did not disclose her age, but most of those around her put her a few steps past eighty.
Marge is the daughter of the original owner, George "the Turk" Gogian. She has never been married. Marge has no children. "Still single," she says. "Still lookin'."
Supper clubs are a constellation of family-run establishments. Marge is the family at Turk's.
Edward Lump, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association since 1981, calls Turk's Inn "a national treasure." He says that Turk's may be the oldest supper club in Wisconsin.
"The Red Circle Inn [in Nashotah] claims the oldest restaurant in the state, starting in 1848," Lump says. [The Mill in Sturgeon Bay opened in 1930.] "But Turk's is the most unique supper club of any. I've been there quite a few times. Look at the history of the supper club and the founder, who was well connected with all kinds of political figures who stopped in — Egyptian royalty when there was such a thing. I mean he's got a picture of himself on a camel with King Farouk."
George the Turk came from Istanbul and Marge's mother, Isabella, was from Armenia, which borders Turkey. They came to America after an arranged marriage. When George and Isabella opened Turk's on Highway 63, two miles north of the center of Hayward, they played up their heritage.
Each red menu was shaped like a fez, complete with a black cloth tassel that dangled in the nocturnal air. The back of the menu featured a cartoon of "George," "Mom," and "Margie" in traditional Turkish garb. George wore a red fez and baggy pants and Mom and Margie had white pillbox hats with long veils.
George and Isabella had the moxie to create a supper club menu of Turkish delight. For example, a late 1930s menu presents "DOLMA: It is said that George the Turk came over to this country in Noah's Ark, and he brought with him a recipe for a Turkish dish — and what a dish! It's called Dolma. It has a base wrapped in grape leaves, stuffed tomatoes, and green peppers. A superb treat — your palate will be the judge."
George mixed the imagery of mystical Turkey with the Noah's Ark comfort zone of the North Woods. "He tried to teach people here how to eat pilaf, cracked wheat, shish kebab [leg of lamb marinated in wine and seasonings]," Marge recalls.
It was an amazing experiment. In the backwoods of northern Wisconsin you could drink Turkish coffee and nibble on Turkish pickles at Turk's Inn. Pastries included baklava (with honey and chopped nuts; "a delicacy eaten by the harems in the Arabian Nights," according to the menu) and the cheese-filled beorek ("light as air, crisp as paper, and fragile as romance"). The Turkish specialties are still served at the grand old supper club. Appetizers include Turkish pickles and the beorek. Turkish coffee is also on the menu.
"My dad always said he wasn't going to copy everybody else," his daughter relays in firm tones. So while Turk's Inn is known for its steaks, it is one of the few Wisconsin supper clubs to pass on the Friday night fish fry, an oddity since Hayward is so closely identified with fish.
Marge says, "A butcher friend taught him how to be a butcher. He used to age and cut his meat, which we still do. That was his specialty. My mom's specialty was fried and broiled chicken. And we're still famous for our porterhouse and New York steaks. If they want prime rib I talk them into having a porterhouse. Everybody has prime rib. When my dad died we decided we would not change anything. I was the butcher for a long time until I broke my leg and my hip. Now I'm convalescing so my help knows how to do it."
Marge's right-hand man is Tom Shuman, who was once Turk's insurance agent. He is now a Hayward farmer with 180 to 220 head of cattle. Shuman came on the scene after George died on Christmas Day, 1979.
"George had a marvelous personality," Shuman says. "He was about five feet tall. He smiled all the time. He had a mind like an eagle. After he died I saw a need for somebody who had a little extra time to help Marge and her mom along a little bit. We all called George's wife 'Mom.' She cooked all the meat in that kitchen. Today you would have no idea how those people worked. When her mom became ill Marge had the whole responsibility of running the place. I knew the place. My folks took me there from the time I was four or five years old." Shuman was born in 1939.
