What was gay and lesbian nightlife like in Milwaukee forty years ago?
G Milwaukee magazine, a hand-typed and mimeographed “bar rag” of the era, provided a Bar Guide that included a dozen local bars. Only one of the twelve is still open to this day (This Is It) and only two other businesses (C’est La Vie and Ball Game) survived into the 21st century.
In 1975, Milwaukee’s gay bar scene was not contained to a neighborhood or even a ZIP code. One strip had started to take shape in the Old Third Ward warehouse district. Another was taking form around 2nd and Pittsburgh, in the former Fifth Ward light industrial corridor.
Today, neither of these neighborhoods bear any resemblance whatsoever to their 1975 appearances. For example, Milwaukee’s premier disco of the 1970s, The Factory, is now the site of our proud partner, Skylight Music Theatre.
Other bars were scattered all over the city, from Washington Park (Beer Garden) to Brady Street (Martins) to Riverwest (Finale, Ten Hundred East) to downtown (Mint Bar.) The only bar in Walker’s Point was Your Place (1st and National) — today the home of a gentlemen’s club.
The Mint Bar retains the title of the longest-running gay bar in Milwaukee history. Opened in 1949, the Mint Bar was a known “men’s bar” for a generation before Stonewall and openly advertised as early as 1971 as a gay bar. Demolished in 1987 for Bradley Center construction, the Mint Bar moved to 819 S. 2nd Street (now the location of Fluid) but only survived until 1990.
In addition to bars and nightclubs, Milwaukee also offered two gay bathhouses in 1975: the Club Milwaukee (704 W. Wisconsin Ave.) and the Club Finlandia (707 E. Knapp.) Both businesses closed in the 1980s.
Fun fact: G Milwaukee was sold by mail order at 25 cents per issue. At the time, the price of first class postage was 13 cents per stamp.
The Wisconsin GLBT History Project is a self-funded, community-driven project devoted to documenting the evolving face of local gay and lesbian life. We are honored to be affiliated with this important and irreplaceable historical initiative.