- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Wednesday afternoon, John Brandt arranged dozens of merchandise orders on the front bar of the War Eagle Supper Club after going without a single one in the last month. He looked up from his task and surveyed the walls around him, covered from ceiling to floor in car tags, t-shirts and posters.

“It’s all kind of brand new to us,” he mused. “We weren’t expecting it to get out so fast.”

Earlier that morning, Brandt confirmed with The Corner News the War Eagle Supper Club would close its doors at the end of 2015. New Year’s Eve will be the Supper Club’s last night on South College Street.

“My whole adult life has been in this building,” he said. “. There are just too many memories.”

Brandt started his tenure with the Club as a doorman in the early 1980s and bought into ownership in 1985. The property was recently sold to a new owner, who allowed the Club to continue on its existing lease until the end of the year. Brandt and co-owners Mark Cadenhead and Cory Hattier learned they wouldn’t be able to renew the lease four or five weeks ago.

“Nobody wants to see that place go down, but it’s out of our hands to be honest with you,” Cadenhead, who started bartending in the early ‘90s and became partners with Brandt in 1996, said. “We were hoping we would be able to renegotiate the lease, but their terms were a little more than we were willing to handle.”

He added the Supper Club’s last night will be a tough one.

“I’ve heard many people say that’s where they met their wives and their ex-wives and everything else,” he said. “It’s going to be a sad day when it does close. It means a lot to Auburn alumni.”

The Supper Club building was built in 1937 and operated as a brothel after World War II, former owner Hank Gilmer said. The building housed Stoker’s Steakhouse in the ‘50s, and later became a pizza joint under the ownership of H.H. Lambert.

“I’ve got what is probably the best pizza recipe in the world,” Gilmer said. “That’s a story in and of itself, believe me.”

During the height of the civil rights era, bars and restaurants across the South were transitioning into private clubs to circumvent integration. During that time, in 1961, the Supper Club became a private club and took on its now-iconic name. Gilmer was a member when he was an Auburn student and bought the club, along with his father Henry Jr. and brother Jeff, in 1977.

“I moved the Supper Club into its current life,” he said.

Gilmer maintained the Club’s private status long after integration to allow alcohol sales after midnight on weekends, and the Club started late nights. He also ushered in the Club’s era as a live music venue. The Birmingham entertainment industry veteran brought in a grand piano, then transitioned into hiring solo acts, and eventually bands.

“There have been hundreds and hundreds of bands, national acts, all kinds of folks that have played throughout the years,” he said.

But demand for live music has waned over recent years, Brandt said, which has affected business. The steady stream of Auburn University students and alumni that have filled the Club for decades isn’t as interested in hearing live acts.

“Luke Bryan played here for 20 people. Twice. Then when over to the amphitheater six months later and sold out,” Brandt said. “Live entertainment’s just not what it once was.”

Still, the Club’s owners are optimistic about relocating and carrying on the War Eagle Supper Club tradition, albeit with a fresh start.

“We love Auburn, we’d love to stay in Auburn and keep that tradition alive. That is our goal, to keep with the Auburn family,” Hattier, who started bartending at the Club 12 years ago and only recently bought into ownership, said. “It is what it is, and we have to push forward.”

By Wednesday afternoon, Brandt had already had offers for the paraphernalia that has lined the Club’s walls for decades.

“If we can’t (relocate), we’ll sell every square on the wall,” he said, pointing to a hand-painted 1957 National Championship car tag. “You couldn’t pay to replicate what’s on the walls.”

As for what’s next for the 78-year-old building, Brandt expects the building will leave Auburn along with the Club.

But for now, the War Eagle Supper Club isn’t showing any mercy.

“We’re still going to do what we do and keep the party going. We don’t want crying faces in there,” Hattier said. “Come out and show your love.”


Information from: Opelika-Auburn News, https://www.oanow.com/

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