What's a Supper Club?
A supper club is a restaurant that also functions as a social club. While they were affordable to all, they presented themselves as having a high-class image. Before supper clubs emerged, prohibition roadhouses and underground speakeasy clubs were major social destinations for eating, drinking, dancing, and listening to live jazz.
Prohibition, the national ban on manufacturing, selling, and transporting alcohol from 1920 to 1933, triggered a surge in the bootlegging business where gangsters controlled the market and designated roadhouses as safe havens for conducting business. The first roadhouses were prevalent in remote areas along the state highways of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. Before long, roadhouses and underground speakeasies were widespread throughout the country; particularly in the cities, where numbers were in the thousands in New York alone.
Once prohibition ended, champagne flowed and Lawrence Frank from Milwaukee opened the first supper club in Beverly Hills. With alcohol legal again, supper clubs moved to more accessible locations. They had all the same components as roadhouses and speakeasies: food, drink, music, and dancing; but supper clubs were far more elaborate. They were considered a destination where patrons would spend the whole evening, from cocktail hour to nightclub-style entertainment after dinner. They were grand Art Deco palaces offering the finest in everything -- outstanding service, entertainment, and classic American food.
During the 1930s and 40s, the golden age of supper clubs, Hollywood royalty and high society frequented the famous Cocoanut Grove, Rainbow Room, Stork Club, Copacabana, El Morocco, and Ciro's. They enjoyed fine American cuisine and performances by some of the world’s best known jazz artists. Performers such as Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett and big bands like the Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie Orchestras were known to make appearances.
The supper club scene prospered for 40 years until the 1960s. Times changed and business started to dissipate marking the end of an era. Many supper clubs closed permanently, but a few remain.
Here are some of the most famous supper clubs. Can you tell which one is our favorite?
Cocoanut Grove - The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, CA
Stork Club - New York, NY
El Morocco - New York, NY
Ciro's - West Hollywood, CA
The Rainbow Room - Rockefeller Center in New York, NY
Copacabana - New York, NY