Review: Modern Supper Club 304 in Hudson, Wis.

This place only gets better with age.

Even the walls of Club 304 breathe an air of history into the building that has stood at 304 Second St. in Hudson since 1871. Rebuilt after the Great Hudson Fire of 1866, the current establishment has served thirsty Hudson locals suds and spirits for more than 100 years. That’s an astonishing amount of ale.

Current owners Michael and Candace Murphy have operated Pudge’s bar for 25 years, and are aiming to revive a bit of that old-town magic with their new restaurant, Club 304. Located in shouting distance of Pudge’s, Club 304 is the cozy and comfortable counterpart to its bar-backing buddy.

Arrive early for breakfast, and slide into one of several leather booths in the dining room, where pool tables and dart boards once stood. You’ll hardly recognize the remodeled space, as it’s been made over and adorned with oil paintings of historic Hudson by the late local watercolor artist Randy Penner. The cozy wall-mounted fireplace adds to the ambience of an old-time lounge and serves as the perfect backdrop for a long breakfast with friends. For those with a sweet tooth, the cinnamon-roll french toast ($7) could be your poison: A sticky jumbo cinnamon roll is prepared battered and toasted, like typical French toast, and served with house-made apple butter and real maple syrup. Fair warning: You might need help to take down this delicious beast.

For the full breakfast experience, grab a barstool and order the short stack, or as I like to call it, “the best value breakfast in town.” Your choice of two eggs and choice of pig are paired with a short stack of cakes, or three slices of warm and fluffy French toast, all for only $8. That’s comparable to breakfast chain prices, with flavor power that blows them away. Reward your frugal flair for a fine breakfast with a bloody Mary or mimosa from the bar, and delight in the morning sight of a town coming to life along Second Street.

The historic tour continues through the restaurant to the upper level for lunch. Passing through the back of the restaurant to reach the staircase for the balcony, Michael Murphy explains: “We are the only bar with an elevator,” offering an all-access route to the bar upstairs. At the top of the landing, the original sign for Pudge’s bar is displayed, just as it was in 1969.

Once upstairs, the door on the left opens onto a beautiful Victorian-style porch, evoking a New Orleans courtyard. Dig into lunch with Club 304’s royal with cheese, a high-class burger experience. This 6-oz. hand-mixed patty is topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion, as well as your choice of cheddar, gouda or havarti cheese ($10; add bacon for $1.50). For lighter flair, the niçoise salad ($12) is a great option: crispy fingerling potatoes, green beans, cherry tomatoes, niçoise olives, bocarones and a pickled egg are tossed together with a tart mustard vinaigrette to unite this surprisingly crunchy confection. The vantage point over the St. Croix is yours to enjoy for free, and wise diners will call ahead to beat the summer rush.
Just on the other side of the second floor is a separate balcony, with a staircase leading to the street below. This additional space is the smoking deck, specifically for cigars. “The building was used for cigar manufacturing in 1927,” Murphy says. “We are going to allow cigar smoking, because it was meant to be.” Imported from Tibet, the intricately carved wooden bar beyond the balcony door is yet another historic conversation piece with which the Murphys have adorned their establishment. Enjoy a Spotted Cow or Leinie’s as you admire the woodwork, then return downstairs for dinner.

For the full supper club experience, we recommend starting with one or two of the small plates: The lobster dip is a local favorite, served with crunchy crostinis shaped perfectly for dunking into a warm, cheesy lobster bath ($12); and, combining some of the best Wisconsin has to offer, the beer-battered cheese-stuffed onion rings are where the kitchen earns its stripes. Murphy describes them as perfect “for the person who loves cheese curds and the person who loves onion rings”—they mix the two into golden Os of battered glory ($8).

For the fish-eaters among us, the pub-style fish and chips ($13) offer beer-battered cod served with steak fries so thick you’ll be searching for their ends. Or if you’re looking for something from the field, Club 304 serves 100 percent certified Hereford beef steaks. Order the 8-oz. sirloin, and don’t forget to smother it with sautéed mushrooms and onions ($20 steak, $3 added mushrooms and onions).

Supper club gatherers of old spent their time dining, conversing and enjoying each subsequent course offered throughout an entire evening of noshing. “We didn’t want to be another fast-food restaurant or burger place,” Murphy says of Club 304’s old-timey spirit; rather, he wants to create a fine-dining experience, complete with a different menu for each meal of the day and a bit of history available around every restaurant corner.