Duluth supper clubs, revisited

In snooping around our electronic archives for information about some of Duluth’s old supper clubs, I was struck by how many people’s obituaries told of their working at such establishments as the London House, the Highland Supper Club, the Flame and Black Bear Lounge. Not to impugn any of Duluth’s current eateries, but it is hard to imagine people feeling that same sense of belonging at one of today’s fast-food places or chain restaurants.

Tin Pan Alley troupe performs at the London House. Undated News Tribune photo

This undated photo of the “Tin Pan Alley” entertainment troupe at the London House, site of the present-day Perkins on London Road, certainly reflects different times.

Tracking changes through the years at the Highland Supper Club on Miller Hill Highway reflects the changing tastes of restaurant-goers over time.

An April 1972 Duluth Herald clipping reports that the Highland was included in an issue of Ford Times, a publication of Ford Motor Co. The “Favorite Recipes from Famous Restaurants” column included the Highland’s recipes for Lobster O’Brien and Prima Granda King Shrimp.

Ownership of the supper club turned over a few times, with Hope Lindman of Hopkins, Minn., planning to purchase it in a September 1970 article, “dependent upon the approval of transfer of [the] liquor license.” In 1979, another owner, Howard Guckenberg, was reported to be planning to add a new kitchen on to the building.

The article says, “The Guckenbergs said all new cooking equipment will be stainless steel and will include several computer-controlled pieces.”

By May 1983, the Guckenbergs were complaining of years of financial losses, with more plans to remodel and upgrade the facility. The Guckenbergs were negotiating with restaurateur David Cornelson of Minneapolis, who planned to open a new restaurant at the facility, filling “an open niche in the Duluth market between fast-food restaurants and supper clubs,” according to the story by reporter Jack D. Shipley.

Shipley continues: “The Highland was one of the city’s premier supper clubs for more than a decade. But a boom during the 1970s in restaurant development left the Highland suffering, Guckenberg said.”

In September 1983, former employees of the Highland were picketing the restaurant to get their old jobs back when it reopened under the name Neon Parrot. The employees were members of Hotel, Motel, Restaurant, Bar and Club Local 99.

The Neon Parrot on MIller Trunk Highway  September 1984 News-Tribune photo by Bob King

The Neon Parrot operated at the site for awhile, as well as Rudolph’s Barbecue. By 1993, the old supper club had been reincarnated as “The White Elephant Bar and Lounge,” and the building was being purchased by yet another owner, the Duluth law firm of Orman & Nord, which was moving its offices to the building. The new owners planned to continue to lease the bar space, while making vacant space at the building available as office space for professional tenants. The law firm, now named Orman Nord Spott & Hurd Attorneys, remains in the building at 1301 Miller Trunk Highway today.

- Mary Beamish, copy editor

9 thoughts on “Duluth supper clubs, revisited

  1. Please help me shake my memory. I was a fireman at the Duluth AB from ’78 – ’80 and could have sworn a Supper Club called the Ventura burned down. This joint was about 3 miles from the base/airport. Can anyone help me confirm this?
    Thank you

    • It was The Venture Supper Club, located near Pike Lake. You’re right, it was about three miles from the Air Base. It burned, was rebuilt, then went out of business a few years later.

  2. Let’s not forget the best hospitality in town at the Chinese Lantern. Flash the waiter had lighters in multiple pockets so as not to miss anyone’s cigarette. Dickie was the classic hostess who could fit 11 into a table for 8 and make you feel special–rumor had it that she had a whole room at her house with a hundred fancy dresses. And sometimes Wing would take you into the kitchen, give you a glass of whisky with at couple of ice cubes and personally wok your dinner. Also good times at the Bellows with the wooden menu and the London House with the flaming swords of meat. They were something for memories!

  3. My stepfather was the owner of the Highland. Those restaurants, with the cut glass dishes of olives and celery and the big cuts of meat, and the choices of 3 or 4 types of potato, are a vanishing breed.

  4. The Jolly Fisher was in the lower floor of the Minnesota Power building, run by a very nice greek gentleman in the ’70′s. The bartenders were great (especially “Norm”), knowing how to make nearly any cocktail. They had a Lobster Thermidore that was excellent. As a native of Maine, I’d had the dish at several five star seafood restaurants on the east coast. The J.F.’s was as good, if not better — complete with the careful inclusion of a very good cooking Sherry to give it that signature taste. That and a well made Manhatten or Old Fashion made for a memorable dining experience. Some of today’s restaurants try to be classy, but the contrived snootiness falls considerably short of the authentic class of the Jolly Fisher.

  5. One of my sisters was hostess at the Highland in the early 70s. I always envied the fabulous dresses she wore to work. One was a shiny silver floor-length dress made of paper. The Highland had a loyal following back in those days.

  6. Let’s not forget the Black Steer, Chinese Lantern and the Jolly Fisher. All fine dining establishments. And north of town, the Hollywood (now the LeGrand).

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