Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project
Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project


This category explores the places LGBTQ people have gathered in Wisconsin to meet others like themselves.

Some of the earliest places were rest rooms in public buildings ( such as bus stations and hotels ), public parks, and restaurants. These were dangerous and not conducive to true socialization. As people began to be more open, the frequent places over time became bars and taverns.

Some such gathering places have been identified as going back to 1911 in Milwaukee, and numerous bars being somewhat friendly to ‘gay’ people have been identified in the 1940s and 1950s. But the first true gay bar in Milwaukee was opened in 1965, and one ( ‘This Is It’ ) which opened in 1968 is still open today. At one point in the 1980s and 1990s, as many as 50 gay bars have been open simultaneously throughout Wisconsin.

Today LGBTQ people can be more open in Wisconsin, and meet even is ‘straight’ bars, as well as operating LGBTQ-owned restaurants, retail stores, guest inns, and similar places. Many such places are included in our lists of bars and other businesses in this section.

Interactive Map of LGBTQ Businesses in Wisconsin - An interactive map that allows you to select Date, Business Type, Clientele and other filters and then view on a Wisconsin map what LGBTQ businesses have existed. This view also displays some LGBTQ Organizations that had physical locations.

We need your help!

All of our efforts take people to research, to collect, to remember and document those memories. If you are willing to help in any way, let us know!

The Businesses in the History of the LGBTQ Community in Wisconsin are organized into the following categories:

Bars and Clubs

Bars, Taverns and Dance clubs are some of the most cherished and frequently cited memories of many LGBTQ people. These were places one could go to drink and socialize with others like themselves relatively easily.

Lodging & Guest Houses

Whether on vacation or in town for the weekend, Lodgings and Guest Houses welcoming to LGBTQ people have been important to some people looking for a less public venue.

Restaurants, Grilles & Cafes

Establishments that provide food service to the LGBTQ community were most often within a bar or tavern, but over time full time restaurants were opened that provided quality breakfasts, lunch and dinner primarily to LGBTQ patrons.

Retail Establishments

LGBTQ people have occasionally found retail businesses that make available themed greeting cards, books etc. to LGBTQ patrons. In more recent times, LGBTQ people have been able to more openly start and run retail businesses.

Spas, Bath Houses & Health Clubs

Seen mostly in larger cities, spas and bath houses were often as popular as bars but open 24/7. After AIDS many of these businesses were forced to close, but they have still occasionally been a niche in the community as another social outlet.