After nearly 15 years sitting empty, a Googie icon of the upper Midwest is reopening—and there’s no shortage of purple vinyl and rotating bars.
The Gobbler Supper Club, now the Gobbler Theater, sits on a hill overlooking Interstate 94, 45 miles west of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Designed by the late southern Wisconsin architect Helmut Ajango, the Gobbler was completed in 1969. Originally made up of a supper club and motel, and built for a local turkey farmer, the domed restaurant and 49 room motel were lavishly decorated in fantastic colors and materials. Now completely refinished, the flying saucer-like structure is getting a second chance as a music venue.
As a typology, supper clubs themselves are fairly unique to the upper Midwest. Characterized by low lit dining rooms, novel bars, and steak dinners hearty enough for hard working farmers out for a special dinner. They’re usually situated in rural areas along state highways.
As major social spaces, supper clubs once drew patrons from vast areas of their surrounding countryside. The Gobbler was no exception. Its pink and purple vinyl and shag carpet interior featured a rotating bar and an elevated dance floor known as the “Roost.” The motel rooms each included large heart shaped waterbeds, and round sunken bathtubs, all in bright colors with shag carpet covering the floors and walls.
By 1992 the mystique of the supper club had mostly faded and the Gobbler closed permanently. The motel followed suit in 2001, and shortly after was dramatically demolished when it was used for a fire fighter training fire.
With over $2 million invested in remodeling, local businessman Daniel Manesis has restored much of the character that made the Gobbler what it once was. While maintaining much of the purple tufted vinyl furniture, and saving the rotating bar, Manesis has also added state of the art sound and light systems, and stadium seating in the former dining area.
Able to seat over 400 people, the venue will still have no seat farther than 55 feet from the new stage. Local residents in the neighboring town of Johnson Creek—population 3,000—are pleased with the development after years of short-lived attempts by other investors to reimagine the building. From proposed casinos and strip clubs (to be named the Gobbler-a-go-go), to failed Mexican restaurants, many feared the building would eventually be razed.
Regular performances are expected to begin in late January 2016, but as a preview to the community Manesis has invited the local high school band and choir to christen the new stage with their holiday concert.