Marge says, "We don't use Tom's meat though. We get our meat from Swanson's in Minneapolis [a wholesaler who purchases the meat from the packers]. We age it for five weeks in the walk-in cooler until it gets nice and tender. Then we cut it and flavor it. I taught Tom how to cut the meat. And Tom knew how to do everything the way my mom and dad did it."
Victoria "Cookie" Piecuch has assisted Marge on a daily basis since her fall. Marge lives next door to the supper club and comes by to help when there are crowds. Cookie also helps Marge around her house. Cookie started working at Turk's in 1953 when she was twelve years old.
"It was so busy here in the 1950 and '60s," she says while Marge inspects the small kitchen. "I also had my own restaurant, the '63 Inn [now the Aspen Wood Inn], south of Hayward [on Highway 63]." Cookie and her husband, Richard, built the motel and restaurant back when US 63 was a new hip way to get between Minneapolis, to the southwest, and Ashland, Wisconsin. "Richard also helps Marge," she says. "When we're busy I have him come in and tend bar." Cookie and Richard's six children have all worked at the Turk throughout the years.
In the mid-1950s Cookie learned Armenian dances at Turk's Inn. The impromptu instructions would take place at two or three in the morning, after the supper club closed.
"Armenian kids would be working there," Cookie recalls. "There were cousins from Istanbul and Egypt. We had Armenian music on the jukebox. The guys wanted to dance. We would dance in the kitchen, around the kitchen table. It was a sideways step, not like a polka where you go 'round. We went back and forth. It would have been more fun in the dining room because I love to dance. But it was amazing."
George the Turk collected art, memories, and everything else. Marge looks up at a stuffed owl near a bar cluttered with antique liquor bottles and decanters. Many bottles had collected dust. "Oh, yeah, that owl is against the law now," she says.
Customers walk into Turk's Inn and are met with a pseudo–living room setting with an old piano and a Chinese golden pheasant and silver pheasant preserved in full wingspan. There's a partridge, not in a pear tree but on the crowded wall of this Harem Room, which is regarded as the supper club's lounge.
Shuman said the rural setting made Turk's popular with politicians from the state capitol in Madison, a few hours south. "They could kind of let their hair down a little bit," he says.
The Sultan Room (bar area) is across the hallway. The rear ninety-seat Kismet Room (for good luck) affords a tranquil view of the woods with a walkway to the Namekagon River. And off to the side of the Kismet Room is the exclusive Gogian Room, with white tablecloths, green linen napkins, and a portrait of Marge when she was a young woman. The room's bronze Persian rug is from when "Persia was Persia," as Marge puts it.
You could get lost here. That's what George did.
"My dad loved birds," Marge says. "He had cages out there. He kept beautiful peacocks. He planted flowers. He loved being outside."
Marge Gogian's early life was a flight of fancy. She went to Chevy Chase School for Girls in Washington, DC, and New York University. At Chevy Chase was the only time Marge was addressed by her real name of Beatrice. Her father had nicknamed her Marge in tribute to a favorite customer at the supper club.
After college Marge was a stylist for the fashion photographer Gordon Parks in New York City. "I hired the models and got all their accessories," she says. "I went to Saks Fifth Avenue. That's always been my favorite store." It still is, beating out Hi Ho Silver in Hayward.
Through connections made at the supper club, Marge and her father attended President Kennedy's inaugural ball in Washington, DC. She designed her own silk dress inlaid with gold threads. A photograph of the memorable event is prominently displayed in the Kismet Room. And this is why JFK's commemorative plate ranks the highest in her collection. The plate has a special place in a glass case in the Kismet Room.
Marge says, "Jack was running for president and he spoke at Hayward High School. Then he came here. Jackie wasn't here. He ate a steak. That was our specialty. [Late US Justice] Harry Blackmun used to come all the time. He'd stand by the stove with my mother and put his arm around her." Servicemen and public servants who visited Turk's Inn ate free.
The acclaimed Egyptian photographer Dan Leo photographed a young Marge during a visit to Egypt. The photos are on display in the Gogian Room. It becomes clear Marge has carried a sharp sense of style her entire life. Did this influence the supper club?
