New York City is about to get a taste of Wisconsin it never knew it was missing.
Two childhood best friends from Minneapolis are opening a reincarnation of a legendary northern Wisconsin supper club — in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, of all places.
The Turk’s Inn (234 Starr St., Brooklyn, NY, 718-215-0025, turksnyc.com) opens Thursday. A three-part operation, it will be a restaurant with Midwest-inspired Middle Eastern fare, a nightclub with live music, and a take-out spot.
The friends hope to recreate some of the magic they had experienced on all their childhood trips to the singular supper club.
“Since we were kids, we have been fascinated with eccentric spaces and the Turk’s Inn was the crown jewel of all of them,” said Varun Kataria. The place “represented a different way of hanging out. It sparked this desire to want to somehow resurrect that in our own lives.”
For 80 years, the Turk’s Inn was a northern Wisconsin destination, both for motorists passing through Hayward on their way to Lake Superior, and for families with cabins in the area.
Tyler Erickson and Kataria would often visit the Turk’s Inn on their trips to the Erickson family cabin near Hayward.
“I was pretty much always obsessed with this place,” Erickson said. “It was just unlike anything I had ever seen before.”
For years, the friends made pilgrimage there, “from before we could drink to when we could actually have gin-and-tonics,” Kataria said.
Founded in 1934 by George “The Turk” Gogian, an Armenian immigrant, the Turk’s Inn was a lavishly decorated ode to the owner’s heritage, stuffed into a kitschy Upper Midwest supper club set amid the north woods.
“Exotic fare in the jack pine country,” explained a Minneapolis Star article from 1966.
The Turk’s Inn fed motorists and vacationing families with shish kebabs, baklava and cheese borek, which the Star translated in a 1961 article as “a kind of strudel.”
The restaurant had walls lined in red velvet and was adorned with tchotchkes, family heirlooms and photos of famous guests, such as President John F. Kennedy.
Kataria describes the original: “You walk into this house and immediately there is a density of color and pattern and texture. Room by room, there’s a gold banquette, or a white banquette, and as you enter into the bar room, you see through the windows this beautiful rural Wisconsin environment outside. And inside, there are pictures on the walls harkening back to the heyday of Turk’s. Everywhere you looked, you got sense this was the place to be.”
When the restaurant closed in 2014, after the death of the last Gogian family member (which was George’s daughter Margie), Erickson and Kataria bid on all the memorabilia they could get at auction. They snagged the restaurant’s bar, neon sign, antique liquor bottles and brass Turkish coffee pots, ceramic figurines, artwork and even Margie’s wardrobe. They spent thousands on the items, and more, to move, ship and store them for five years.
“We didn’t have a plan at the time. We didn’t know it would turn into what it’s become today. We just knew we loved the place,” Kataria said.
They held on to their collection until they could find the perfect space — a 5,000-square-foot multi-room building in Brooklyn, on which the glowing vintage sign welcoming people to the supper club now hangs. (Erickson and Kataria also incorporated a tufted door and upholstered leather banquettes they bought at auction from Minneapolis’s Nye’s Polonaise Room.)
Erickson, a drummer, and Kataria, an attorney, both 35, worked at the Dakota in Minneapolis in their youth (Erickson’s father, Richard Erickson, is the co-owner of the Dakota). But this is the first restaurant and music venue of their own.
Dishes inspired by the Turk’s Inn’s original menu will be offered there, but with a contemporary spin from chef Alberto Carballo. Shrimp cocktail, deviled eggs, the all-important supper-club relish tray, and a modernized Wisconsin-style cheese dip made with feta are on the menu. There’s even a falafel made of the ingredients in green bean casserole.
The Sultan Room will feature a roster of jazz, instrumental, world and pop music, and Erickson plans to book musicians from the Midwest, to “build a bridge between here and there,” he said. Many of the staffers they hired are from Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The friends hope the Turk’s Inn becomes a part, again, of Midwesterners’ vacations. Only this time in New York instead of northern Wisconsin.
“It’s definitely going to be a trip for somebody who grew up going to Turk’s,” Erickson said.
“When you step into the space, you feel it,” Kataria said. “There’s a spirit of something special.”