People are naturally drawn to logs on a fire, whether for warmth or romance. Something mesmerizing about fluttering flames and crackling logs grabs our attention and slows us down a little. We enjoy finding a slight whiff of smoke in the hope of reliving memories of roasting golden brown marshmallows, their gooey centers clinging to the stick as they slid off. So naturally, restaurant tables closest to fireplaces are the most requested because fires conjure up and create memories.
Combine a fireplace with statewide traditions to resemble what most Wisconsinites know well: an authentic “Up North” culinary experience.
It’s safe to say that Wisconsin’s culture would have taken a different path without Prohibition. After Prohibition ended, establishments outside of city limits received state liquor licenses with the requirement that food is served. However, acquiring a liquor license within city limits proved difficult. As a result, rural taverns began serving dinners — thus the beginning of supper clubs. Supper club outings usually begin with an old fashioned and a relish tray, then move to the Friday night fish fry dipped in beer batter and served with crispy golden hashbrowns or potato pancakes.
Many restaurants listed below are supper clubs or have similarities. In no particular order, these restaurants with fireplaces are some of Wisconsin’s favorites.
1. White Gull Inn
Sitting on Green Bay’s shoreline in Door County, the historic White Gull Inn is known for its hair-scorching, flaming fish boils and friendly hospitality. Initially, the main building sat across the bay in Marinette, Wisconsin, as the Lumberman’s Hotel. In 1907 the hotel was dismantled, then moved over frozen Green Bay and reconstructed at its current location.
The picturesque three-story white house presents welcoming porches that run the entire length of its front, complete with an abundance of flowers. White screen doors match the old-fashioned white wood sign in front, begging history-loving visitors to take a peek inside.
The most appealing table in the restaurant sits next to the fireplace that holds a softly crackling fire. Years of flames and black smoke lightly tint the stones up to its mantel. The dining room has a rustic setting of exposed wood ceilings and walls, period cabinetry, and doors with black hinges that look like a blacksmith hammered them out.
What To Order At White Gull Inn
Suppose the historical value didn’t bring people. In that case, they might have heard about the White Gull Inn’s cherry-stuffed french toast featured on Good Morning America’s Best Breakfast Challenge. Otherwise, a romantic candlelight dinner most likely includes favorites such as lemon broiled whitefish fresh out of Lake Michigan, butternut squash ravioli, or a 6-ounce black Angus beef filet covered with porcini mushroom bleu cheese butter.
2. The Freighthouse Restaurant
Simply put, The Freighthouse Restaurant is a railroad lover’s dream. Initially built in 1880 as a freight house for the expanding Milwaukee Road railroad, now the steak and seafood restaurant consistently wins the Best of La Crosse County overall award.
Each of the four dining rooms has a cozy atmosphere for a large building, complete with an old-time bar and a fireplace. Of course, railroad memorabilia fills each room, but the lounge has the best ambiance for a romantic fireplace dinner.
What To Order At The Freighthouse Restaurant
Choose melt-in-your-mouth prime rib, a Wisconsin favorite. Specifically, a 20-ounce Engineer’s Prime Rib for a hearty appetite. For a smaller portion, go with an 8-ounce charbroiled filet teriyaki. Seafood fans will enjoy Alaskan king crab, which is flown in fresh daily
Pro Tip: Local musicians play Friday and Saturday nights.
3. The Duck Inn Supper Club
A glowing neon sign and a soft yellow strip of marquee lights warm the night sky, inviting guests to warm up inside The Duck Inn Supper Club. This classic Wisconsin supper club began during Prohibition as a speakeasy. Customers were encouraged to “duck in” for an outlawed beverage. Over the years, the name stuck, and now the most sought-after menu item is duck entrees. Inside the dining room, smooth stacked stone forms an impressive 24-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling fireplace with extended stones holding decorative species of fowl.
What To Order At The Duck Inn Supper Club
Patrons drive from nearby Lake Geneva and Janesville to enjoy The Duck Inn Supper Club’s elegant country dining atmosphere. Duck entrees are the most popular, especially the cashew duck breast with an apricot drizzle. After duck dishes, we suggest filet mignon and pan-fried walleye pike. Quintessential cocktails include the Wisconsin Old Fashioned, sloe gin fizz, and Harvey Wallbanger. A few fun Caribbean cocktails are Ducks on the Beach and Mallard Mud Pie.
