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Discover The Highlander Hotel, which was once a high-end supper club known as “The Highlander Supper Club.” 


Located near downtown Iowa City, The Highlander Hotel has been a communal fixture for generations. The origins of this fantastic historic hotel specifically trace back to the late 1960s, when it began running as a prestigious supper club. A culinary phenomenon of 20th-century America, supper clubs functioned as upscale dining establishments that served delicious cuisine within a relaxing, intimate atmosphere. Although limited in scope, their menus namely showcased lavish surf-and-turf-themed dishes typically prepared in a series of courses. However, the facilities also doubled as social gathering spots, offering guests lively entertainment that lasted throughout the night. Supper clubs thus became cultural pillars in their respective communities, providing a diverse setting where people could have fun together. The Highlander Hotel was no different. Opening as “The Highlander Supper Club” in 1967, it quickly emerged as one of Iowa’s City’s most popular destinations. Indeed, families spent long evenings at the supper club, enjoying its fine meals, memorable cocktail hours, and thrilling musical performances. Soon enough, word of The Highlander Supper Club’s excellence eventually began attracting motorists passing through Iowa City. Among their number included many notable luminaries, such as Joan Baez, Mickey Mantle, and Arnold Palmer! 

The success of The Highlander Supper Club compelled its owners to spearhead several expansions during the early 1970s, which created wonderful facilities including a grand ballroom, a new lounge area, and a 90-room hotel called “The Highlander Inn.” Perhaps the most striking new architectural feature was a brilliant indoor pool that faced some of the recently developed guestrooms. The reimaged complex remained a cultural icon in Iowa City for many years thereafter. It even continued to host illustrious figures, like U.S. President Gerald Ford! But in the 1980s, the facility started to pass among various owners and its once renowned reputation disappeared. In fact, the compound even stopped operating as a supper club entirely. Now a shadow of its former self, the historic site was eventually saved when ambitious entrepreneur Angela Harrington sought to preserve it in 2019. She subsequently invested millions, transforming its structures into the nucleus of a fantastic boutique hotel. The work itself was a massive undertaking, which masterfully restored every facet of the facility’s Mid-Century Modern character. Harrington and her team ultimately reopened the erstwhile supper club as “The Highlander Hotel” a year later after months of construction. Thanks to their commitment, The Highlander Hotel is once again a cherished local landmark in Iowa City. 

  • About the Location +

    Iowa City is an incredibly historic metropolis with a heritage rooted deeply in the Old American West. Its origins specifically harken back to the very founding of Iowa during the 19th century. In 1839, Iowa’s territorial government decided to relocate the capital from Burlington to a more central location. Not finding any suitable candidates, the legislators chose to develop a whole new community in Johnson County. Iowa’s governor, Robert Lucas, dispatched two commissioners named Chauncey Swan and John Ronalds to travel to the area and find an appropriate location along the Iowa River. Heading south from Napoleon in early May, the team encountered bluffs that loomed over the body of water. Both Swan and Ronalds petitioned the legislature to begin construction at the site immediately, which started in earnest later that June. Dozens of new roads soon appeared across the bluffs, as did many townhouses and storefronts that formed the foundation of the new “Iowa City.” Among the greatest construction projects undertaken was an ornate capitol building right in the heart of the community. To ensure that the structure was as beautiful as possible, the territorial legislature hired the renowned architect John F. Rague to oversee its creation. Rague himself had been immersed in the creation of Illinois’ state capitol building at the time, and he used his designs on that project as his main source of inspiration in Iowa City. He subsequently created similar sketches that called for the development of a gorgeous Greek Revival edifice that featured a marvelous portico, gorgeous cupola, and stunning ribbed dome.   

    While Rague was initially enthusiastic about the work, he left the project after just five months. Rague cited frustrations with delegates from Iowa’s Legislative Assembly, who influenced the design to adopt differing perspectives. Despite his departure, the Iowa Capitol Building still managed to open after months of construction. The Iowa Legislative Assembly met frequently inside the building upon its debut, where it decided numerous policies that guided the territory through its formative years. The structure even served as the setting for several notable events, including the drafting of the state constitution and the inauguration of its first non-territorial governor in 1846. But as Iowa continued to grow, the legislators realized that they needed to move the government yet again. Iowa City thus stopped being Iowa’s capital on the eve of the American Civil War, with the nascent community of Des Moines taking its place. In the wake of the decision, the Iowa state government assigned the erstwhile Iowa Capitol Building—now referred to as the “Old Iowa Capitol”—to the University of Iowa for use as classrooms and administrative offices. Iowa City remained one of the region’s most important cities, functioning as a prominent cultural and economic hub for the eastern side of the state. Indeed, the city underwent a rapid period of expansion throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which saw dozens of new neighborhoods appear throughout the locale. Interestingly, many of those areas are currently listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, due to their extensive wealth of historic architectural styles. (The Old Iowa Capitol Building is also listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark.)  

