A major part of this movement was the straight edge scene; kids that went to clubs to dance and listen to their music, but who didn’t smoke and eschewed drugs and alcohol.
As a result, alcohol-free clubs with clear air and juice bars sprang up. Milwaukee’s contribution was the short-lived Yano’s, a precursor to the current Milwaukee Street club scene, located at 727 N. Milwaukee St., from January to April 1985.
Attorney Peter Flessas -- then a young musician in a punk bank called NRK -- opened the club with help from his dad, Peter Sr. Now, more than 20 years after its demise, Flessas is working to document the club’s history.
“I'm planning to publish through blurb.com a coffee table book about Yano's,” he says. “The book will be chronological and document the four short months that the club existed, using posters, photos and commentary from local musicians and former patrons. The tentative title is ‘Kids, Pepsi & Punk Rock’.”
Yano’s first gig was Jan. 12, 1985 and featured Flessas’ NRK and Disdain. By the time Out of Order and J.U.A. closed the place on April 20 of the same year, the no-frills, third-floor club had hosted Naked Raygun, Madison’s Tar Babies, Dr. Know, Milwaukee’s The Crusties (seen in the photo above, taken at a March 2, 1985 show) and Die Kreuzen, The Dead Milkmen and a host of others.
Having been a patron on a number of occasions -- the Naked Raygun show was a killer! -- I remember Yano’s as a place where punks of, literally, all ages could enjoy music together.
With the drinking age seemingly constantly on the rise at the time (first it jumped to 19, then to 21), there were few places teen punks could see bands. And the shows at Yano’s were early enough that kids could make it home before curfew.
But Milwaukee’s establishment appeared terrified of any gathering of young people, and it seemed almost written in the stars that Yano’s was doomed to fail. It was just going too well.
At that final show on April 20, Milwaukee Police arrived to shut the club down after reports of overcrowding. About a third of the reported 150 club-goers, it was said, refused to leave the scene at 10 p.m., and were, in the words of the morning newspaper, allegedly “roughed up by baton-wielding police officers.”
A newspaper report quoted Flessas Sr., also an attorney, as saying, “I saw four officers pick up one kid and throw him up against a wall. There’s a blood spot on the wall.”
An officer countered that, “We’re not about to go in and start hitting a bunch of kids just to get them to leave. It’s a matter of perception and I think it’s certainly being overplayed.”
While newspapers reported that several of the youths were treated at Columbia Hospital for cuts and bruises, then-police chief Robert J. Ziarnik suggested the injuries were due to dancing.
“I’ve heard that people can get hurt that way, too,” he told the Journal.
In an editorial that ran a few days later, Joel McNally wrote, with tongue firmly in cheek:
“Now that Yano’s has been cleared by force, the city can be expected to use every possible ordinance and building code to keep it closed. The decent people of Milwaukee can never feel truly safe until the city has been rid of kids and their vile gatherings.”
He was right. Despite a protest by about 50 kids outside the Reuss Federal Plaza, Yano’s was shuttered and all ages gigs became rare again, forcing kids to break the law by getting fake IDs or sneaking into clubs via back doors. Once in, they were free to drink, smoke and stay out well beyond curfew.
Flessas the younger is on the lookout for anything relating to his old club for the book, which he hopes to publish online at blurb.com by the end of the year.
“I'm currently in the process of tracking down materials and people for comments,” he says. “I'm looking for people who had been to Yano's to contribute.”
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