Milwaukee LGBT Guide
Note: The contents of this guide were checked for accuracy when this article was updated on March 21, 2007 at 5:35 a.m. We continually update the thousands of articles on OnMilwaukee.com, but it's possible some details, specials and offers may have changed. As always, we recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the businesses mentioned in the guide.
I don't know about you, but I always thought that Laverne and Shirley were gay. Given that the bottle-capping pair from Schotz Brewery lived in Milwaukee, the city always had a certain rainbow glow for me, even before I moved here more than 15 years ago.
There Goes the Neighborhood
The city's reputation virtually clinks and jingles with mainstream American cultural markers like Harley-Davidson, The Fonz, breweries and brats. Yet in spite of its blue-collar image, Milwaukee is increasingly gay-friendly. Let this guide welcome you to LGBT life in our city.
Milwaukeeans are certainly part of the overall U.S. trend toward increased comfort with LGBT people. Still, a Midwestern, "don't ask-don't tell" sort of tolerance prevails in much of the city. Generally speaking, gay Milwaukeeans aren't exactly holding hands in the streets, but a few neighborhoods stand out as welcoming places for LGBT folks. Here are some highlights to get you started exploring gay Brew City:
If any part of town could be considered Milwaukee's "gay neighborhood," it would be Walker's Point -- at least at night. The majority of the city's gay and lesbian bars and clubs are ensconced in this working-class immigrant neighborhood, under the glowing, four-sided Allen-Bradley clock. Stepping out from the intersection of 2nd Street and National Avenue, you will find a range of bars serving male, female and mixed crowds. If you're into work by LGBT artists, you should also plan a daytime visit to the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, 703 S. 2nd St., (414) 383-3727, milwaukeegayartscenter.org, to see the latest exhibit. The MGAC is home to a small theatre company that performs gay-themed works by local and national playwrights. On the northern edge of the neighborhood is Barossa, a lesbian-owned restaurant that draws many of its organic ingredients from local growers and will please vegetarians and omnivores alike, 235 S. 2nd St., (414) 272-8466, barossawinebar.com.
The city's East Side is politically progressive, home to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, and generally gay-friendly. This eminently walkable part of town offers great opportunities for both window shopping and outdoor activities. Several lovely parks (in particular, Lake Park and Riverside Park, both designed by the legendary Frederick Law Olmsted) make great settings for picnicking and people-watching. A walk or roll down the Oak Leaf bike path will bring you through the east side, from the near-north suburbs to Downtown, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the shores of Lake Michigan.
Some other East Side highlights:
Eight quirky blocks mixing upscale dining and boutique shopping with lowbrow drinking, and still retaining bits of its Italian immigrant roots and trippy-hippie heyday. Out of Solitude, 918 E. Brady St., (414) 223-3101, outofsolitude.com, specializes in custom jewelry, including rings for same-sex commitment ceremonies, and Anomaly Design, 816 E. Brady St., (414) 272-0816, has all those shiny design baubles you forgot to order from the MOMA catalog.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Visit the UWM Union, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd., (414) 229-1122, uwm.edu, when school's in session for regular film festivals, live performances, art exhibits, and lectures. The UWM neighborhood also is home to Outwords, Milwaukee's gay bookstore and prime outlet for LGBT videos, gifts and rainbow gear, 2710 N. Murray Ave., (414) 963-9089, outwordsbooks.com.
East North Avenue
The area around the intersection of North and Farwell Avenues features a number of locally owned clothing and gift stores, the jewelbox Oriental movie theatre, and Beans & Barley, a natural food store and restaurant which is worth the visit just for the community bulletin board. Look on the crowded Beans board for upcoming performances by Milwaukee's very own Miltown Kings (miltownkings.com) drag ensemble or the next Brew City Bruisers roller derby rumble (brewcitybruisers.com).
On the west bank of the Milwaukee River between North Avenue and Capitol Drive, sits the charmingly untameable Riverwest, a neighborhood in which, as one resident says, "Queer neighbors aren't just tolerated; they're expected." Undeniably unique, Riverwest boasts an anarchist infoshop, a fire-spinning school and the city's most dignified sex toy shop (Tool Shed, 804 E. Center St., 414-562-9338). For a treat, stop by the café at the volunteer-run Riverwest Food Co-op, 733 E. Clarke St., (414) 264-7933, riverwestcoop.org, which will serve you all the vegetarian/vegan delights you can swallow for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or weekend brunch. The area also is home to a very welcoming, mixed straight/LGBT bar, ArtBar, 722 E. Burleigh St., (414) 372-7880, artbar-riverwest.com, which, as you might suspect, offers original art for sale with your beer or martini.
A formerly independent town and now fondly nicknamed "Gay View," Bay View still has its own downtown, centered on Kinnickinnic Avenue ("KK" in local parlance). Check out our cheerfully feminist bookstore, Broad Vocabulary, 2241 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 744-8384, broadvocabulary.com, for reading material, gifts, and frequent feisty author visits. For a great sandwich, salad, or piece of pie, step down the street to Lulu Café and Bar, 2261 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 294-5858, lulubayview.com. The area is also known for vintage shops and the beautiful South Shore park on Lake Michigan.
Originally the warehouse district for the city's produce business, the Third Ward still retains some of its grit but is now packed with art galleries, theaters, and boutiques. Furniture junkies will want to stop by Design Within Reach, 167 N. Milwaukee St., (414) 224-5353, dwr.com/studios/milwaukee, Rubin's, 224 E. Chicago St., (414) 278-8100, rubinsfurniture.com, and Cranston 250 N. Water St., (414) 289-9880, cranstonaccents.com. Other boutiques purvey elegant paper (Broadway Paper, 191 N. Broadway, 414-277-7699, broadwaypaper.com), killer shoes (Shoo, 241 N. Broadway, 414-765-2355, shoostore.com), and local couture -- and no, I don't mean Harley jackets (see Lela, 321 N. Broadway, 414-727-4855, lelaboutique.com). When you get tired, stop by Bella Caffe, 189 N. Milwaukee St., (414) 273-5620, bellacaffe.com, for a cup of coffee or a bowl of homemade soup and a comfy place to put your feet up.
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well written, researched article! and milwaukee went from ONE gl organization in the early 1970s--GAY PEOPLES UNION-to about 80 lgbt organizations today. everything from the nations second oldest lgbt foundation--cream city foundation to bowling and soft ball teams to a lgbt history project that is working to save our history through the lgbt archives at uw-milwaukee. thank-you, jerry johnson
kay man | March 21, 2007 at 4:56 p.m. (report)
no, mitch-sak, that area would be called lock up your car doors and don't stop at the stop signs.
mitch-sack | March 21, 2007 at 9:37 a.m. (report)
What about the area west of Riverwest? At or near center/north and 15th up to 72nd? Is that area gay friendly? Would you recommend that gay and lesbian couples, let alone straight couples stray into that neighborhood? Just wondering.
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