    Iowa City today remains a regionally significant metropolis that is often ranked in contemporary media reports as a terrific place to live. Contributing to this status is the continued presence of the historic University of Iowa, which has operated within the city since the late 1840s. Formed shortly after Iowa’s establishment as an official state, the institution occupied a ten-acre campus anchored by the Old State Capitol Building and four other structures known collectively as the “Pentacrest.” The student body was also small, numbering around several dozen students for the first few years of its existence. Its pupils could only major in nine academic fields, too, including philosophy, mathematics, and chemistry. Nevertheless, the University of Iowa was integral to the educational landscape of the state, offering degrees to both men and women. In fact, the school was one of the first public universities in the United States to admit people on an equal basis, regardless of their race or gender. Over time, the University of Iowa expanded, eventually encompassing many study halls and dormitories. It also began sponsoring its own sprawling hospital complex, which still operates as the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. The school even emerged as an academic pioneer since its faculty helped establish modern standardized testing and creative writing. Indeed, the university’s involvement in the literary field produced the renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the first Master of Fine Arts program. The Iowa Writer’s Workshop itself has produced 17 of the university’s 46 Pulitzer Prize winners to date and influenced Iowa City’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.  

  • About the Architecture +

    Originally built in 1967, The Highlander Hotel was once one of Iowa’s most successful supper clubs. People traveled from across the state to try its famous surf and turf, epicurean salads, and the complimentary cinnamon rolls that would accompany every meal. Guests would also congregate around the venue’s curved sunken bar, which offered an endless array of unique cocktails. The team at The Highlander Hotel attempted to recapture much of that mid-20th century atmosphere when they undertook ambitious renovations in 2020 and 2022. Seeking to preserve the building’s rich architectural integrity, the team diligently worked to revitalize the chic Mid-Century Modern architecture that defined the entire space. Meticulous craftsmanship was applied uniformly throughout both the interior and exterior, as best epitomized by the hotel’s amazingly indoor pool. Indeed, the work managed to uncover aspects of the building’s heritage hidden by previous owners. Perhaps the most striking discovery was the reemergence of the gorgeous limestone wall that once separated the sunken bar from the restaurant. The team extracted every limestone brick, removing the contemporary slate of concrete and carpet that had been placed over it. The stone was then used to help reconstruct the historic sunken bar that now acts as one of the centerpieces for the whole hotel.   

    Mid-Century Modern architecture itself is among the most prolific designs seen throughout the United State today. An offshoot of the earlier International and Bauhaus movements, Mid-Century Modern architecture essentially sought to portray a seemingly contemporary, futuristic aesthetic that reflected the 20th-century concepts of civil progress. Professional architects mainly utilized the style from the 1930s to the 1960s, when American society was rapidly undergoing huge transformations both social and technological in nature. Architects thus embraced the design ideals of function, simplicity, and rationality to create sleek structures that had a communal purpose. Mid-Century Modern designs made explicit use of vertical, flat lines and irregular rectangular shapes that conveyed a lack of formality. Overt ornamentation was abandoned, too, as monochromatic brickwork, steel, and concrete served as the essential building blocks for the exterior. Inside, most of the rooms were subdivided into split levels, giving a sense that the structure had undergone a significant change in elevation. Modernist buildings also featured wide, open spaces filled with natural light that represented practicality and comfort. Large windows often functioned as the primary way the architects achieved such an atmosphere. The introduction of spacious windows sought to better incorporate nature into the design, making the surrounding landscape seem as if it were part of the building itself. 

  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Joan Baez, musician and activist known for songs like “Diamond & Rust,” “Farewell, Angelina,” and “Forever Young.” 

    Mickey Mantle, outfielder for the New York Yankees and seven-time World Series champion. 

    Roy Clark, county music singer best remembered for hosting the iconic television show Hee Haw.  

    Marcia Wallace, actress best remembered for her work on The Bob Newhart Show and The Simpsons.  

    Arnold Palmer, winner of seven major golf championships that include the PGA Championship and the Masters Tournament. 

    Tim Dwight, wide receiver who played for the University of Iowa and ultimately 10 seasons in the NFL. 

    The Oak Ridge Boys, country and gospel vocal quartet responsible for helping to popularize country music in the mid-20th century.  

    Gerald Ford, 38th President of the United States (1974 – 1977)