Milwaukee's best bars of yesteryear
You kids think you have it so great. Back in the day, there were no new-fangled Jaeger bombs or beers infused with berries. Old-school Milwaukeeans drank Schlitz or Pabst (and we weren't doing it because it was retro). And we went out to bars that are now long-gone.
Here are some of the best. And before you say, "OMC, you forgot ..." -- remember, we can't include every bar that's closed in Milwaukee in just one article. So make sure to add your favorites using the Talkback feature below.
The Avalanche Super Bar
15th and Wells Streets
For more than 60 years, The 'Lanche was more than a staple to the Marquette community -- it was home; the final bar stop; the place where students met the locals and all drank cheap "blues." When it closed on April 24, 1997, news reports said The Avalanche closed because of problems with rowdy patrons and vandalism, but we know that MU wanted the space for university use. And even though many a professor (and countless former students) will admit to doing a naked beer slide or two in his or her days, The 'Lanche was just one of those old-school, beer drinking, dingy bars that didn't fit on the newly spiffed up campus. As the saying goes: "Get your degree at Marquette, but get your education at The 'Lanche."
733 N. Van Buren St.
About all we can really say about Bogey's is that it was a cool (among a certain crowd) downtown club where fake IDs always worked. Imagine dressing up in ties to look older and hitting the former club that is now Gus' International Deli on Van Buren Street. It had a few dance floors, big bouncers and a nice table that one of our editors threw up all over before falling down the entry stairs on his way out to the street. Nights at Bogey's were always a blur.
720 N. Old World 3rd St.
Tucked into the Hotel Wisconsin, Café Melange was a quietly cool lounge, discreetly serving up jazz and other live music. Back in the day, you could enjoy a concert by La Chazz, John Schneider, Victor DeLorenzo, Mrs. Fun or even Art Kumbalek. Sheila Spargur hosted the popular "Poet's Sunday," and radio show "Hotel Milwaukee" was recorded live in the space. Meanwhile, throughout the '80s reggae and alternative bands played downstairs in The C Club, where Paul Finger also had a popular ska/reggae/soul record spin each week. The bar closed in October 1997.
Café Voltaire/Odd Rock Café
2010 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
While Irene J's was rocking, Café Voltaire, which later became the Odd Rock Café when Jack Koshick bought it, was the scene for tons of local gigs, by everyone from Couch Flambeau to Wild Kingdom. As the freight trains rumbled outside the north wall, the KK Avenue club was the spot of GG Allin's on-stage poop, early shows by Soundgarden, Social Distortion, The Pixies, Goo Goo Dolls and many more. It closed in the early '90s and the building has since been razed.
North Farwell Avenue
The East Side's favorite gathering place, Century Hall -- on Farwell Avenue, where Blockbuster and its mini-mall now stand -- was more than a club. It was a no frills place for East Siders of all stripes to meet, have a beer, eat some food and catch a wide range of music. Bands included everyone from the R&B Cadets, Kojo and Semi Twang to Husker Du, The Cramps, Fishbone, The Fall, Johnny Thunders, Dead Milkmen and reggae gigs with the likes of Freddie McGregor and Michigan & Smiley. When it burned to the ground on April 24, 1988 it seemed that all of the East Side was gathered outside looking on in tearful horror. A similar scene played out shortly afterward when the original Beans and Barley caught fire.
Broadway and Wells Street
The City Club, which lived into the early '90s, was one hoppin' place. Perhaps strangely, we also remember the City Club for its lunch and salad buffet. Before Downtown's rebirth, there were not as many lunch options and even a dance club like the City Club could make a few extra bucks by doing lunch. But make no mistake, City Club was a club. A big dance floor made this a great place for 20-40 somethings on the prowl. It briefly became "The Country Club" during the mid-'90s country bar craze, but now it's just a bank across from that Leinie's billboard that you see as you drive east down Wells.
788 N. Jackson St.
For a generation of Gen Xers, "Club" meant downtown's only viable under-21 dance night (there was also Bailey's on Hwy. 100). Each Wednesday, you could expect to hear Jesus Jones, EMF, Nitzer Ebb and a whole bunch of other then-modern rock dance tunes. Eventually, Club Marilyn became Metropolis and later Park Bar before it closed for good.
Gas Light East
775 N. Jackson St.
One of the last dank taverns east of the river, the old Gas Light looked more like an old French brothel than a downtown hotspot. It wasn't all that notable, except that its presence was symbolic of a Milwaukee that was fading away. It was replaced, briefly, by Nacho Mama's (an early Johnny V venture) which featured midget Steve Vento (who later opened Ripple's, also out of business) as a guy wearing a sombrero filled with salsa that customers could dip chips in. Wonder why that idea didn't catch on. Eventually the building was torn down completely, and currently, Yanni's sits in most of the space that was once the Gas Light.
The Globe East
2020 E. North Ave.
Mention The Globe to any Milwaukee music fan over the age of 20 and you will probably get yourself a response combining the phrases "best show ever" and "for five bucks!" Whether they were booking biggies like Jimmy Eat World, packing them in for The Promise Ring or even opening up mid-afternoon for an all-ages show, The Globe was a music scene staple that can never be replaced. It took over the Boardwalk, which also hosted live music. Ask anyone over 40 about that one.
South 2nd Street
Irene J's on 2nd Street, south of Mitchell -- now home to a biker gang -- was dark and loud and had mostly local bands. It was also the site of the annual Trashfest.
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Peaceful World on KK, featuring "live bartenders." Open for only 1 year in (1972), but what a year and remains embedded in the minds of the survivors.
does anyone knowledgeable of Milw Journal archives happen to have the Milwaukee Journal 1981-82 photos of the Starship nightclub article? --one in particular featuring Makoe Seawright in the crowd with leopard-spot hair ? please post it in the 'Lest We Forget' group at Facebook -- thank you
LOL. Nice list. 4, 5, 7, 9, 17, 20, 21 were all regular hangouts of mine at one time. 15 was one of the first clubs I got in when I was still underage. There's 3 off the top of my head tho that should be on that list that are not --- The Jabberwoky (was at 68th & Greenfield), The Junction (was on KK in Bay View), & TA Verns (was on Hwy 100 & Sliver Spring)! Why have only 21 on the list---they coulda easily made it a top 25!
Wow. I sure miss all those great venues. There was so much music happening in Milwaukee back then. There were some great clubs to play at and owners were open to new bands, unlike todays Milwaukee club scene.
Suzy said: She was my grandma to, yes it was fun
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