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Big Fish.
Smile of a survivor: The Big Fish has tempted travelers from Highway 2 for 60 years.

Big Fish Supper Club

Field review by the editors.

Bena, Minnesota

For a roadside icon, The Big Fish Supper Club has a history as murky as the bottom of some Minnesota lakes. Was it built in 1957 or 1958? Was it originally named the Big Muskie Drive-In or just The Big Fish? Sources differ, but everyone agrees that It was the brainchild of Wayne Kumpula, who owned the bar/cafe next door (named Moonlight Louie's) and who thought that a mammoth muskie would draw a younger, fun-loving crowd off of busy Highway 2.

World's Largest Muskie Drive-In.
Vintage postcard shows The Big Fish as it looked in the 1950s.

"It was a drive-in for a while, because Wayne's wife Lil was a tremendous cook," said Arnold "Butch" Dahl, who helped to build the Fish when he was a teenager. People could order food -- mostly hamburgers and hot dogs -- from a walk-up window in the muskie's belly, or eat inside at a small counter, entering through a door in its mouth. "Wayne did all the painting and coloring himself, including the inside," said Butch. Circular Coca-Cola signs were remade into the muskie's eyes. Cedar posts were shaped into its dagger-like teeth. For the interior, Wayne added a row of skeletal logs along the ceiling to make it look like the backbone of a fish. "The man was skilled. Very talented."

Big Fish Supper Club.

But the idea flopped. People did not want to eat food cooked inside a giant fish. Hungry travelers simply parked and walked to the bar/cafe next door. The Kumpulas turned The Big Fish into a souvenir shop (a classic 1966 postcard shows this configuration), but that failed, too. The bar/cafe and fish were sold to a succession of owners, and despite its combined rebranding as The Big Fish Supper Club, the fish itself never served food again.

Decades passed, and The Big Fish reached its 50th birthday showing its age. Reporters made wisecracks about rotting old fish and the Endangered Species List. "It really wasn't falling apart, but it needed some care real bad," said Butch. And every news article (and everyone we spoke with) mentioned how The Big Fish had appeared in the 1983 film National Lampoon's Vacation. Clearly there was some pride for the big old muskie.

Big Fish renovations.
The Big Fish, half-filleted in the middle of its 2009 restoration.

In 2009 a preservation group announced that The Big Fish was one of Minnesota's "10 Most Endangered Historic Places." That shocked its supporters into action. A banker in Minneapolis donated enough money to repair it. Josh Porter, a professional artist (and cousin of Erika Nelson), was hired to repaint it. He told us that his instructions were to be as true to the spirit of original as possible. "My guidelines," he said, "were to paint it like someone from town. Like some high school art student had said, 'Oh, I can paint that!,' and they did the best they could."

Thanks to those efforts, The Big Fish today looks a lot like it did when it was new, whenever that was. Although some visitors may be disappointed that they can no longer eat inside the 65-foot-long grinning muskie, it endures as a classic roadside photo-op. "It pleases me a lot," said Butch of The Big Fish makeover. "I hope it lasts another 60 years."

Big Fish Supper Club

456 US-2 NE, Bena, MN
On the north side of US-2, either 16 miles east of its intersection with MN-371, or 2.5 miles west of its intersection with CR-8.
Serves food W-Sa 5-10, open until 12 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Big Winnie Store: 1932 Crazy Gas StationBig Winnie Store: 1932 Crazy Gas Station, Bena, MN - 3 mi.
Horrible BearHorrible Bear, Pennington, MN - 14 mi.
Large Canada GooseLarge Canada Goose, Squaw Lake, MN - 20 mi.
In the region:
Skeletal Scrap Metal Moose, Grand Rapids, MN - 34 mi.

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