What's the Most Underappreciated Gay Mecca in the U.S.?
By Advocate.com Editors
Read about Milwaukee LGBT history by clicking 'MORE' button at right
When author Michail Takach pitched us his history book LGBT Milwaukee, we agreed politely to look at it. Then we saw the wonderful photos and read the beautifully researched and very moving text. This book, consisting mostly of photos and detailed captions, takes us from the bad old days of the deep closet to drag queens most glorious, to mega-discos, and beyond. With over 150 images, many never before seen, the rich LGBT history of Milwaukee comes alive. With a foreword by Don Schwamb, founder and webmaster of the Wisconsin LGBT History Project. Available after August 22 at Arcadia Publishing.
Mint Bar (1949-1993)
Open in 1949, a generation before Stonewall, the Mint (422 West State Street) was an early beacon for Milwaukee’s gay men. With only a few barstools and tables, the Mint was a cozy bar small on space but large with life. Despite being two blocks from the Central Police Station, the Mint was rarely if ever raided. Owners Angelo and Bettie Aiello were beloved community icons for two generations. Relocated to South 2nd Street in 1986 during Bradley Center construction.
“Bunny” (center) started exploring Milwaukee’s gay nightlife as a teenager in the 1940s. Seven decades later, his contributions to the Milwaukee LGBT History Project have been priceless.
Red Room (1916-1960)
The Red Room, inside the Plankinton Arcade (161 West Wisconsin Avenue) is well known for launching Liberace’s career in 1937. With 60 pool tables, 41 bowling lanes, and an 83-foot cocktail bar, Red Room (aka “Bed Room”) was a hook-up spot for decades. Cruising was so prevalent that management began charging for restroom use. This changed nothing. The Red Room foreclosed in 1960.
Your Place (1965-1993)
When most gay bars were located downtown, “Your Place” was a pioneer in Walker’s Point. The name "Your Place” was chosen code that allowed more discrete social planning. Y.P was the first gay bar to have a landscaped outdoor patio and a lighted dance floor. Owner James “Mother” Dorn was known for generously caring for homeless and rejected gay youth before exiting the business in 1982. Since 1994, the former Y.P. has been a gentlemen’s club.
Black Nite (1960-1963)
The Black Nite wasn’t the first gay bar to open in this coal-stained 1853 flour mill. Mary’s Tavern, and before it, the Old Mill Inn, had already attracted gay men for over a decade. In 1960, Wally Wetham reopend Mary’s as the Black Nite. Patrons remember a more protective police presence than other bars. On August 6, 1961, the Black Nite made local headlines after a sensational brawl between six servicemen and 74 regular customers. Place your bets on who won.
Royal Hotel (1926-1973)
Special thanks are owed to Josie Carter and Jamie Gays, two LGBTQ community pioneers who remained true to their hearts no matter what. Their commitment and courage to lead an authentic and outrageous life, despite tremendous adversity, is the driving force behind this book.
Wreck Room (1972-1995)
The Wreck Room (266 East Erie Street) was Milwaukee’s first cowboy/Levi-and-leather bar. Opened in July 1972 by Wayne Bernhagen, the macho bar had a rustic theme. Wreck Room was converted to a MIAD student center in 1995.
Club Baths (1974-1988)
At the heart of liberation culture, the Club Baths was so popular that there were lines at 3:00 a.m. The chain introduced safe-sex requirements during the AIDS crisis; however, these policies were considered a threat to sexual expression. Branded a public-health risk, Club Baths Milwaukee closed in February 1988.
Park Avenue (1978-1989)
Park Avenue (500 N. Water St.) was an ultra-swank, multi-storey, New York-style nightclub, unlike anything Milwaukee had seen, with three-storey flashing light towers, lethal blender drinks, and surprise feather drops on the city’s largest dance floor. Park Avenue reserved one night a week as a “gay night”: Sundays. Described as a very private affair, Sundays produced exotic fantasy parties for the city’s hottest people.
Lost & Found (1978-1986)
Lost & Found (617 N. 27 th St.) opened in 1978 as Wisconsin’s first women’s disco. The massive warehouse filled to capacity on weekends. Lost & Found hosted some of the first New Wave Nights in Milwaukee.
M&M Club (1976-2006)
In 1984, M&M Club became the first Milwaukee gay bar to open large picture windows to the street. As the neighborhood went upscale, the 1980s “Fruit Loop” disappeared. By 1995, M&M was the last gay bar in the area. The bar went dark on Sunday, May 14, 2006.
Nut Hut (1980-2014)
When Kathy Krau opened Sassy’s, later the Nut Hut (1500 West Scott) in 1980, she did not expect to launch the longest-running women’s bar in Wisconsin. A few years after Kathy’s retirement, the Nut Hut closed in 2014. Kathy also owned Hot Legs (814 South Second Street), a women’s video bar, from 1984 to 1987.
Club 219 (1981-2005)
In February 1981, Club 219 opened, ushering in the age of the superclub, featuring world-class drag productions by the Miss BJ Daniels Revue and others, strippers, live entertainment (including Divine in March 1988), high-energy DJ shows, and sensational New Year’s Eve parties. 219 South Second Street went dark in October 2005.
Milwaukee Pride 1988
On September 10, 1988, the first annual Milwaukee Pride festival was held at Mitchell Park with the theme “Rightfully Proud.” The Milwaukee Lesbian Gay Pride Celebration was the first in a continuous series of pride events leading to today’s PrideFest.
“Milwaukee’s men’s bar for the '90s,” Triangle (135 East National Avenue) opened in June 1988 in a space known for women’s bars. In 2011, Triangle was experiencing a remarkable rebirth as an electronic dance music venue. Longtime owner James Marr died suddenly in March 2011, which eventually led to the bar’s closing on April 28, 2012.
Milwaukee Pride Parade
As seen at the 2014 Pride Parade, the “Love Wins” banner commemorates the landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage in Wisconsin.