Posts Tagged ‘The Nite Cap Inn’

The Nite Cap Inn – Then and Now

February 21, 2011

Before Old World Murder was published, several people asked if writing about real places made me nervous. I have a simple rule:  I only write about real places that I love. Old World Wisconsin obviously fits that description—if I didn’t love the place, I wouldn’t have set a book there.

Another real place that gets mentioned in the book? The Nite Cap Inn, in Palmyra, WI.

The inn is a great cream city brick structure.

Last summer, Scott and I stopped to photograph the Nite Cap. When a woman came outside to ask what we were doing, I explained that I had happy memories of eating at the Nite Cap back in the ’80s. Turns out the woman’s parents, Helmut and Suzie, owned the inn then—and they still do today. “We’re having a fish fry tonight,” she said. “Why don’t you come inside and have dinner?”

I wondered if a new experience would overwhelm my memories. Still, we couldn’t ignore the invitation. Happily, stepping inside only brought my memories into sharper focus.

Fish fry patrons place their order, then relax at the bar while a table is prepared.

A century or more ago, many guests traveled to Palmyra by train. Some were day visitors; others lodged in one of the rooms upstairs.

The inn has been a Palmyra institution for many years.

When I moved to Wisconsin, I quickly learned the cultural importance of fish fries. “We attach meaning to our ritual beer batters and potato pancakes,” wrote Ann Christenson in Milwaukee Magazine. She went on to name the Nite Cap’s fish fry as a favorite:  “Palmyra’s Nite Cap Inn is nothing fancy, but a place doesn’t have to be if the food is good.

“…The potato pancakes were grease-free, with crunchy edges and soft-potatoey center – the way a pancake should be. The coarse-chopped coleslaw was lightly dressed, with a peppery kick. Chunky applesauce laced with cinnamon was perfect slathered on the pancakes. And for once (we’ve had bread issues at our other fries), the light and dark rye was fresh and moist.”  (3/1/2004)

When I lived in the area, friends often invited me to join them at the Nite Cap. In addition to fish, the potato pancakes were famous. (I used those memories to describe the scene in Old World Murder when Roelke and Chloe meet Libby for a fish fry.)  Occasionally an interpreter rented one of the Nite Cap’s rooms for the season, too.

Back in the '80s, I always ordered schaum torte. It's still on the menu!


Scott opted for the German chocolate cake.

The evening that Scott and I dined there, the couple at the next table was from Milwaukee. They’d been driving to the Nite Cap on Friday nights for decades.

While we enjoyed our meal, Helmut settled at the piano.  One piece flowed effortlessly into the next.  It was delightful.

It’s not often we can revisit favorite spot from the way-back days in any place but our memories.

Do you have a favorite long-established eatery?  If you haven’t been there in a while, it might be time to go back.