Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Gobbler: A Dream Realized

The Gobbler
Beloved Verb Minions, it has finally come to pass: I have been to the Gobbler. (This is Monica talking; Mr. V has the night off.) I hardly know where to start. Let's start with a link to the definitive Gobbler website, at There you can get a guided tour of the premises from its heyday. And here an actual Gobbler TV ad on YouTube. The Gob has actually been closed for many years (except for an abortive attempt at a reincarnation about 5 years ago), but last night it was opened again on a one-time basis for the inaugural banquet of the 2008 Wright and Like tour.

If you go to the lileks site, you'll learn all about the motel — alas — it is no more. But the restaurant is still there, and that's where we had dinner. My photo album of the event can be viewed by clicking on the picture above (then click "slideshow" for best effect). Even though it retains but a mere whisper of its past glory, it was still a deeply moving experience. The walls are no longer carpeted in purple shag carpeting (although see my picture of the former phone booth, which still boasts the wall and ceiling shag) — the current owner said it had 50 years of cigarette smoke in it and just had to go — but the walls are now painted in a tasteful lavender palette. The meal was turkey-themed (no surprise there) and every bit as good as I expect the original food was.

The highlight of the evening, though, was a talk by the architect himself, Helmut Ajango. His firm had designed the world-famous Fort Atkinson Fireside Theater and Clarence Hartwig, poultry king of southern Wisco, hired them to build something that would outclass Fort Atkinson. A tall order, but our man Helmut was up to the challenge! Mr. Ajango disabused us of the erroneous belief — widely held — that the building is supposed to look like a turkey, and that the oddly shaped windows are supposed to look like turkey eyes. He said nonsense, they just decided to design a round building, and if you designed a round building, would it make any sense to put square windows in? Heck no! Make them slightly fiendishly oval-shaped and you're good to go.

The central bar was rotating, ever so gently, as the evening began. Mr. Ajango said that when they designed it, it made one rotation every 40 minutes. But people got confused he said, if they stepped off, and then came back and couldn't find their friends. (Yes, we do drink heavily in Wisconsin.) So they slowed it down. The Roost — the round dance floor above the rotating bar — was added in 1970. It's empty now, but you can just imagine the mirrored disco ball that must have been its focal point.

Clarence Hartwig ran a tight ship, they told us, and made the business profitable. Rumor has it there were bugs planted here and there so he could make sure the staff was behaving itself. Clarence died in 1979 (or as Helmut said, went to a turkey mansion in Minnesota and never came back), and his kids tried to make a go of it, but the supper club business is a hard one to succeed at. The current owners bought it and, like I said, tried to bring it back, but just couldn't do it. The place is currently for sale, so if anybody wants to go into business there's a great opportunity there for the taking. I am just thankful that I got a chance to see the Gobbler and experience its rotating bar even if only for one enchanted evening. Now when my time comes, I can say goodbye happy, knowing I've realized one of my dearest dreams, visiting the Gobbler Supper Club in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin.


mwg said...

Nine or ten years ago, I was working on the help desk for a Madison IT company that shall remain nameless. I was supposed to deliver The Sniffer (a laptop dedicated to "sniffing" network traffic for diagnostic purposes) to a guy from our Milwaukee office. We were supposed to meet in whatever the restaurant was by the Shell on the other side of 94.

The guy I was supposed to meet wasn't in the other restaurant, so after 15 minutes I thought maybe I'd misunderstood my instructions and he was actually waiting at the Gobbler. I drove over there, parked and walked in. I took a quick tour without actually seeing anybody, and left to find the guy waiting for me on the other side of the street.

Anonymous said...

Omigobbler! I wanted to go to this...but couldn't. Thanks for the next best thing!

I stayed at the Gobbler in 1987, when on my way to Oconomowoc to receive a scholarship from the boyfriend (now hub) and I stayed in one of the rooms, don't remember much except that it was one jaw-dropping incredulous look at each other after another, but now I'm inspired to unearth the photos from the trip.

--another Wisco supper club aficianado

Anonymous said...

Oops how embarrassing for me to spell aficionado wrong on Mr. Verb. Or maybem how appropriate.

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