"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com – brought to you by Stoli Vodka, Altos Tequila, Fireball, OR-G, Jim Beam, Plymouth Gin and 2 Gingers – is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews, the results of our Best of Bars poll and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
In 1995, Matty Gonzales received a phone call from his sister, Nicole Denil, that changed the course of his life. At the time, he was 17 years old and living in Wisconsin Rapids with his parents, but his sister invited him to move to Milwaukee for the summer to work at – and live above – a bar called Nomad World Pub that she and her then-boyfriend, Mike Eitel, had opened in March.
"Of course I wanted to move to Milwaukee and live above a bar. Living in Wisconsin Rapids sucked. The town has great schools – I got a college-level education in high school – but the town was so boring I started smoking pot and having sex when I was 13," says Gonzales.
Somewhat surprisingly, Gonzales’ parents agreed to the move and made Denil his legal guardian for the summer. Even though Gonzales’ father was aware of his son’s rebellious nature, he trusted him. When Gonzales was 16, his father noticed small groups of people coming over to the house for short periods of time and finally, one day, he asked his son if he was selling pot. Without a pause, Gonzales said, "Yes."
"Obviously he wasn’t thrilled with my answer – and he told me he wasn’t going to bail me out of jail – but from that point on, he knew I would always tell him the truth," says Gonzales. "Later he asked me if I was cheating in school, because I had a 4.0 but I rarely went. Again, I told him the truth: no. I wasn’t cheating in school."
Gonzales moved to Brady Street and worked as one of the Nomad’s first doormen. During that time, he met and fell in love with a bartender named Lori Beyer.
"It took me all summer to get her to date me because I was 17, but we ended up being together for years," says Gonzales.
At the end of the summer, Gonzales moved back to Wisconsin Rapids to finish high school. In love with his girlfriend and his life in Milwaukee, Gonzales made the 3 1/2-hour drive back to the city almost every weekend.
"I stole cars, I hitchhiked – whatever I needed to do to get back," he says.
After completing the first semester of his senior year in Wisconsin Rapids, Gonzales, who had turned 18, decided to move in with Beyer in Milwaukee and finish school at Riverside University High School. He graduated from Riverside in 1996 and started to work a few jobs, including at the Nomad, a job he would retain for a dozen years.
"I was a doorman, a bartender and a manager until I fired myself and demoted myself back to being a bartender," says Gonzales.
After The Nomad, Gonzales went on to work at The Highbury and the Up & Under Pub. Today, he works at Sabbatic – he has been there since the bar opened in 2009 – and is a co-owner of The Standard where he also tends bar regularly.
One day, while Gonzales was still working at the Nomad, Rob Atwood (a former Milwaukeean who now resides in Door County) came into the bar. Atwood worked next door at what was then a bondage shop called Tie Me Down and he invited Gonzales to his gig at Hooligan’s that night. Gonzales went.
"He was so nervous he played the gig with his back to the crowd," says Gonzales. "For the first 10 shows or so after he plugged his guitar in with a 25-foot cable so he could run out the door and vomit while playing. You would never believe it now, years later, if you saw him on stage."
Atwood and Gonzales became friends and a few years later, Gonzales went in with a group of people on a bus ticket to Florida for Atwood, who was suffering health problems. When Atwood came back to Milwaukee, he offered to give Gonzales guitar lessons in return for using one of his guitars.
"I wasn’t a musician, but I always loved music. I grew up listening to all of my dad’s vinyl and tape collection because that’s all I had access to. The Beatles, Bob Dylan – the kind of stuff you would expect a guy who only lived in L.A. and ‘Nam and Wisconsin Rapids to listen to for the rest of his life," says Gonzales. "We sang a lot together: ‘American Pie,’ ‘Rocky Raccoon’ to my sister when she as a baby. And he taught me some chords on the guitar. I learned to play ‘Closer To Fine’ for my older sister because she was a huge Indigo Girls’ fan."
However, within 10 minutes of his first lesson, Gonzales says Atwood was surprised and impressed with Gonzales’ guitar playing abilities and suggested they start a band together.
"He told me he thought I was going to suck, but instead he didn’t know what to teach me or tell me. My ego was soaring," says Gonzales.
The two got together for one rehearsal with brothers John and Michael McWilliam and played punk-rock renditions of Motown songs including "My Girl" by The Temptations and an X-rated version of Al Green’s "Back Up Train."
That night, they decided to do a show at The Nomad, named the band Gotown and continued to play out for another six months. To this day, Gonzales says he occasionally pulls out one of these songs.
"I’ve played really, really dirty versions of songs in front of a lot of people, including my mother. God bless her for loving me anyway and not thinking I’m a douchebag," says Gonzales.
Later, Gonzales and Atwood broke off as a duo and created Kiss Me, I’m Sick. They went to record an album with Milwaukee’s Jeff Hamilton at what was then Hamtone Studios. Hamilton contributed so much musically to the album that by the end of the recording process he was in the band, too.
"That band blew up. We were huge for awhile," says Gonzales.
During this time, Gonzales says his guitar playing improved greatly, thanks to the massive number of live shows the band played as well as the influence of Hamilton’s guitar-playing expertise and high expectations.