4. TJ’s Harbor Restaurant
Dock your boat at TJ’s Harbor Restaurant on Lake Winnebago, then warm up with a table in front of the crackling fireplace. On both sides of the stacked stone fireplace, rough-milled lumber shelves hold photos and greenery while split firewood neatly stacked on the floor sits beneath them. TJ’s has a modern industrial look, with a rugged wood mantel above and a smooth stone slab hearth below the fireplace giving the fireplace a home-like feel.
What To Order At TJ’s Harbor Restaurant
TJ’s is known for slow-roasting rotisserie meats for most of their dishes. Start with Harbor Nachos (made with rotisserie chicken), pickle fries, or crab cakes with horseradish aioli.
Of course, house-battered cheese curds from Weyauwega Star Dairy are always a favorite. Order local favorites like pan-seared Campfire Walleye, sea bass, or osso bucco for dinner.
Pro Tip: Reservations are recommended.
5. Majerle’s Black River Grill
Timeless advice: Go where the locals go. Majerle’s Black River Grill is that place. Located in a residential neighborhood about half a block away from Lake Michigan, there’s a good chance Sheboygan visitors won’t stumble across this local favorite on their own. But Majerle’s is a traditional Wisconsin neighborhood supper club to the core, and a little quirky too.
It’s rustic on the outside — rows of dark timber logs lined up over waist-high river rock form the building’s walls, with evergreen trees serving as a surrounding backdrop of neon beer signs. Even the two lights attached to white-painted piping, then screwed into logs, illuminate the sign with textbook Northwoods character.
For a quirky experience, sit by a large plate glass window, preferably next to the fireplace. Since the restaurant is in a wooded area, hoards of deer come out of the forest daily to feed next to windows. Although the food is exceptional, watching wildlife might be the main attraction.
What To Order At Majerle’s Black River Grill
Of course, the traditional Wisconsin Friday night fish fry always tops the list. However, don’t hesitate to order a steak tenderloin sandwich on a hard roll, another Wisconsin classic, or crispy brown broasted chicken. If you’re looking for a unique taste of Sheboygan, the Bratwurst Capital of the World, order bratwurst. The menu doesn’t explain single or double, but it’s the only way to eat brats within city limits. Choose one or two brats on a round hard roll, then add brown mustard and onions. Naturally, an old fashioned goes hand in hand.
Pro Tip: Make reservations. The family-run restaurant is small but popular. Often, guests are lined up at the bar two to three people deep.
6. Timmer’s Resort
Timmer’s Resort has a deep history dating back to the late 1800s. In 1882, Mathias and Margaret Timmer, married German immigrants, completed the construction of their hotel on the shores of Big Cedar Lake. Guests arrived at the village of Slinger by train from Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis and then took a carriage to the hotel. Years later, a neighbor’s pie delivery truck smuggled beer from Chicago during Prohibition.
Today, much of the resort’s historical character has been renewed. For instance, the dining room’s tongue-in-groove wood walls and ceiling surround the two-story stone fireplace with its noble but unassuming arched stone lintel.
What To Order At Timmer’s Resort
Savor dinner entrees like creamy Tuscan chicken and seared sea scallops. Enjoy cocktails and crab rangoon dip with these local favorites while dining alongside a roaring fire and candlelit lanterns.
Pro Tip: Reservations are recommended to ensure seating.
7. The Red Oak Restaurant
Thirteen miles west of Kenosha, a Lake Michigan harbor town, the Red Oak Restaurant specializes in made-from-scratch cuisine using fresh local, sustainable, and organic ingredients. Most ingredients are sourced within 100 miles, several from within a 10-mile radius of the restaurant. In addition, one of our favorite award-winning cheese shops, Hook’s Cheese, supplies all of the restaurant’s cheese.
A simple but substantial dark stone fireplace draws attention to dancing flames from anywhere in the dining room. On both sides of the fireplace, oversized windows add abundant light and lovely views of nature while dining.
Editor’s note: Here’s more from Tom and Kristi on Wisconsin’s best cheese shops.
What To Order At The Red Oak Restaurant
The farm-to-table menu changes every two months. However, two signature items, grilled tenderloin filet and roast chicken breast, always remain on the menu. In addition, popular drinks include old fashioneds, Red Oak Mimosas, bloody Marys, and bartinis.
Pro Tip: Kenosha is known for its multi-colored restored vintage electric streetcars. Make sure to check them out.
