By Royal Brevvaxling Special to Published Oct 02, 2011 at 11:04 AM

There's no sign marking the location of Kruz, 354 E. National Ave. "You either know Kruz or you don't," says Jerry Breiling, co-owner of the bar.

Breiling attributes this to "old-school thinking," as in when gay people needed to proactively protect themselves and their property from other, hate-filled, people.

"If you have a sign, people can come by and find (customer's) cars," says Breiling.

Customers of the gay bar This Is It, 418 N. Wells St., which has remained tucked away just down the street from Cathedral Square for over 40 years, used to have to enter through the alley. The reason the famous M&M Club, formerly at 124 N. Water St., had boards over the windows is because unprotected glass would get smashed by hateful homophobes. There is now a somewhat improved cultural climate for LGBTQ people, occasional statements about alarm clocks from politicians notwithstanding, and around Walker's Point a thriving bar scene continues to grow.

In 2006, Breiling and partner Serge Pellicelli set out to open a gay bar, and a "man's gay bar" at that. Reportedly a "leather bar," Kruz actually has a diverse crowd. Breiling has found that bears, leather and Levi people all get along in Kruz, and that younger customers bring their girlfriends.

"We actually get a lot of women in here, but we're still known as a gay bar. The old scene will never totally be gone, but it's nice to see the new generation of gay people, they mix a lot more," says Breiling.

It's still pretty quiet in Harbor View, Kruz's little corner of the city, surrounded by warehouses, old industry and a few boat yards. Before Wherehouse and Hot Water, 818 S. Water St., opened Breiling says they were "the only thing here."

Kruz has a two-for-one happy hour special weekdays from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Everything is available for the special. Kruz does not serve any food, although for some holidays and for the bar's anniversary (they opened Thanksgiving weekend 2006) they like to make food to bring in as a customer appreciation.

Breiling and Pellicelli designed a bar based on their observations and their own preferences going out. "When people go out to bars, they usually change location every two hours, so we wanted to change the scene in the bar every so often so people will stay for another drink," Breiling says.

The building that houses Kruz was built in 1899 and is in excellent condition, thanks in part to Breiling's and Pellicelli's efforts. Before Kruz, there was another bar in the space known as the Firehouse and before that, a bar called the South Water Street Docks.

Breiling and Pellicelli put a lot of work into renovating the space when they took it over, including refurbishing the floors, toilets, sinks and bar coolers. They added soft, padded chairs to line the bar and commissioned artwork by Wim Griffith, which is located throughout. An iron sculpture by Griffith near the patio door has become the bar's logo, even appearing on a flag. When they bought the building two years ago, they also tuckpointed the mortar lines, put on a new roof and continued with the interior renovations, like ramping up their light show.

"It's only used periodically, for diversity. Considering we're not a dance club, we've got more lights in here than you can imagine," says Breiling.

Last summer, Breiling and Pellicelli added a patio between the back of the building and the parking lot. Designed by Pellicelli, the Kruz patio is easily one of the best bar patios in the city with gas heaters, table-top fire pits and comfortable, sturdy, custom-made furniture.

"No cheap, plastic Target sh*t. It's like coming to the garden at our house," says Breiling.

Breiling, who has always liked gardening, has also adorned the patio with an array of beautiful, exotic plants. Through trial and error, Breiling has developed a true skill, and the plants on Kruz's patio are really something to behold.

"I've liked gardening my whole life, and because winter is so f**king long, it's nice to plant, and people enjoy it," says Breiling.

Breiling is 51 years old. He's been in the industry for over 35 years, beginning at Mary's Diner on Brady Street when he was 12. Breiling has been tending bar since he was 18. Some of his bartending gigs include the Harbor Room and the Rec Room. Breiling also waited tables briefly at the M&M Club and worked 12 years at one of the Hamburger Mary's locations in Hawaii.

Pellicelli is an IT consultant originally from Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec, Canada. A system developer and project manager, he's one of the first graduates in Canada with the then-new computing degrees in 1974. He moved to California 20 years ago and worked for a firm with contracts in Milwaukee, flying back and forth each week. Doing a 180, he now resides in Milwaukee and flies to Los Angeles for work.

The two claim to have an amazing business relationship with no conflict and attribute this in part to a division of labor. Breiling runs the front of the house and Pellicelli handles all the business paperwork.

"I don't like sitting at a desk," says Breiling.

Pellicelli says he understands the bar business from adapting his perspective on his IT clients. They say that in both the gay and straight communities, people tend to like one person in a relationship or the other, and they play off this knowledge to get things done. Developing a customer base came naturally to both of them, starting with Breiling's built-in clientele from being a bartender for so long. Now almost all of their business is generated through word-of-mouth and Facebook.

The business and life partners met at the Boot Camp Saloon, which had a fire and closed earlier this year.

"He took a big risk opening this with me," says Breiling, referring to Pellicelli, his partner of 12 years.

But Pellicelli doesn't think so. "I believed in you. I wouldn't have been with you to begin with if I didn't believe in you," he says to Breiling.

Pellicelli was married to a woman in Canada for 13 years. He has a 29-year-old daughter who still resides in Quebec City with her two children. Pellicelli takes Breiling with him to visit his grandchildren about four times a year.

"They (Pellicelli's grandkids) like me. They don't speak English, so they yell out to me in French. I yell back in English," says Breiling.

Breiling and Pellicelli say being hands-on in their business makes a big difference. And they don't put up with a lot of stuff, from both customers and bartenders.

"Once you're 86'd from here, you can't ever come back," says Breiling.

Breiling and Pellicelli say they only hire "no attitude" bartenders, which contributes greatly to the bar's atmosphere and to all the people from the different groups getting along so well. Breiling says Kruz is called so for a reason, people "come here to cruise, to meet people" and distractions from interacting with other people are minimized. Breiling doesn't even like seeing people sending text messages when they could be interacting with other people face-to-face in the bar. And they don't have TV, except for Packers games.

"We have a $5,000 TV that gets played 12 times a year," says Breiling.

Royal Brevvaxling Special to
Royal Brevväxling is a writer, educator and visual artist. As a photo essayist, he also likes to tell stories with pictures. In his writing, Royal focuses on the people who make Milwaukee an inviting, interesting and inspiring place to live.

Royal has taught courses in critical pedagogy, writing, rhetoric and cultural studies at several schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He is currently Adjunct Associate Professor of Humanities at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

Royal lives in Walker’s Point with his family and uses the light of the Polish Moon to illuminate his way home.