When Christopher Columbus disembarked from his boat on the shores of the Crawfish River, a mere fifteen miles east of the Wisconsin state capital of Madison. he declared that the land he set his foot upon “is as beautiful as am I so I proclaim this piece of land Christopher Columbus land. You may refer to it as merely Columbus if you wish.” And that is where the saga of surgeon Dr. Craig Campbell and the late Carlo Caputo, began. While some people doubt the validity of my claim that Chris Columbus did navigate the Crawfish River looking for a suitable place to give his name to back in the late 1400’s, I have been informed by a reliable source that he actually did just that; however, I will wait for the appropriate time to reveal my source. Before I do that, I will reveal some facts that can easily be verified by anyone with or without a computer.
While neither Carlo Caputo nor “Doc” Campbell, a retired surgeon whose wit is drier than an extra dry vodka martini, is nationally known, they both have acquired a modest reputation in southeastern Wisconsin, especially in the small town of Columbus where they both, at one time, owned the Capri Steakhouse which is actually a Wisconsin Supper Club. Caputo traded lakefront property in Madison for the club in 1954. After changing hands a few times, “Doc” Campbell purchased the club in 1992.
Caputo the purported mafia boss of Madison named the restaurant the Tropical
Lounge. He was associated with the Balistrieri clan out of Milwaukee which was considered a branch of the Chicago Outfit. The family’s most influential boss was Frank “Mad Bomber”, “Mr. Slick”, “Mr. Big” (take your pick) Balistrieri, who was involved in the skimming of Las Vegas casinos and the restaurant business in the Milwaukee area. The Tropical Lounge which was, on occasion, a gathering place for “Mr. Big” Frank Balistrieri and his, uh, business associates, with its red and gold upholstered walls has an upstairs where they would meet so they could conduct their “business” in private where their conversations would not be overheard by those who didn’t have a need to know.
The history of this establishment was brought to my attention while visiting the “Unmentionables,” also referred to as in-laws, in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.
Being sort of a self-avowed Brandy affectionado as well as being anxious to sample one or more of “Doc’s” highly acclaimed Brandy Sweet Old Fashions, I was delighted to hear that we would be taking a ride to Columbus to have dinner at the Capri Steakhouse.
So, on November 28th, Max Fly along with his little squeeze, Jacqui, her older sister and the big Norwegian she married, got to meet the Doc (Caputo is dead) and sample his “famous” Brandy Sweet Old Fashions. He pulled up a bottle of dark liquid which contained “his special sauce” and added it to the Brandy and bitters in my glass. Having a brief career as a bartender, I have some experience in making this Wisconsin classic drink as well as having an opportunity on many occasions to sample a few and I think the “Doc” has actually found the secret formula that has been prudently sheltered all these years by the gods of the Brandy Old Fashions.
While we sat at the bar and sipped his sweet nectar “Doc” filled us in on a little of the history of the town of Columbus and his memorable supper club.
“There used to be 17 bars in the four-block area,” Doc said. “Now there’s four.” an occurrence usually found around “connected” enterprises I assumed.
We asked him what defines a supper club? According to “Doc” they have their bar in the front, and their dining room in the back, they serve Brandy Sweet Old Fashions or Whiskey Old Fashions and after a meal, they whip up ice cream drinks like Grasshoppers and Brandy Alexanders. That sounds about right to me.
If you are ever in the Madison Wisconsin area, you might want to take the 15-mile drive east to Columbus and pay a visit to the “Doc” you won’t regret it. The Capri Steakhouse is located at:
126 S. Ludington St.
Columbus, WI 53925