Cranberry Club is keeping up with the times

Cranberry Club on Madison’s north side will be a supper club built for the modern era.
Ryan Huber, Brian Bartels and Sam Parker
Photo by Nikki Hansen
Ryan Huber, Brian Bartels and Sam Parker (pictured left to right at their downtown restaurant, Settle Down Tavern) plan to open Cranberry Club at 617 N. Sherman Ave.

Editor’s Note: As of August 2022, plans for Cranberry Club are no longer in the works right now, according to one of the owners, Ryan Huber. Read more about the news here.

Lake Delton’s Ishnala Supper Club holds a sacred place in Brian Bartels’ heart. It was where he got his first restaurant job — one summer he bused tables and learned the ropes of restaurant etiquette, the next summer he gave 45-minute pontoon boat rides to diners on the waitlist.

“I barely had my license,” Bartels says. “I would play Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana on a pristine Mirror Lake with cassette tapes, so I’m sure they really enjoyed that. If someone were to nostalgically look back and say, ‘Man, I really loved visiting Ishnala; remember the kid who played Nirvana when we were taking the pontoon boat ride around the lake?’ I would die a happy human being.”

He also remembers his mom, an avid Catholic, being starstruck over the bishop sipping brandy with a couple other priests at the table next to her. The Del-Bar in Wisconsin Dells is a special spot, too, because it’s where his parents used to get away for a special date night.

Bartels knows it’s memories like these that spark that supper club magic. Along with Sam Parker and Ryan Huber, he hopes to do more of that when the Cranberry Club at 617 N. Sherman Ave. on Madison’s north side opens.

It will be a supper club built for the modern era. “The supper club is a classic institution of Wisconsin, and I think you can still continue on that tradition with different influences,” says Bartels, who also owns two downtown establishments, Settle Down Tavern and Oz by Oz, with Parker and Huber.

non-alcoholic cocktail

Supper club drink menus are reflecting changing tastes, says Brian Bartels, particularly with expanded non-alcoholic offerings, like this Juniper Lake cocktail made with Amass Riverine zero-proof spirit, cranberry juice and ginger beer. (Photo by Nikki Hansen)

“I think there is a way of doing it in a modernized way that pays homage to what the pioneers of supper clubs have done over the last few decades, but then also applies some thoughtful elements that are contemporary and … kind of new frontier,” he says.

In addition to supper club staples, Cranberry Club will, of course, have some cranberry-infused menu items to pay homage to the name, and Bartels says they also plan to incorporate healthier entree options.

“I think people are eating differently and drinking differently these days,” he says. “It extends beyond just the food. People are more conscientious about how much alcohol they’re imbibing, and I think that’s important to note.”

Bartels likes to celebrate classic cocktails like Old-Fashioneds, Manhattans and martinis, but with modern twists. He offers a sense of familiarity with a creative bent, which Bartels says is a really healthy way of approaching food and beverages. At Oz by Oz, they’re working with lower-ABV spirits, including Amaro, an after-dinner digestif. And nonalcoholic drinks and mocktails are becoming more and more popular. Bartels is excited about working with zero-proof spirits that are only improving in quality.

This is all in an effort to appease a new generation of diners. “I think younger people are getting excited about creative ways that we’re serving food and craft cocktails,” he says.

And he thinks the supper club format is still one of the best. Bartels, who has visited bars and restaurants in all but six states, knows how the supper club vibe compares to other dining experiences on a broad scale. His book, “The United States of Cocktails,” was inspired by his desire to see how Wisconsin’s traditions compared to those of other states and regions. As for the supper club experience, “there are places in other parts of the country that have attempted what we do really well here in the state,” he says. “They don’t fail, they kind of just don’t do it with the same kind of warmth and sentiment that we achieve in Wisconsin.”

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