"Any time I made a mistake, Jeff would give me this look that I can’t really describe, other than to say it's that look you get from someone – maybe a teacher or a parent – that makes you so embarrassed that you want to crawl into your own skin and die. That’s how one look from Jeff made me feel. And it made me better. A lot better. Because that’s the only way to get better – being terrified into being good. And I couldn’t love him more for it. Granted we’ll go out and get drunk and I’ll knock him out every once in a while because he can be a complete d*ck, but I love him more than anyone at the same time."
Friendship is one of Gonzales’ core values – and it always has been.
"I hate most people, but once you have a piece of my heart there’s nothing I won’t do for you," he says.
In 2004, musician Ryan Daniels asked Gonzales if he wanted to sit in with him and a few other guys for a side project called The Cocksmiths. After one rehearsal, it was clear the band had a lot of potential and within six months recorded an album.
Gonzales and Daniels both played guitar, sang and wrote songs. The Cocksmiths garnered a huge following, packed venues and put out two albums. The band was together for almost a decade, but eventually its members moved on to take up other responsibilities.
"That was the closest I came to making it," he says. "If something had happened, if the right person saw us, I believe we had the talent, the look, everything that was needed to make it," says Gonzales. "Unfortunately, we never got the right opportunity. A hot trophy wife of some record exec never came to one of our shows; however, I had a lot of incredible experiences in the Cocksmiths. And I opened for some of my idols because of that band (Eddie Spaghetti, Danko Jones). I’ll always be thankful for that."
Today, Daniels and Gonzales play a couple of shows a year under the name Couple-A-Cocksmiths and Gonzales and Hamilton – along with Brian Kasprzak – have a band called Alcoholics Unanimous.
Gonzales says his father’s taste in lyric-focused musicians deeply affected his love for writing, along with his mother’s gift for editing and voracious reading.
"Everything I’ve ever needed to learn about women, I’ve learned from reading Anais Nin," says Gonzales. "I highlighted all of my favorite parts in 'Henry and June' and when I lent it to my mom – that might sound weird, but I did – she said she loved every line I highlighted and highlighted a couple of her own."
Over the years, Gonzales has written hundreds of songs with lyrics that range from witty ("You need a sugar daddy, I need a diabetic mama") to raw ("Creepin' through this broken mind is a desperation I’ve tried to hide / Dripping off this silver tongue is enough reversion to come undone. When I’m crawling through your spine, I take the knife out of my teeth and try to hide.")
"You can’t have a great song without great lyrics. You need at least one brilliant line, although I’d prefer at least two or three," says Gonzales.
Gonzales is currently single and lives on the East Side with one roommate who spends most of her time at her boyfriend’s place. He says most of the time he prefers it that way.
"I don’t mind the idea of a house or maybe even a wife if she’s so rad I can’t not marry her, but I really hate kids," says Gonzales. "They are so needy and it’s not the burping diaper part, it’s the constant ‘why?’ I have no patience for describing things I just think people should know. I’m well aware I’m a f**king ass because of it, but I’m not built that way. I can’t. I just can’t."
At 37, Gonzales says he is starting to think more about the future. Sometimes he considers moving back to Wisconsin Rapids to work as an electrician with his best friend and to hang out with his family.
"I wouldn’t mind spending more time with my old man during his twilight years," says Gonzales. "Social security isn’t going to last, so more and more I wonder what the hell I’m going to do. I don’t live paycheck to paycheck. I live day to day."
However, Gonzales doesn’t have huge expectations of his future, as long as it includes music, bartending and maybe a little travel.
"I don’t need to trek through the Andes anymore. I’m not a kid. I don’t care about that anymore. I want a f**king beach where I can let the gut hang out and not give a sh*t. I want an umbrella in my rum. Color me an old, fat bastard or a weird, glorious bastard, I don’t care. Actually, I would go with the latter," he says.
Gonzales is, and always has been, at peace with himself – something his mother pointed out to him as a teenager. "I was 16 and still holding her hand at the mall, because I wanted to and I didn’t give a sh*t, and she told me that was rare. That I was different because I did exactly what I wanted to do," he says.
As an adult, Gonzales says he found faith in Catholicism, something he rarely talks about.
"I’m not one of those people who is going to try to sell someone on my religion. If anyone tried to do that to me I’d punch them in the throat. I found my faith, and it’s right for me," he says. "Enough said."
Even though Gonzales believes in God, much of his faith stems from within, from a place where he completely understands and believes in himself. The part of himself his mother identified long ago.
"Since I was really young, I just knew me and I wasn’t afraid to accept everything and never be ashamed for anything about myself. Knowing yourself is the key to getting everything you want out of life. It takes a lot of people 40, 50, 60 years to really know who they are," says Gonzales. "This is my only advice to the young: if you want to live a fulfilled life, figure out who you are and don't worry about it. If you’re a jock from a small town who wants to date a chick with a big rack and a cock, just admit it and go for it. You will eventually find yourself there anyway, so give yourself an extra 20 years of happiness. Don’t be afraid. Go with it."
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.