Mike and Colleen Miller are preparing to wager a truckload of cash that Clevelanders will set aside a few nights a month to enjoy "dinner and a show." If the couple's dream comes to fruition, the Music Box will be a 300-seat supper club on the west bank of the Flats, where guests can enjoy both food and live entertainment in a comfortable lounge-like setting.
The notion of the supper club never really went away — but it does seem to be making a bit of a comeback. For years, Nighttown in Cleveland Heights has been selling out its music shows, which combine world-class performers with full-service dining. The shows have been so successful, in fact, that owner Brendan Ring recently invested more than $100,000 to renovate and expand the music room.
"It's a throwback to another time," explains Rob Ivanov, owner of Touch Supper Club in Ohio City. "After dinner they'd move out the tables to make room for the dance floor. Touch is the modern version of that, where you can have dinner upstairs before going dancing downstairs."
Touch has been commingling dinner and live entertainment for 15 years, but Ivanov says that the concept is far from universally accepted. "This isn't much different from having dinner at one place and going to another place for dancing or a show," he says. "It's just that here, it's all in one place."
It's all in one place, too, over at Pickwick & Frolic, where ringleader Nick Kostis has been putting butts in seats at his cabaret theatre on East Fourth Street for 11 years. Whether he's staging the long-running Murder Mystery Dinner Theater or the campy Mardi Gras Burlesque, Kostis knows that food and fun are a marvelous pairing. For folks who are looking for atypical entertainment options, supper clubs more than fill the bill.
Bonnie Flinner, owner of Prosperity Social Club, worked for a dozen years at Nighttown, where apparently the supper club bug rubbed off on her. For four Friday nights in October, Flinner will transform her Tremont tavern into a full-on supper club, complete with white tablecloths, flickering candlelight, and live entertainment.
"I love the retro feel of the idea, and I think it really fits the retro neighborhood vibe of our space," she explains.
While the supper club concept is a rare and special treat, the formula doesn't always make sense for the proprietor, diner or performer, Flinner says. "It's expensive to offer live entertainment. There's the logistics of the space. And you need a sound system." Worse, she adds, the focus ends up being on neither the food nor the music, but rather the booze and one's tablemates.
"But I think there's some great music in Cleveland that fits this theme really well," she says. "Talented professional musicians who are a good fit for my particular space and who draw a good response from the audience. You can tell when an audience likes a band or doesn't like a band."
The bands Flinner booked are Smokin Fez Monkeys, a fun-spirited jug band, Martini Five-O, a lounge-surf band, Rachel & the Beatnik Playboys, which plays Americana and roots, and Hollywood Slim Band, an old-timey blues band. There is no cover charge for the shows and reservations are suggested.
"I hope people will spiff up a little bit, and look forward to being entertained," Flinner says. "The shows are not meant to be hushed and stuffy. I want people to have a great dinner, hear some great music, laugh and have some fun."
Flinner also hopes the performances will introduce new diners to Prosperity's food, which has matured during the tavern's eight-year run from burgers and fish fries to ethnic comfort foods, steaks and specials. "We're proud of our food now, and these shows give us an opportunity to showcase our culinary talent to a new audience."
Flinner says the idea already is garnering a great reception from customers, who are reserving spots weeks in advance. Assuming all goes as planned, Flinner might repeat the strategy during future months after the holidays.
"Date night used to be something special," she says. "Supper clubs were destination dining at its best."
Check out Prosperity Supper Club from 8 to 10 p.m. on October 4, 11, 18 and 25.
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