Kathy Krau did not intend to open a lesbian bar when she opened Kathy's Nut Hut, 1500 W. Scott St., in 1982. She says she thought she was opening primarily a "straight" bar, especially since she inherited the mostly heterosexual neighborhood clientele from the previous bar.
But it didn't take long for gay women, particularly those involved on softball and pool teams, to find the place. Word traveled fast through the lesbian community that Krau, who is gay, opened a comfortable, affordable tavern.
What happened next is almost idyllic. The old-school clientele, members of the LGBT community and young, new guys from the neighborhood started hanging out in the same space. And they interacted. And they got along.
This melting pot mentality has existed now for 30 years. Ray Santiago says he came into the bar years ago on a bet and has returned almost every night ever since.
"The friendships here are beautiful. And these ladies challenge me and I was glad I was challenged," says Santiago. "A miracle has happened in this bar. As long as you show respect, you are welcome here."
A few years ago, Krau sold the bar to friend and Nut Hut bartender, Michelle Murphy, who runs the business with her partner, Dawn Musbach. Murphy changed the name to Nut Hut, and has recently, finally, settled on a new logo for the tavern. Musbach says they plan to hang a sign on the exterior of the building later this year.
According to Santiago, it's Murphy's and Musbach's personalities that make the bar what it is. Musbach, who calls herself a "beer server" not a bartender, is the face of the Nut Hut and a customer favorite.
"Any given day, I'll tell it how it is to my customers," says Musbach. "One day, I was picking on all of them, and I said, 'I'm surprised you come in here.'"
Later, on a more serious note, Musbach admits to loving people and having a lot of patience for the human race. She then nods at an elderly man sitting at the bar drinking a can of soda.
"Like him. He gets really grumpy when he drinks, so we came to a compromise. He can come in here, but he only drinks soda," she says. "We worked it out."
The secret to Nut Hut's three-decade-long success, she says, is the diversity, the tradition and the prices. Pints of beer are $2 and bottles, including imports, are $3. They have nightly specials, like Tipsy Tuesday, offering up $5 pitchers and $2 shots of Jack Daniels and 2-4-1 Thirsty Thursdays.
Plus, they often serve food during baseball and football games, and not just the typical crock pot of chili. During a recent Packers game they had Indian tacos. Whenever there are leftovers, a woman from across the street comes over and delivers the food to neighborhood people and shelters.
"Whether people knew us as Kathy's or Nut Hut, they know that we're good people and our prices are cheap," says Musbach.
Nut Hut has continued the softball tradition and still has teams today. They also have dart leagues, a pool table, video games (including Ms. Pac Man) and, up until recently, karaoke. Bruce Tabora, a dear friend of the owners who passed away last summer, hosted the karaoke nights and Musbach says it hasn't felt right to bring back the event just yet.
2011 brought a lot of loss into Murphy's and Musbach's lives, which was the main reason why they did not participate in the Pride Parade last June, even though they had created a float almost every year prior and won multiple trophies.
There is a large collage of photos of Tabora hanging on the wall of the bar, not far from another cluster of photos memorializing other employees and friends who have passed away. Over the years, they have had many raffles to raise money for ill employees and customers or their families.
"If somebody needs someone, we step up to the plate," says Musbach.
Musbach says she and Murphy, who have been together for six years, have traveled to many other cities, and are yet to find a bar with the same vibe as Nut Hut. Despite the hardships, which include a challenging economy, they know they have something pretty special.
"We have it really good here. People are really accepting," she says. "There's been no trouble here. None."
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.