Unraveling decades of history at This Is It, Wisconsin’s longest-running queer bar

Unraveling decades of history at This Is It, Wisconsin’s longest-running queer bar

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By the time of the infamous New York City Stonewall uprising in 1969, the official beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement, Milwaukee already had a vibrant nightlife scene for LGBTQ people.

As we covered in episode 1 of “Be Seen,” Wisconsin had already staged its own uprising at the Black Nite bar in 1961. But today, no trace of that bar remains. There is only one gay bar left of its era, and it’s the oldest one in Wisconsin.

Photo of the bar from in the 1970s, exact date unknown. Posted to Milwaukee LGBTQ History Facebook page, copyright Darcie L Muckler.

This Is It opened in 1968 at 418 E. Wells St., a year before Stonewall, by owner June Brehm. She managed and bartended at This Is It alongside her son, Joe, who oversaw the bar until new co-owner George Schneider took the reins in 2016. The business has operated in the same building during its entire history.

Owner June Brehm with her son, Joe. Photo via Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project.

Until recently, little had changed in the retro cocktail lounge; the atmosphere was unapologetically old school, complete with vintage fixtures and carpeting on the walls. But thanks to an expansion in the adjacent space in 2019, This Is It offers more entertainment options than ever before, including weekly drag shows and regular theme parties.

What has been the key to its longevity? Schneider joins us on this episode to share his vision for creating an intentionally inclusive community, and “Be Seen” co-host Michail Takach shares insights from his original interviews with the the late Brehms, both June and Joe.

June behind the bar in the 1970s, exact date unknown. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project.
The queens of Baylee’s Battle Academy in 2022. Photo courtesy of This Is It Facebook page.

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