She answers with snappy Wisconsin wisdom: "I try to be like I should be."
Molly Stoddard is a kindred spirit to Marge in that she has lived her life the way she wanted. The Hayward resident is former lead singer of the popular country band Molly & the Heymakers, who recorded for Warner Brothers in the early 1990s.
The album cover of their 1998 release Lucky Flame was shot at Turk's. "Turk's was our spot," Molly says. "Any time we had a producer from Nashville come up or someone we wanted to impress but freak them out at the same time we would take them to Turk's. And everybody got into it. Music business people are quirky and they dug it. Like the Sultan Room, nothing has changed since 1952. Marge does have times when it is difficult to be there. They fight in the kitchen. You hear pans being thrown. Then you're waiting and waiting. We went there once with twelve people. And our food didn't come and it didn't come. You could hear them fighting in the kitchen. We were walking to the bar and mixing our own drinks. By the time our food came we were so trashed. I couldn't even taste my food."
Molly grew up in Ely, Minnesota, north of Hayward. Her father, Bill Otis, sang in the Canadian Opera Company and she went to high school in the Hayward area. She remembered the first time she saw Turk's.
"I went there as a kid and it was rockin'," says Molly, who was born in 1958. "That was in the heyday. All the way down to the river they had exotic birds and plants. The place was a series of places where you would sit to wait to get into the dining room. And it was just packed. You would sit in these little booths to wait to get in. Now they're just filled with junk, stacks of weird magazines. But you would sit out there and have an hors d'oeuvre. That was back in the day when people were drinking serious cocktails. My grandma loved the place. We'd have to get all dressed up. I had three sisters and she would buy us matching outfits and purses. So to this day when I go to Turk's, I still get dressed up and Marge loves that."
Stoddard was Molly Scheer when she led the five-piece Heymakers band. They maintained a studio in Hayward although the record label was in Nashville. Stoddard was raising children of her own at the time and did not want to uproot them. "I'm kind of a hick," explains Stoddard, who plays fiddle, mandolin, and rhythm guitar. "And I'm still here. I like it up here."
George the Turk had a fatal heart attack in 1979. Marge was traveling in Europe. She returned to her roots. "I didn't want to leave my mother alone," Marge says. George and Isabella were married fifty-three years. "I've been here ever since. After he died, my mother never came out here, except to clean the bar or something like that."
The shadows are getting long at Turk's Inn, but Marge still has vivid memories of when the supper club opened in 1934. "I was a little girl," she says. "We lived upstairs. I heard all kinds of racket. It was Memorial Day weekend. I came downstairs to see what all the racket was. They had a three-piece combo playing big band music. No carpeting. There was a dance floor. The women were in long gowns and big hats and the men were in white suits. I thought, 'What's going on here?' Then I thought, I better get back upstairs before I get caught! They never knew I came downstairs. They celebrated for four days about this place. We no longer have dancing here. When they started asking for a tax on places that had dancing, my dad said no. He put in the carpeting."
But for Turk's seventy-fifth anniversary party, Molly Stoddard brought a half-dozen belly dancers to the supper club. "I had a little café [Madeline's] for years in Hayward," Molly explains. "I had a bunch of college girls working there. We had an open mike night. A young woman came in and belly danced. I thought it was amazing so I hired her to come in and teach everybody that worked there, all ages, how to belly dance."
At one point fifty women were belly dancing in the small town of Hayward. "I was the matriarch of the group," Molly says. "About six of us went out to Turk's to belly dance. We got Marge out with us. She hadn't had anything like that forever. She loved it."
Marge is proud to call her beautiful little dining complex a supper club. "This is a supper club," she says in no uncertain terms. "We have linen napkins and nice tablecloths. We're one of the few that still do that. We have a relish tray if they order it. We used to give it for free. Supper is an old-fashioned name, and dinner is a modern name. That's all I know." From a distance, Cookie shouts, "My grandpa always said Jesus had the last supper, not the last dinner."