8. House Of Embers Restaurant
Sitting agelessly off of the Wisconsin Dells Parkway, a neon martini glass of yesteryear illuminates the stone entrance to the House of Embers. Other than the main dining room, atypical seating arrangements can accommodate 2–8 people in specially themed rooms for an intimate experience.
Stained glass panels in the ceiling illuminate sections of the restaurant and a mix of patterned stained glass lamps. Exposed architectural wood beams add character. But the massive two-sided stacked-stone fireplace in the dining room creates the mood found in classic Wisconsin supper clubs.
What To Order At House Of Embers Restaurant
The menu features traditional Wisconsin supper club dishes, such as steak and seafood. Still, Midwest vacationers know the House of Embers for baby back ribs. After experimenting with different methods in the early 1960s, the owners found the best method was smoking racks of ribs over hot charcoal embers. Thus, the new restaurant name reflected this method. Now, the children own and manage the restaurant while using their parent’s traditional recipes of slow-cooking delicious baby back ribs.
Pro Tip: Save room for homemade cinnamon rolls featured in Bon Appétit.
9. Good Thyme Restaurant
A beautifully restored yellow two-story square farmhouse with a wrap-around porch sits prominently next to Highway 13, just north of Washburn. Inside, the Good Thyme Restaurant serves its signature 14-ounce garlic-peppercorn char-crusted ribeye amid dark chocolate and copper decor. Whether visiting the Apostle Islands or Bayfield in Northwest Wisconsin, warm up inside by the intimate vintage red brick fireplace.
What To Order At Good Thyme Restaurant
Start with a Good Time Old Fashioned, the most popular drink, from the copper-covered wrap-around bar. After all, it is what you drink in Wisconsin.
Duck wontons, herb-crusted whitefish, and braised pork shank are a few of the favorites from this notable restaurant known for artisan, housemade cuisine.
10. Bosch Food Tavern
Fourteen miles southwest of Milwaukee, hundreds of volunteers helped pull the Bosch Food Tavern to its final destination in a “Tug the Tavern” event. Because of highway expansion, the over 100-year-old tavern, formerly a Victorian-style hotel with a wrap-around porch, was moved by a construction crew 23 feet. Then, locals tugged three 2-inch ropes the final 2 feet.
Bosch owner, Rick Putlitz, experienced a severe decline in foot traffic between the move, then the COVID-19 pandemic immediately after. Most restaurants would have closed from these circumstances, but Putlitz remained open. He credits the ribs.
Whatever meal you choose, make sure to eat in the outdoorsy Up North cabin-inspired room. A refurbished handmade wood canoe hangs upside down from the ceiling, pointing to the square, multi-layered stacked stone fireplace. Lightly stained tongue-in-groove wood boards encompass the entire room, from the top to the floor. Its dark brown hardwood floor looks like it’s been there for a hundred years, and maybe it has. Antique-looking signs hang on the walls, and Northwoods decor sits prominently on shelves made from small round birch trees. Square tables with dark green chairs and green and white checked table clothes add the finishing touches to a fantastic Northwoods experience without an hours-long drive.
What To Order At Bosch Food Tavern
Besides the tavern’s famous Saint Louis-style ribs, try barbecue. Pork is smoked with applewood and beef brisket by hickory wood. Since taverns and Wisconsin culture go hand-in-hand, the traditional Friday night fish fry is also a local favorite. Hungry customers line up early for crispy beer-battered fish filets served with fries, tartar sauce, coleslaw, and rye bread.
Pro Tip: Ribs are only available Saturdays after 3 p.m.
11. Erin’s Snug Irish Pub And Restaurant
For an Emerald Isle experience, take a trip to Madison’s East side. Erin’s Snug Irish Pub has several different themed rooms for diverse experiences. Gaelic signs, dark brown woodwork, tables and chairs, and European-style stonework add to its decor. A classic Irish escapade awaits, between the red double-decker bus outside and various styles of fireplaces located throughout the restaurant.
What To Order At Erin’s Snug Irish Pub And Restaurant
Erin’s housemade corned beef takes 6–8 hours to perfect. Accordingly, the corned beef sandwich is to die for. Three layers of marble rye bread hold thick portions of meat, sauerkraut, and melted Swiss cheese.
Other corned beef choices include an egg roll named Shalaylee, O’Reilly’s Rueben or wrap, and corned beef and cabbage.
More classic Irish menu items are a beef and lamb shepherd’s pie topped with colcannon and thin strips of crispy carrots, Guinness stew, bangers and mash, and cottage pie. In addition to plenty of American dishes, desserts are exceptionally tempting.