Wisconsin’s most notable women’s bars, both past and present

Wisconsin’s most notable women’s bars, both past and present

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This episode of “Be Seen” is dedicated to the women who shaped Wisconsin’s queer culture and spaces.

Walker’s Pint owner Betsy Boenning speaks to Milwaukee having one of only 21 women’s bars left in the country. Then, Milwaukee natives Maryann “Flash” Gorski and Diane “Legs” Gregory recount two generations of Milwaukee’s lesbian and bisexual nightlife scene.

Bingo packs the bar at Walker’s Pint. Photo courtesy of Betsy Boenning.
Diane “Legs” Gregory performing at a drag show. Photo courtesy of Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project.
Women’s History Party, February 2017, at Woody’s, sponsored by the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project.

While hundreds of LGBTQ bars have closed over the decades, Milwaukee has been fortunate to be home to numerous, beloved, vibrant women’s bars over the years, dating back to the 1950s, including:

  • Wildwood
  • Nite Beat
  • Carrie’s
  • The Flame
  • Leaded Shade
  • Sugar Shack
  • Fannies
  • Viva La Femme
  • Lost & Found
  • ReneZ Co-Z Corner
  • Tina’s
  • Out N About / MoNA’s
  • Hot Legs
  • Kathy’s Nut Hut 
  • Nightingales 
  • The Black Fox
  • The Beer Garden

Speaking of the clientele of Wildwood, Josie Carter, the gender nonconforming queen who led Wisconin’s first LGBTQ uprising, said, “The women at the Wildwood were huge, mean old Amazons. They were the original bull dykes. They’d fight truck drivers in the street outside the bar. They’d ask, ‘Is this man bothering you?’ And if he was, they’d throw him, literally pick him and throw him, out the front door.”

Sharon Dixon and Joann Kilsdonk, founders of Sugar Shack, the first lesbian bar owned and managed by lesbians in Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project. 

Another Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project contributor remembers, “My date and I kept getting cat called by an old drunk man at the bar. One of the regulars said, ‘knock it off or you’ll be sorry.’ He asked her, ‘Yeah? What are you going to do?’ So this woman goes into the bathroom, returns with the ceramic toilet tank cover, and smashes it over his head.  And then she said, ‘who’s sorry now?’”

“This sets a tone for exactly how rough and dangerous womens bars were before liberation,” said “Be Seen” co-host Michail Takach.

Owners of Hot Legs, next door to what is now Walkers Pint. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project. 

Listen to this week’s show above, and be sure to check back for our last two episodes coming out this month. On June 20, we’re chatting with George Schneider, co-owner of This is It, Wisconsin’s longest running and oldest gay bar. Then on June 27, we’re closing out season one of “Be Seen” with a conversation with two leaders of vital organizations in Wisconsin’s response HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s.

Milwaukee couple Debi Vance and Cindy Olsheske, as heard in Episode 2 of Be Seen. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project.

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