People are not apathetic about the eclectic Turkish suppers at Turk's. "People love it or they just don't get it at all," Molly says. "It's a polarized reaction. And it's really expensive. Turk's has big-city prices. It's like my place."
Molly owns the Pavilion wine bar in downtown Hayward. She still plays music in the Danger Band, performing weekends at the small European-influenced bar. "Most locals don't come in and they don't know what's going on," she says. "But the second homeowners appreciate it is something odd and a little different for a small town. Turk's is the same way."
Turk's Inn serves lots of brandy old-fashioneds and has a heady selection of bottled beer: Beck's, Budweiser, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller Lite, O'Doul's, Leinenkeugel's Red Lager and Sunset Wheat, Michelob Ultra, Guinness, and others. Cookie says Miller Lite, Leiny's Red, and Budweiser are the best sellers.
"It's not a bar where you drink and get drunk, stuff like that," Marge says. "We have all kinds of drinks. I learned how to tend bar when I was a young girl. My dad learned how to tend bar and he hired all kinds of college boys to tend bar. We never hired a professional because they drank." She stops and laughs. "My mom and dad never drank. People always wanted to buy my dad a drink. He'd have them pour a bit of Scotch in a tall glass, fill the rest up with water, and when they weren't looking he'd dump it in the sink."
When George "the Turk" Gogian first came to America, he became a chocolatier in Philadelphia. He opened a candy factory.
"He lost everything during the Depression," Marge says. "He lost his business. He didn't know what to do." George found work at a Philadelphia hotel and enjoyed the increased opportunity to meet people. Isabella's mother lived in Saint Paul, so the young couple moved to the Twin Cities, where George got a job at the Hotel Leamington in Minneapolis. While in Minnesota he learned about the rural beauty of Hayward, 145 miles away.
"He fell in love with the Namekagon River, which runs behind our place," Marge says. "He found a job at a small restaurant in Hayward. The highway  was built so he decided he wanted to have his own place. The banks would not loan him any money because it was the Depression. His relatives in Philadelphia thought he was crazy to come to Hayward. But my dad didn't like working for anybody."
Excerpted from The Supper Club Book by Dave Hoekstra. Copyright © 2013 Dave Hoekstra. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Garrison Keillor,
Supper Club Road Trip Map,
I The Roots,
1 Turk's Inn and Sultan Room (Hayward, Wisconsin),
2 The Ced-Rel (Cedar Rapids, Iowa),
3 Sullivan's Supper Club (Trempealeau, Wisconsin),
II Supper Clubs with Shtick,
4 Jax Café (Minneapolis, Minnesota),
5 Sister Bay Bowl (Sister Bay, Wisconsin),
6 Ishnala (Lake Delton, Wisconsin),
III Wacky-Named Supper Clubs,
7 HobNob (Racine, Wisconsin),
8 The Otter Supper Club and Lodge (Ottertail, Minnesota),
9 Mr. Ed's Tee Pee Supper Club (Tomah, Wisconsin),
10 House of Embers (Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin),
11 The Del-Bar (Lake Delton, Wisconsin),
12 Ding-A-Ling Supper Club (Hanover, Wisconsin),
13 Moracco (Dubuque, Iowa),
14 Smoky's Club (Madison, Wisconsin),
15 Fisher's Club (Avon, Minnesota),
16 Timmerman's Supper Club (East Dubuque, Illinois),
17 The Mill (Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin),
18 Kavanaugh's Esquire Club (Madison, Wisconsin),
19 The Lighthouse Inn Supper Club (Cedar Rapids, Iowa),
V The Future,
20 The Peak Supper Club (Clitherall, Minnesota),
21 Red Stag Supper Club (Minneapolis, Minnesota),
22 Cliff Bell's (Detroit, Michigan),
23 The Butterfly Club (Beloit, Wisconsin),
24 The Old Fashioned (Madison, Wisconsin),
Postscript: Tribute to Supper Clubs Gone By,
Supper Club Listing by State,