Family Traditions + Friday Night Fish Fry

 

Six months ago, Lands’ End, a Wisconsin-based clothing company, reached out to us in search of stories that capture the essence of Wisconsin. What is more Wisconsin than the Friday Night Fish Fry tradition? To put a Northerly Collective twist on the article, we combined past traditions of Elizabeth's (co-curator of Northerly Collective) family with the long-standing family traditions of our creative pal Katherine of Lake Effect Co. to showcase one of Wisconsin’s favorite places for a fish fry - the 5 O’Clock Club. Here is our story of how a multi-generational family business, delicious food, and a few old fashioned cocktails have woven together a community of good-hearted Wisconsinites for decades. 

Read our published article, Wisconsin's Friday Night Fish Fry and The Best Place to Get It, on the Lands' End Journal.
Photography by Jenna LeRoy Photography

Our Story

In doing our research to find the quintessential Wisconsin fish fry experience, Elizabeth’s grandparents told us a story about the 5 O’Clock Club in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. The quaint restaurant, located just down the road (and lakeshore!) from their former home, is a place where Elizabeth's mom + family shared countless celebrations, fish fries, and family gatherings. When Elizabeth's grandpa described the 5 O'Clock Club as a classic Wisconsin supper club with long wait times that are perfect for catching up with friends + neighbors; a 75 cent fish fry serving back in the day; and over 4 generations of both proprietors + patrons, we had to learn more.  

As we continued to research this fish fry destination, we discovered a deep connection to the close-knit community inside the 5 O'Clock Club's front door. In conversation with our friend Katherine Gramann from Lake Effect Co., we realized her dad went to high school with Elizabeth’s mom and has a standing Wednesday night reservation at the 5 O’Clock Club. Katherine’s family connected us with the owners - the Knutson family - and volunteered to be a part of our project. We spent an entire afternoon with three generations of the Gramann family listening to stories, experiencing the food, and learning the history of the restaurant. Since the 5 O'Clock Club first opened their doors in 1929, their motto has been “There are no strangers here, only friends that haven’t met yet”, and nothing could be truer. It's simple - when you are there, you are family.

The History of Friday Night Fish Fry

In Wisconsin, neighborhood VFW’s, church basements, and traditional supper clubs all have one thing in common - Friday night fish fry. At a glance, this weekly tradition appears to be focused on the food; beer-battered fish, tartar sauce, French fries or German-style potato pancakes, coleslaw, and rye bread. However, what really makes this meal so special isn’t the food at all, it is who you share it with. Every Friday night, generations of families, friends, and communities get together to catch up, reminisce, and of course, eat some delicious fried fish.

Thousands of Roman Catholic Europeans emigrated to Wisconsin in the 1800s, bringing the Catholic tradition of “meatless Fridays” with them. Regional freshwater fish such as lake perch, walleye, and bluegill were abundant and inexpensive, making them a great replacement for meat. During the Prohibition Era, Friday night fish fry proceeded to get a boost when taverns would offer a free meal of local fish while selling alcohol under the table. While Catholics no longer follow this ritual year-round and beer flows abundantly across the state, Friday night fish fry has become an institution that is as ingrained in Wisconsin culture as cheese + Green Bay Packers football.

The 5 O'Clock Club

The 5 O’Clock Club, located on Pewaukee Lake in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, is a 4th generation owned + operated family restaurant with 89 years of fish fry experience. A visit to the 5 O’Clock Club is like a step back in time to when the original owner, Marie (Mary) Theresa Kizivak, purchased the property during prohibition and sold fried fish, fried chicken, and bathtub gin to only a few tables on the weekends. Fast forward more than 80 years, the 5 O’Clock Club still feels like walking into your grandmother’s house for a family meal - charming, cozy, and full of familiar faces + welcoming smiles. It is housed in an old farmhouse and filled with knotty pine paneling, warm lighting, and family memorabilia dating back to the 1930’s. As the supper club experience is becoming popular again among millennials, restaurants like the 5 O’Clock Club are continuing their legacy of old-fashioned vibes and Wisconsin’s famous Friday night fish fry tradition.

Richard + Jeanine Knutson took over the restaurant in the 1980’s, expanding the space to accommodate more friends and guests. Their son Jason is the 4th generation to carry on the family’s tradition, working alongside his parents as the head chef to continue bringing good food and a great dining experience to anyone that steps into the restaurant. Jeanine greets everyone with a “Come on in, honey!” and a genuine smile that lights up the room. The wait staff knows you by your name, they remember your “usual” order, and regulars have an open tab. The 5 O’Clock Club is a place for long-standing traditions, acting as a venue for birthdays, family reunions, date nights, funerals, or just a Friday night with friends. It is the epitome of what Friday night fish fry in Wisconsin is all about. 

The Knutson family has a simple goal in mind - to make people happy in the best way possible with large portions and piping hot, fresh food. Their fish fry is no exception and has multiple local awards to prove it. They serve fried cod, perch, bluegill, and walleye, or baked cod, with French fries, coleslaw, tartar sauce, rye bread, and a lemon. The fish and French fries come out so hot that you have to wait in anticipation (or grab another cocktail!) for the first bite.  Everything is homemade with love, including Jeanine’s traditional desserts like lemon bars and her mother-in-law’s raspberry rhubarb cake. The hospitality doesn’t stop there, customers can take home a quart of their famous homemade coleslaw, tartar sauce, or house dressing - a classic French dressing from Grandma Mary that is completely drool worthy. The 5 O’Clock Club serves between 500-700 fish fries every Friday night and they don’t take reservations, but on a warm day you can enjoy lake views from the deck while you wait with a signature old fashioned cocktail - an amazing concoction of brandy, bitters, sugar, soda, muddled orange and a maraschino cherry.

Every week, supper clubs, neighborhood VFW’s, and taverns across Wisconsin celebrate this Friday tradition with their own twist and their own loyal customers. Friday fish fry is a way to connect to our Wisconsin roots, like we are part of a bigger picture of history and culture - or simply a bigger part of our community.

Other Wisconsin Favorites

American Serb Hall, Milwaukee
Why we love it: They began their Friday fish fry in 1967, and today it remains a famous fish fry hot spot, serving about 2,000 pounds of fish each Friday.

Bent’s Camp, Land ‘O Lakes
Why we love it: Lakeside atmosphere in a historic log cabin, with the sides - beans, coleslaw, and rye bread - served on an old-fashioned enamel plate before your meal arrives.

Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee
Why we love it: Great beer, house beer-battered fish, and a traditional polka band on Friday nights.

Scheabenhof, Menomonee Falls
Why we love it: German traditions and the option to add all you can eat broasted chicken.

Red Pines Bar & Grill, Onalaska
Why we love it: Rustic, lakeside atmosphere. Try the shrimp! 

The Avenue Club, Madison
Why we love it: Neon-lit supper club vibe, with vinyl booths, great food, and great old fashioned cocktails.

Deep Lake Lodge, Iron River
Why we love it: Located lakeside in the heart of Wisconsin’s Northwoods, serving fresh Lake Superior whitefish


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a big thank you

A huge thank you to the Gramann family for sharing their time, family stories, and Wisconsin kindness with us. We are so grateful for "small town USA" connections, like this one, that have helped Northerly Collective create a community of Wisconsin-loving folks. 

 

All photography by Jenna Leroy Photography
Find her on Instagram + Facebook


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