In Wisconsin travel circles, there is one abiding principle: Tradition never goes out of style. And so it goes with The Del-Bar, where tradition is defined by more than time-honored recipes. It is defined by family.
The Del-Bar, considered far and wide as 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. That restaurant, a converted cabin with just six tables squeezed in, stood as the lone sentry along a route between Wisconsin Dells and Baraboo, thus the name. Business at the restaurant had fallen off as WWII broke out, and when the original owners lost interest, the Wimmers saw opportunity.
Jimmy Wimmer, a former quarterback for the University of Wisconsin who grew up in rural Wisconsin Dells, was eager to take over, even under these 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, Jim’s daughter-in-law, bring warmth to the space, as do the beloved black-and-white photos of The Del-Bar of days gone by.
Some of the most loyal diners are locals, who are also happy to recommend The Del-Bar to anyone asking about a great place 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 singular reason for 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 cocktail 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 and boozy ice cream drinks creamy and delicious.
But back to family. In 2018, the restaurant’s 75 th anniversary year, the third generation of Wimmers, Amy Wimmer, took 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. Joining Amy the following year was sister Anne Stoken. Both had successful careers in Colorado but family beckoned and they made the cross-country move back to carry on the beloved tradition of The Del-Bar.
While visitors regularly make flattering comparisons of The Del-Bar to steakhouses in Chicago and New York, the sisters still cherish this restaurant, their 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. Anne, added, “That’s why, after 20 years away, we’re here to carry on the Del-Bar tradition. How could we not?”
A 2022 Footnote: Family and tradition played into Amy and Anne’s decision to purchase Mr. Pancake, a favorite breakfast eatery located just down the Wisconsin Dells Parkway from The Del-Bar. Mr. Pancake opened in 1962 and for all those years was owned by one family, the Thompsons, family friends of the Wimmers. The secret Thompson family recipe for the pancakes will carry on, with fresh, quality ingredients from local farms the order of the day at this iconic breakfast spot.