To step through the vestibule of The Pine Club is to step back in time. Waitresses clad in black vests and crisp white shirts move smoothly about the room that’s bathed in dim—dare we say clubby—lighting. Wood paneling lines the walls, and small lamps illuminate paintings from above. This is a fine specimen of the classic genre of restaurant called the supper club. Supper clubs might be native to Wisconsin and Minnesota, but they pop up all over the country.
Dave Hoekstra, author of “The Supper Club Book,” made a hobby and then work out of visiting supper clubs. One of his first experiences was at the Kahiki Supper Club; Hoekstra spent part of his childhood in Upper Arlington. As an adult, he explored supper clubs as an outgrowth of his work as a features writer at the Chicago Sun-Times; he was entranced by the histories and stories within these restaurants.
So what defines a supper club? Dim lighting, wood paneling, that clubby feel are good hints. They are close relatives of the classic steakhouse, though a supper club is more about socializing with family and friends than wheeling and dealing. Cocktails are a must—many supper clubs were speakeasies during Prohibition—and an old fashioned is always a correct order.
“There was always a meandering feeling about a supper club because you’d go there at 4 or 5 in the afternoon, have a couple of cocktails and enjoy the scenic view. Then you’d sit down and have supper and maybe a couple more cocktails, followed by a foo-foo ice cream dessert and go back into the lounge,” Hoekstra says.
The Pine Club, open since 1947, draws tourists, but it also welcomes a stalwart army of regulars, many of whom have been visiting for decades. There is a sense of loyalty here that doesn’t translate to new-fangled restaurants. Hoekstra has advice for fitting in at supper clubs: “Don’t be in a hurry. Everybody’s so geared up to move around. Check out of that for a while and just get Zen about it.” 1926 Brown St., Dayton, 937-228-5371, thepineclub.com