One of the finest examples of a Wisconsin supper club started out quite humbly. The year was 1943, and Jim and Alice Wimmer decided to take a big risk, buying a small existing roadside restaurant known for its char-broiled steaks. How fitting that in 2018, the restaurant’s 75th anniversary year, the third generation of Wimmers, Amy Wimmer, takes the helm from her father Jeff and his wife Jane, bringing her own adventurous spirit to the Del-Bar, the same kind of spirit she so admired in her grandparents.
The Del-Bar once stood as a lone sentry along a route between Wisconsin Dells and Baraboo, thus the name. It was started by two gentlemen who converted a small cabin into a restaurant with just six tables.
When WWII broke out, business fell off, and the original owners lost interest. Jimmy Wimmer, a former quarterback for the University of Wisconsin who grew up in rural Wisconsin Dells, was eager to take over, even under the less-than-fortuitous conditions.
Wife Alice wasn’t so sure.
“We don’t know anything about running a restaurant,” she said.
“You’ve got a domestic science degree from UW, haven’t you?” replied Jimmy. “Besides, you cook pretty good!”
Today, the restaurant stands out along a busy stretch of road in this popular resort community, no longer a cabin but a masterpiece of Prairie-style architecture, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protégé James Dresser. The restaurant interior is equally stunning, with intimate spaces opening up to cathedral-like dining areas. Paintings by Mary Alice Wimmer, Aunt to Amy, bring warmth to the space, as do the beloved black-and-white photos of the Del-Bar of days gone by.
Among the most loyal of diners are locals, ready ambassadors for visitors asking for a recommendation for an anniversary or birthday dinner. And then there are those who drive distances to eat at Jimmy’s Del-Bar, as many still fondly refer to it, with the restaurant the destination of their trip.
Also loyal – the employees. Many have been with the Del-Bar for 20, 30 even going on 40 years.
This is a place where you don’t rush through a meal, after all, that’s what the Wisconsin supper club experience was always intended to be. That holds true whether it’s a special meal the last night of a vacation or an impromptu happy hour gathering just because. Guests start at the bar with a brandy old fashioned and nibble on Wisconsin cheeses. Once seated at tables covered with crisp linens and glowing votives, wait staff serve baskets of freshly baked rolls, spinach salad, potato dishes and entrées. The prime aged steaks are the standout on the menu, with the pan-fried walleye a close second. A Wine Spectator-worthy wine list provides ample choices for perfect pairings. Desserts are decadent, ice cream drinks delicious, beyond resistance really.
While flattering comparisons to steakhouses in Chicago and New York are regularly made by visitors, Amy Wimmer still cherishes this restaurant, her family restaurant, as one-of-a-kind.
“I’ve traveled all over the world and had the opportunity to dine at many fine restaurants and, while they were good, they were not ‘Del-Bar good,’” said Amy, praising her father for perfecting the Wisconsin supper club experience. “That’s why, after 20 years away, I’m here to carry on the Del-Bar tradition. How could I not?”