Cover photo: Gobbler Supper Club Postcard, C. 1970s. Public Domain.
Back in the mid-1960s, local Johnson Creek turkey tycoon Clarence Hartwig was looking to get out of the poultry business. Hartwig had an idea to build a supper club in Johnson Creek, halfway between Madison and Milwaukee.
Hartwig called well-known Wisconsin architect Helmut Ajango, told him his idea and asked him to design it. Ajango, known for combining Mid-Century Modern and Prairie Architecture, agreed. He would design both the supper club and the motel across the street in the popular Googie architectural style.
Hartwig called them both the Gobbler, perhaps in homage to the fowl that made him rich, and opened them both in 1967.
Here We Go ‘Round in Circles
When it first opened back then, passersby must have thought a UFO landed at the intersection of State Highway 26 and I-94. However, closer inspection would reveal it was more of this world than another with its quartz and lava rock exterior. (The lava rock came not from another planet, but from a volcano in Mexico.)
Inside, from wall to ceiling, there were all shades of pink and purples with gold lamps hanging down from the latter. The lamps shone down upon carpets with a turkey motif and a maître d’ stand covered in purple fabric
Guests were offered a menu of prime rib, steak, and, of course, turkey. Still, the restaurant was probably most famous for its revolving bar.
Acquired from Chicago’s Waldorf Astoria, the revolving bar seated 34 and completed a full circle every 80 minutes. As cool as this was, however, it could cause some problems for both patrons and bartenders alike. For instance, was it the room spinning or was it you spinning after a few mai tai’s? Also, after a visit to the ladies’ room, a girl might find her partner 180° from where she left him.
Again, patrons weren’t the only ones who sometimes had problems with the rotating bar. For instance, once a bartender started his shift, he couldn’t leave until the bar turned a full 360° and the exit lined up again.
In 1970, Hartwig added “The Roost”, a circular dance floor that was suspended from the ceiling over the rotating bar. This was truly kitsch at its best right in the heartland of America.
Their brochures read, “So delightfully different, people come from miles around just to look inside.”
Nothing could be truer.
Another Googie inspired building, the motel featured 49 rooms. Rooms featured wall-to-wall and floor to ceiling carpet. (That’s right, even the walls were carpeted in shag.) They also included 8-track tape players, round, sunken bathtub, and king-sized waterbeds with built-in TVs.
Some rooms even came with passion pits and heart-shaped waterbeds that took two maids to make. (For the final touch, the maids, each hanging by one arm, would smooth out any wrinkles with a stockinged foot.)
So, how much did the average Wisconsinite and out-of-state vacationer have to part with for a staycation at the Gobbler? Well, in 1978, $55 ($259 today) would get you a simple white velour bed. However, $85 (about $389 today) would get you the sunken tub and the waterbed smoothed out by stocking feet.
All Good Things…
Both the Supper Club and the motel were closed in 1992.
After the motel closed, it changed hands numerous times before closing for good just 10 years later in 2002. Unfortunately, the Johnson Creek Fire Department thought it would be good to use as a practice fire for their firefighters. They burnt it to the ground, leaving only the concrete slab foundation of the Gobbler Motel behind. Today, the area has been redeveloped and is now an assisted living and memory care community.
The supper club also changed hands several times and was home to several different restaurants operated over the years. These included everything from Mexican food to a diner and even once was known as “The New Gobbler”.
In 2014, Dan Manesis bought the property and reopened The Gobbler as The Gobbler Theater in 2015. The iconic rotating bar remains, as well as the original chairs and some of the decor. However, by September 2022, the property was once again up for sale, its future unknown.
While you’re also still trying to figure out what to do with your leftover gobbler, don’t forget that Motel Monday is also Cyber Monday today. Check out all of the great deals and special promotions Stuckey’s has just in time for your holiday season, like:
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The Stuckey’s New Holiday T-Shirt. What better to get you in the holiday spirit than our branded t-shirt that says “Merry Christmas, Y’All”? The shirt comes in sizes S to XXL and is a real deal at just $19.99.
The Stuckey’s Mystery Boxes are Baaack! Bring back that Christmas morning feeling of surprise with the Stuckey’s Mystery Box. Santa (or our CEO Stephanie Stuckey) stuffs each mystery boxes full of fun things Stuckey’s has carried over the years. Bobbleheads, tiaras, shot glasses, Uncle Sam pens, dreamcatchers, that weird thing over there, you name it! One thing’s for sure, however – you’ll get your own 2-oz. Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll in every box.
What will be in your Stuckey’s Mystery box this year? There’s only one way to find out.
Visit stuckeys.com for all of these great Stuckey gifts and more.
Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips (and Holidays) Fun Again!
Whether your next road trip is by car or by rail, it’s not really a road trip without taking Stuckey’s along. From our world famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls to our mouthwatering Hunkey Dorey, Stuckey’s has all the road trips snacks you’ll need to get you where you’re going.
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Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!