Park Avenue: Hazy memories of the crazy 1980s
"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun bars and club articles -- including guides, bartender profiles, drink recipes and even a little Brew City bar history. Cheers!
Crafting a story about Park Avenue, a popular Milwaukee nightclub in the 1980s, presents a unique set of obstacles. The first is pretty obvious:
Park Avenue, located at 500 N. Water St. -- a building that later housed Bermudas, Brett Favre's Steakhouse and current tenant Joey Buona's -- closed nearly 20 years ago.
Memories naturally fade over time. In this era of e-mail and multi-tasking, it's hard to remember things that happened last month, much less in 1984. Mix in throbbing music, pulsating lights, gigantic video screens, fog machines, a dance floor packed with gyrating dancers, cheap prices on gigantic beers, a barber chair for consuming upside-down shots ... well, suffice to say it doesn't get easier.
But, this is OnMilwaukee.com, a Web site produced for and perused by thousands of intelligent people with a passion for Milwaukee -- past and present. Before sitting down to write, we asked readers to contribute their memories of Park Avenue and dozens did just that.
Jim Lombardo, who was in charge of marketing Park Avenue before finding further fame as the executive vice president of Bell Ambulance and as "America's Guest" on the "Dave and Carole" morning show on WKLH (96.5 FM), remembers more about Park Avenue than most.
"It was an amazing place," Lombardo said. "The big thing was always Ladies' Night. We started out doing it on Tuesday, but then we moved it to Friday and that was crazy. From Tuesday through Thursday, we had "Mad Hatter Night" and those were big.
"On Saturday, we'd switch off every two weeks. We'd have either "Sudden Saturday" and we'd open at 6 o'clock and do 50-cent cocktails for two hours or we'd have "Champagne Saturday," and we'd serve rotgut champagne. There were nights when we would literally have hundreds of people standing in line, waiting to get in."
One of the people in line was author Paul McComas, a Milwaukee native whose semi-autobiographical new novel "Planet of the Dates," published by The Permanent Press, includes a chapter about the club. An excerpt from Chapter 4:
"The Park Avenue was everything I'd hoped for: swanky and sumptuous, a grand, glimmering, bi-level disco palace. The translucent dance floor was laid out in a multi-colored grid and illumined from below by thousands of bulbs that flashed, rapid-fire, to the rhythm. Suspended above, a rotating mirror ball the size of a satellite sent a spectral web of light cascading across everything in sight. On the upper level couples stood, drinks in hand, elbows on the rail, gazing down at the dancers-who merited the attention: dodging and swirling, twisting and twirling, hard-eyed young men and haughty young women, black and brown and white together, united by the beat, by the heat, by their predilection for garish inorganic fabrics and, at this moment, by the powerhouse falsetto of Sylvester:
"You make me feel . . . mi-ighty real."
"Ooo! You make me feel . . . mi-ighty real.
Of course, the Park Avenue may have been many things, but "real" wasn't one of them. Then again, people didn't go there seeking reality; they went to escape it. As for me, standing open-mouthed and agog in the midst of it all, my own desire was to find, within and through this utmost unreality, one absolutely authentic woman . . . someone who, if I played my cards right, just might make me feel real. Mighty real. . ."
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Ahhhh The Park - I actually worked there around 1985 as a bartender - as did a HS chum named Karl - my cousin Tom danced there alot ... Great memories! I meet my future wife there in fact ... Ah the stories to be told - hey it was the 80's - I loved the video mix, where else coud you see Dead or Alive / Love and Rockets / ABC / Alan Parsons videos all in one place. It was a GREAT crowd - sure there was some stupidty - I remember a door guy getting a shirt ripped off his body by some girl being taken out the door by force - things like that - but - all in all a very mature respectful crowd. Loved reading the posts - Shooter Chair - JA!
Milwaukee has not had any place since that rivals the old Park Avenue. Where else could you go on a Sunday evening and see videos by Grace Jones,Divine and Nina Hagen? Or dancing to "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" with the bubble machine going full blast.
Musician; I knew some tight butt would call me on that! I'm a milwaukee musician too, and I was right there at Teddy's, Zak's, Century Hall (and whatever place you will noticed I left out) right along side you, I suppose. I was just talking about that period of time in the early 80's when seeing the new wave scene on a video at a major club was unique and special. I am sure you remember that pre-Duran Duran craze time when Soft Cell broke and for a split second Color Radio was on a commercial station and everyone thought the XCleavers would get that record contract. That summer in 1983 when everyone showed up at Summerfest to see the Femmes play, everyone knew the words, and they looked as surprised as anyone. That time when the 200 or so people in the scene wished for a day "our music" would be on more stations than WMSE. And then we got our wish... "our music" got popular and it all blew up and got boring... and by 1987 the whole thing was dead. Now if you watch MTV or Vh1 they make it look like they always loved msuic that they barely played and if they did it was once during 120 minutes. But I remember when I went to Park Avenue and it felt like a cultural revolution was going to come because they played a Eurythmics video. That's because at that time, unless you were some suburban bore with cable, in 1982, there was no place to see a music video, much less one that wasnt main stream. Even trying to imagine a time in which the Eurythmics wasnt mainstream, but actually cutting edge, is hard to imagine today.
Myke | Feb. 26, 2008 at 6:38 p.m. (report)
Another very popular hot spot from back in the day is still open! El Robos in the Grand Hotel across from MKE used to pack em in,even with the outrageous(at the time) $5 cover.The cover is gone & so is the overcrowding.It's now called Scooter's in the Wyndam.It is otherwise essentially unchanged, with a healthy mix of the old classics along with some of today's top 40.Why the DJ has even been there about 2 decades !
Musician | Feb. 26, 2008 at 8:29 a.m. (report)
Krunken, it wasn't the only place to dance to new wave. You could have danced to new wave made by any of many great Milwaukee bands at clubs all over town. Oh right, a lot of Milwaukeeans don't support local music ("it's not as good cuz it's from here") and if they do, they most likely don't dance to it. The Milwaukee Moat must be respected! :-)
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