The Chefs Reinventing the Midwestern Supper Club

“SUPPER IS THE most intimate meal there is,” Emily Post wrote in “ Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home ” (1922), “s...


“SUPPER IS THE most intimate meal there is,” Emily Post wrote in “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home” (1922), “since none but family or closest friends are ever included.” At a supper club, the notion of family and friends was always more fluid. “It open-armed everyone,” said the writer and New York restaurateur Brian Bartels, who grew up in Reedsburg, Wis., and got his first job as a busboy at age 15 at the iconic Ishnala Supper Club on Mirror Lake, which he still holds up as a model of a convivial retreat with “the polish of fine dining, but accessible.” This ecumenical embrace was eye-opening for Kataria, too, who first set foot in Turk’s Inn at age 14. “You’re just as likely to see someone in a tux as in camo,” he said. “Neither would be out of place.”

But while the supper club may have broken down certain class barriers, treating blue-collar locals and urban high rollers with equal deference, it also harks back to a time when America was less racially and ethnically diverse. From the 1920s to the 1950s, Wisconsin’s population was 99 percent white; today, that measure, not including whites who identify as Hispanic or Latino, is around 80 percent (compared to 60 percent nationwide). If part of the supper club’s appeal is a yearning for simpler days, we’re burdened with the knowledge that nothing was ever that simple, and that what looks from one angle like coziness — a country club that eschews snobbery, exacts no dues and honors the workingman — can from another function as de facto exclusion, however unintended.

Turk’s Inn is an anomaly in this regard, and perhaps a model of adaptability to setting and circumstance: The original owner, George Gogian, was an Armenian immigrant from Istanbul who freely and irreverently mixed Americana and Orientalism. Customers ate borek (flaky filled pastry) alongside porterhouses and ended the meal with Turkish coffee poured from a brass pot. Kataria, who is of Indian descent, found particular resonance in Gogian’s story and how an outsider found a way to “market his culture and spin a yarn for the locals,” he said. He and Erickson are trying to do the same: share the more arcane pleasures of their Midwestern upbringing with the people of New York.

The two friends, who have no previous restaurant experience, bought much of the supper club’s décor, including the sign and the red-lipped bar, at auction five years ago after a drunken night, with no immediate plan beyond a nostalgic desire for preservation. (“The first step in a parade of folly,” Kataria said.) They shuttled the pieces from garage to garage until they decided to commit to bringing Turk’s to New York. Ultimately, they found a Bushwick space expansive enough (5,000 square feet) to approximate the sprawl of a supper club, which often unfolds as a series of rooms — a procession honored here with a separate music venue that has already hosted secret shows by the likes of Alicia Keys, a rooftop to invoke Wisconsin’s bucolic outdoors and a döner kebab stand for late-night snacking, inspired by Kataria’s time at law school in Germany, where he lived in a neighborhood of Turkish immigrants.

The key to understanding the new Turk’s is that it’s not a simulacrum of the original, trapped in amber. Although every corner is crammed with tchotchkes, Kataria put up only a small fraction of the Gogian collection — commemorative presidential plates, mysterious ceramic figurines — and added touches of his own, including fabric from India to cover the walls, with leftover scraps used for servers’ neckties and aprons, and a drawing of a cat that dominates a silk brocade alcove. The visual overload suggests Instagram bait, but Kataria insists it’s not an exercise in irony or winking, self-conscious garishness. “It’s legitimately beautiful,” he said. Nothing is artificial; old and new are presented as they are.


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