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The belief that to be punk you have to look punk is a concept that’s as musty as your grandma’s combat boots. And yet, if rocking a mohawk and patch-plastered black jacket is your thing, well, that’s fine too. Gatekeeping is dead in 2024.
Whatever punk is now, it’s alive and well in Milwaukee. Just over two years ago, Last Rites – named after a 1980s Scottish punk band – opened at 625 S. 6th St. in Walker’s Point. Since then, the bar and music venue has welcomed local, national and international punk and metal bands, never had a cover charge and engaged with the community on myriad levels.
"We are a punk bar, but that means we're an everyone bar," says co-owner Kay Jones. "We support our community. And that’s punk. Our values are simple: do no harm, take no sh-t and support the people around you. We support the people we love and even the people we don’t love – but we'll give them a kick in the ass if we have to.”
Last Rites has a strict policy of never charging a cover charge, but that doesn’t mean bands play for free. Instead, they receive a percentage of total sales from open to close, donations from audience members and, of course, free drinks.
“The whole point of this place is to eliminate financial barriers and give access to artists doing cool sh-t,” says co-owner Jim Rice.
All of the beverages – except for doubles or those made with energy drinks – are $6 or cheaper. They serve local and macro canned beer; Tullamore D.E.W. (“Tully”) is the house shot and mixed drinks are kept simple.
“Our most complicated cocktail is a press because it uses two kinds of soda,” says Rice. “We’re mostly a beer-and-a-shot bar.”
Last Rites also provides for sober friends and customers with a strong selection of NA beers, nonalcoholic spirits and Liquid Death canned water.
“A lot of aging punks are sober now which is rad,” says Rice. “Nobody here needs to drink alcohol to be a part of it.”
During the summer, Last Rites hosts 2-4 live bands a week. Many are local, some are national and even a few are international.
“We have a lot of local shows and we’ve had bands from France, Germany, Canada,” says Rice. “The largest band we’ve had is MDC. We still can’t believe how smoothly that went.”
Last Rites is also committed to being supportive neighbors and doing positive endeavors in the city. They have strong relationships with Camacho’s, Promise’s and Zocolo Food Truck Park which share the same square block and raise funds for non-profit organizations including MKE Overdose Prevention, Planned Parenthood of Milwaukee, Hunger Task Force, Courage MKE, The Trevor Project and HAWS. A street clean-up initiative is also in the works.
Last Rites' purple walls are adorned with tapestries and show fliers and much of the furniture is second-hand from shuttered local businesses. The bar chairs come from G-Daddy’s BBC Bar & Grill; the pew is from the original Hamburger Mary’s in Bay View; the tables once lived in Lucky Joe’s Tiki Bar and a large barrel used for storage is from Gibraltar’s original location on National Avenue (now Promise’s).
The bathrooms are covered in graffiti, but despite punk bar stereotypes, clean and highly functional is important to Jones and Rice.
"We don't want even one fruit fly!" says Jones, who is the lead vocalist of punk band Revolt.
As the name of this series suggest, Last Rites truly is a hidden gem. Literally, it doesn’t have a sign – well, a sign with its name on it, anyway. There’s a blinking box of light hanging from the facade. But it’s also a hidden gem in spirit.
“We give people a space to be unique. It's not us. All we do is provide the soundtrack and somewhere to go,” says Jones. “People from all walks file in on any given day and get to be themselves. The atmosphere is full of friends, new and old."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.