Old newspaper ads for Milwaukee clubs open a world of unwritten history.
In the 1961 collection we see above, there's info about a My Office on Muskego Avenue, not to be confused with the one still open Downtown, where you could hear Sonny Kraft's Country Gentlemen and "western and roll 'n' roll music" by Ed Porter.
There was also a Celebrity Club on 12th Street, just south of Walnut in Bronzeville, where singer and pianist Mary Reed was accompanied by bassist Bill Jordan, who my friend College Dave remembers later as the owner of Mayfield's.
In other "doppelganger" bar news, there was also a place called The Tonic at 900 S. 16th St. Like the eponymous place in Bay View today, the old Tonic hosted live music.
I'm intrigued by Maynard's Wagon Wheel, which had country music by Sonny Williams and His Band – playing covers, it seems – and Valenti's Blue Ridge Lounge's Hawaiian musical weekend. Both those sites are now vacant. Same is true for the site of Mr. Kelly's on Juneau (previously known as the Diplomat Musical Lounge), which hosted jazz, just like the Driftwood Lounge on Capitol Drive, across from WTMJ, did.
The Gay 90's on 5th and Michigan was keeping vaudeville alive with "song," "fun" and "music" and A place at "2358 N. (Upper) 3rd St.," called Greg Logan's Cocktail Room, hosted "Tom and Jerrys' Flaming Blue Blazers."
But what caught my eye most of all was the Pink Poodle on Highway 100 and Beloit Road. Who would expect to a find a pink poodle, real or imagined, all the way out there?
But the Pink Poodle must've been the place to be if Chubby Neiland was playing there.
Neiland was described in 1953 as "the behemoth organist at the Five O'Clock Club," in a Sentinel tidbit that recounted this episode:
"(Neiland) was spotted eating one of those huge steaks in a local eatery. A friend passed by and looked at the enormous steak and remarked, 'Surely you're not going to eat that alone, are you?' Without looking up from the meat platter, Chubby replied promptly, 'Certainly not. With potatoes."
His "return" to the venue in 1954 was noted by the morning paper.
"Chubby Neilan (sic) is back at the Hammond at the 5 O'Clock Club. Conversion of the club to a steak house probably was responsible for his return, considering Chubby's unquenchable appetite."
Neiland loved steaks, but Milwaukee loved Neiland.
By 1958, at least, Neiland was a regular at the Pink Poodle, playing every Friday and Saturday. But he must've performed there earlier, too, because as you can see from the ad here, "he's back by popular demand." Apparently, Neiland replaced organist El Ewig, who had moved up to Appleton to work at Skall's Colonial Wonder Bar, at the P-Poo.
The Hammond C3 organ – and leslie speaker – that Neiland played are still upstairs in the Alley Cat Lounge at The 5 O'Clock, where musicians still use it.
And then there was this, which to my early 21st century eyes is extremely offensive ...
I don't even know what to say about this ad from the early 1960s. I haven't had much luck finding out about this place, but, look, Martha Artis – a respected singer and vocal teacher – performed there!
Trying to chart the changes in Milwaukee's old club scene is difficult business. Luckily, the newspapers gave the vicissitudes ink over the years.
But, as an example of the complexity, check out this excerpt from Jim Koconis' Night Life Chatter column in the Sentinel in June 1957, which run under the headline, "Activity of Past Years Recalled."
Note that this is but, perhaps, one third of the column...
"At the Club Terris (see above), Grandma was busy making a name for herself nationally ... Virginia Wallman gave up the China Cupboard ... The present Nino's Steak House went through a lengthy 'change of name' sequence. Remember when it was the Gay 90's, Dequardo's, then the Crest? ... Villa Venice replaced the famed Club 26 where Tommy Richards, Carrie Finnel, Crip Heard, Nellie Lutcher and Count Basie once performed (ed. note: why is Basie listed last in this sequence?!) ... Irv Radloff became the wheel at the Circle Lounge when Charlie Wolf quit the circuit ... Ken LeVigne made a western spot out of the Colonial Bar ... Dan David didn't budge from his Club 41 stronghold on Lisbon Ave. ... The Distelfink closed and the Downtowner opened ... Dan's Spot changed to Uncle Dans and so did the location – same Dan ... Joe Deutsch's famed restaurant became history with Joe himself taking on new duties at Capitol Terrace, recently opened ... Alex Korchunoff took over the 'gold ceilinged' Empire Lounge from Freddy Jordan ... Step Wharton entertained at the East Town ... Eckert's dance palace became the Key Club, then a super bar type operation ... The organ at the 5 O'Clock Club was manned by Chubby Neiland."
Whew ... and, thanks to Chubby, we've come full circle.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.