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A supper club, traditionally, refers to a dining establishment that also functions as a social club. The term may describe different establishments depending on the region, but in general, supper clubs tend to present themselves as having a high-class image, even if the price is affordable to all.
A newer usage of the term supper club has emerged, referring to underground restaurants.
Supper clubs in the United States
In the U.S., a supper club is a dining establishment generally found in the Upper Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Iowa. These establishments typically are located on the edge of town in rural areas. They were traditionally thought of as a "destination" where patrons would go to spend the whole evening, from cocktail hour to enjoying night club style entertainment after dinner. They feature a casual and relaxed atmosphere.
Calumet County, Wisconsin recently trademarked itself as "The Supper Club Capital of the Midwest." The county, and its immediate borders, are home to over 30 supper clubs and over 70 places that serve Friday night fish--a spin off of the supper club.
Supper clubs generally feature "simple" menus with somewhat limited offerings featuring "American" cuisine. Menus include dishes such as prime rib, steaks, chicken, and fish. An "all you can eat" Friday fish fry is particularly common at supper clubs in Wisconsin.
The first supper club in the United States was established in Beverly Hills, CA by Milwaukee, WI, native Lawrence Frank. They became popular during the 1930s and 1940s, although some establishments that later became "supper clubs" had previously gained notoriety as prohibition roadhouses.
Supper clubs can still be found in the Upper Midwest but they are now usually just restaurants rather than the all-night entertainment destinations of the past.
Supper clubs in the United Kingdom
Supper clubs in the UK take the cabaret concept of the American 1930s and 1940s and aimed to bring the ambiance of the underground New York jazz club to the UK entertainment scene, where people could enjoy a dinner without the formality of a ball, whilst enjoying live music. These clubs were often the centre of social networks such as the blogging community. in both rural communities and cities. Traditional supper club menus consisted of standard American fare, and in the UK there was a concerted drive to give the food and wine a British twist.
Some supper clubs were purely informal dining societies whilst others incorporated musical acts to complement the atmosphere. There was also a form of supper club which acted as an informal dating platform. Both have largely been replaced by modern nightclubs.
The term "Supper club" is enjoying a revival with slightly different meaning - generally a small underground club (often with roving premises which are only revealed to the guests when they buy a ticket), where guests eat from a restricted or set menu and are expected to fraternise with other guests who they may not know.
In the UK 'Underground Restaurants' and 'Supper Clubs' have started to blossom, with reviews in leading newspapers such as The Times and The Guardian. They range across the UK but are mainly concentrated in London. These are advertised by word of mouth and on social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
Supper clubs in Latin America
In Latin America, a "Supper Club" is typically an underground restaurant, known as either a paladar or a restaurante de puertas cerradas (locked door restaurant). Although technically illegal, this type of restaurant is built into the culture, often with higher standards than many licensed establishments. They are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.
The attraction of the underground restaurant for the customer is the ability to sample new food at low cost outside the traditional restaurant experience, which can be expensive and disappointing; underground restaurants have been described as "anti-restaurants". For the host, the benefit is to make some money and experiment with cooking without being required to invest in a restaurant proper. As one host told the San Francisco Chronicle: "It's literally like playing restaurant...You can create the event, and then it's over."
Supper clubs, when used in the newer context of underground restaurants, are also known as home bistros, guerrilla dinner, secret restaurant, paladares, puertas cerradas, guestaurants, speakeasy or even anti-restaurant.
- "Supper Clubs: Buildings with Taste", Wisconsin State Historical Society
- Dennis Getto, "Supper clubs that are a cut above prime time", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
- "Savoring the Past: Supper Clubs"
- Brenda K. Bredahl, "The state of the supper club scene", Chicago Tribune, August 26, 2007.
- Blogging community shows support for Fernandez and Leluu here
- Fernandez and Leluu's Game On Menu
- the Basement Galley Menus
- Diners Guide Simon Dogget
- http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/sep/29/best-london-supper-clubs Five top London supper clubs, 29 September 2010
- Perlman, Dan (2008-04-17). Mi casa, su cuenta. The Guardian, 17 April 2008. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2008/apr/17/undergroundrestaurants.
- Smillie, Susan (2009-05-29). Going underground. The Guardian, 29 May 2009. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2009/may/29/underground-restaurants-msmarmitelover-hardeep.
- DeFao, Janine (2006-01-22). Guerrilla Gourmet. San Francisco Chronicle, January 22, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/01/22/MNGOOGRA241.DTL.
- Mount, Ian. Buenos Aires: Psst! Want a Discreet Dinner?, The New York Times, December 17, 2006.
- Williams, Zoe. The secret feast, The Guardian, February 10, 2009.
- Fairfax The Age article on Underground Restaurants
- Omidi, Maryam. Top table: Moscow’s fine dining supper club is now serving, The Calvert Journal, February 6, 2013.
- FoxNews article on the best Supper Club or Underground dinners in the world