End of an era for popular Prairie du Chien restaurant, new chapter ready to begin
By Ted Pennekamp
It is the end of an era for a popular Prairie du Chien restaurant. Kaber’s Supper Club has been owned and operated by members of the same family for 93 years. That long-standing family ownership will soon come to an end, however, with the recent sale of Kaber’s to Steve and Angie Jones, the owners of Jones’ Black Angus.
“I’ve been doing this longer than any of the three previous generations,” said Jon Kaber, who represents the fourth generation in the well-known business.
While Kaber’s Supper Club has been at 225 W. Blackhawk Ave. since 1932, it actually began as Kaber’s Cafe in 1920 at the location where the Sunny Side Cafe is now. According to Jon, Kaber’s Cafe was established by his great grandparents Henry and Emma Kaber. Having built quite a successful business over the years and in need of expansion, Henry and Emma purchased a building in 1932 that had housed a livery stable and a fur trading business. Also purchased was an adjoining, common-wall building. The structure was remodeled and became a larger version of the original Kaber’s Cafe, complete with a remodeled log-style facade. Henry and Emma rented out the adjoining building to a laundry service business.
After World War II, Kaber’s Cafe was expanded into the adjoining building. In 1945, a large bar that featured nicely rounded curves in various locations was built by Blackhawk Fixtures. It was installed in 1946 into what then became known as Kaber’s Nite Club. The original bar remains in place today, although it has been shortened somewhat at one end, said Jon. Kaber’s Nite Club not only served quality food on an ever-expanding menu, it also featured live entertainment and dancing. Kaber’s Nite Club drew many customers from the Prairie du Chien area as well as from Clayton and Allamakee counties in Iowa, which, at the time, were considered “dry” counties.
Jon said that Kaber’s Nite Club changed over the years and by the mid to late ‘50s featured more of a supper club-type of menu. Some of the prices from a ‘50s era menu included a 14 oz. filet mignon for $2.75, a 16 oz. New York strip for $3.50, a hamburger for 40 cents, South African lobster for $3.90 and a Friday Special of perch (all you can eat with french fries, slaw, rolls and butter) for $1.25.
During the 1950s, the business was run by Henry and Emma’s son Cliff Kaber, along with Henry and Emma’s son-in-law Russ Kieser. Later, Cliff would bring his sons Rex (Jon’s father) and Terry (Jon’s uncle) into the business.
Jon recalled that his grandfather Cliff was well-known for his spur-of-the-moment bar bets in which he would challenge a patron to a football punting contest in the middle of the highway that ran in front of the restaurant or to a run around the block to see who was fastest. “He rarely, if ever, lost a run around the block,” Jon said. Jon also recalled that Russ was a master at playing tunes on the liquor bottles with spoons.
In 1965, Polly’s Brass Lantern, a tavern that adjoined Kaber’s, was purchased and the restaurant-bar that would become Kaber’s Supper Club was expanded once again. Jon began working in the business in 1978, and in 1999 assumed full control.
Various unusual or mischievous happenings occurred throughout the decades at Kaber’s. Two memorable moments that occurred during Jon’s tenure involved well-known local personalities Denny Fuller and Donnie Valley. About seven years ago, Denny along with passenger Shannon Kazynski rode a horse into Kaber’s much to the amusement of the patrons, some of whom took photographs as the horse stood near the salad bar. About 20 years ago Donnie set a paper sack on the bar. “The sack began to rustle and move,” recalled Jon. “Then Donnie opened the top and an opossum stuck its head out and started hissing at nearby customers!”
The last night of business for Kaber’s will be Wednesday night. For 93 years Kaber’s has been renowned for serving good home-cooked meals, and now a new era is ready to begin.
“I wish Steve and Angie Jones the very best,” said Jon Kaber.