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Nostalgic Restaurant Concept: The Supper Club

“Supper” is a word that evokes a different time in American history, a distinctly old-world term that implies something more formal, more serious than “dinner”. Supper, generally, has fallen out of favor with most urban Americans and is more common in the south and midwest, in more rural areas, and with older generations. Even in the UK, where one might think older traditions and phrases might have a stronger hold, the word supper comes in a distant third place behind dinner and “tea” (which is definitely a drink and not a meal). Supper” seems to imply something more that just a meal at days end. In fact, there is a whole category of restaurants that cater to this idea, the supper club.

Historically speaking, dinner and supper were distinct meals. But you can head to Wikipedia for a break down of those differences. What we’re concerned with is the idea of the Supper club, a Midwestern holdout that, like all things old, is becoming new again. As a recent article in the New York Times Style Magazine points out, supper clubs are only partly about dinner, and more about socialization. These establishments go back to Prohibition (some even had lockers for patrons to hide their liquor), when nights out were about silliness and not-always-legal behavior. Usually located just outside the main cities, serving typically American fare, they are a place where “the owner greets you at the door and shows you to the knotty pine bar - no rush to get to the dining room”.

Now chefs of all sorts, from famous names like Grant Achatz to Midwestern locals, are reviving the idea of the supper club, “banking on the allure of nostalgia” and betting that millennial and boomers alike will be drawn in by the kitschy decor and supple interior designs. Diners are enveloped by plush banquettes, tablecloths and velvet accents. While the decor may be the same, and the menus derivative, not everything is reminiscent of the old style clubs. One of the new establishments was moved from its historical Midwestern location to Brooklyn, where the rents “do not allow lingering”. In a modern city, where tables have to keep turning, nostalgia can only stretch so far.

Perhaps it makes sense that supper clubs, restaurants concerned with the experience of a long and theatrical meal, are making a resurgence in an era where millenials are focused more on the experience of a restaurant rather than just the food. After all, you can’t eat an Instagram post, and even the world's best iceberg lettuce contains 0 grams of “likes” and precisely no clout. Restaurant concepts that can serve up a trio of a compelling story, interesting decor and good food stand the best chance of sticking out from the crowd.

Source: New York Times Style Magazine