Candle Club keeps flame bright

The interior of the supper club is dim, though.

12/02/2009 12:00 AM

12/02/2009 2:35 PM

Part of what makes the Candle Club the Candle Club is that its owner rarely agrees to talk about it in the media.

He doesn't advertise the club, and he doesn't actively recruit members.

Instead, owner Louis Thompson allows the Candle Club — a mysterious, throw-back supper club with carpet on the walls and no identifying sign on the building — to grow organically, building on a reputation developed during 50 years of business.

"I guess you could say we're preserving history," Thompson said.

The Candle Club was opened on east Kellogg by brothers Ted and Tom Werts in 1960. It operated there for three years before it moved in 1963 to the new Prairie Village Shopping Center at 13th and Woodlawn, now anchored by a Dillons.

The club has quietly operated there ever since, accepting new members only when they're recommended by two existing members.

Thompson, only the club's third owner, bought it a year ago from Alta and Bill DeVore (who'd bought it from the original owners).

He thought it would be a good investment, but the purchase was also a little personal. Thompson, 37, said he has many memories from the Candle Club, including childhood dinners with his parents and teenage pre-prom outings with his friends.

"I've been coming here since I was sitting on telephone books in the back, eating with my mom and dad," he said.

Stepping into the Candle Club is sort of like stepping into the 1960s, and that's its appeal.

The lighting is dimmer than dim, and a series of giant circular wooden sculptures hang from the ceiling, each fitted in the center with a candle chandelier.

Faux candles also line the walls, and a small dance floor is lined with wood paneling and marbled glass.

Small round tables hold a single candle in a red glass votive, and the chairs are green bucket seats on wheels.

During the day, ladies gather to have lunch, then stay for hours playing bridge. In the evening, members often dance to live big band music or the sounds of house musician Matt Johnston.

The food — created by chef Chris Collier — also has a throwback feel. Steaks and seafood are listed alongside liver and onions and frog legs. A whole fried catfish is one of the restaurant's specialties.

The staff includes a manager named Charley Brown, who's been in the restaurant business as long as the Candle Club has been around, and a couple of waitresses who have worked at the club for nearly 30 years — and have the napkin- folding skills and stories to prove it. (Not that they'd share any of those stories. Members' privacy is paramount.)

The membership includes Wichita A-listers, many of whom also have membership at local country clubs, as well as people from the neighborhood. The clientele is largely older, though many younger members who started coming to the club with their grandparents now also are joining.

"We've got several third-generation members," Thompson said.

The Candle Club's heyday was before liquor-by-the-drink laws passed in 1985, allowing Wichitans to order alcohol at places other than private clubs. Back then, membership held steady at around 2,200.

Today, it's closer to 1,100, and Thompson says he's considered capping it at around 1,500. He likes the club's atmosphere, where everyone knows everyone else — or knows someone who does.

"It's kind of like 'Cheers,' " said Guyetta Monroe-Martin, whose been waitressing at the club for almost 29 years. "Everyone knows your name."

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