History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Businesses - Bars and Clubs

Antlers Hotel
Location: 616 N. 2nd Street


c 1962
c 1977

Male/ female



Local LGBT historian Michail Takach did extensive research on the Antlers Hotel and Bar, and summarized the highlights of his research in his book, "LGBT Milwaukee", based on hours spent at the Milwaukee County Historical Society and from numerous other sources:

    “Bring the ladies,” pleaded 1924 ads for the men-only Antlers Hotel. The new hotel was a gentlemen’s paradise, offering not only 450 fireproof rooms under $2 per day, but also 16 bowling lanes, a 20-table pool hall, golf course, boxing arena, coffee shop, barbershop, cigar lounge, and table tennis courts. It was the second-largest hotel in Milwaukee. Filled with 11 floors of single men, usually sailors, the Antlers quickly became a place for gay cruising.

    Between 1932 and 1947, the Antlers Hotel Futuristic Ballroom hosted the best in big band orchestra. Through the 1950s, the space was known for sporting events and sock hops. On December 31, 1961, Ray Boyle, director of the Fred Miller Theater (now Milwaukee Repertory Theater) unveiled the 700-seat Swan Theater and supper club. “The Antlers Ballroom had that worn look that comes with growing old gracelessly,” noted the Milwaukee Sentinel. “If you returned New Year’s Eve, you found a miracle.” The miracle lasted three seasons. Buried in debt, the “dying Swan” closed in December 1964. In November 1965, the Balistrieri family opened a brand-new concept. The Scene nightclub hosted the hottest acts of the 1960s, including Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, and Steppenwolf, as well as go-go dancers and risqué films. In September 1972, the Centre Stage replaced rock shows with Broadway dinner theater. Headliners included Bob Denver, Cesar Romero, Rosemary Clooney, Martha Raye, and Carol Channing. It was also the original venue for the Miss Gay Wisconsin pageant. (Milwaukee County Historical Society.)

    In October 1980, the Antlers Hotel was demolished for Grand Avenue parking.

The Antlers Hotel was listed in many early "Gay Guides". Early "Gay Guides", first appearing in the mid 1960s, typically had listings covering the gamut of places to encounter other gay men. These ranged from restaurants and primarily "straight" bars that might have some clientele looking for other men to have sex with, to cruise locations (such as men's rest rooms, parks, or specific areas of certain hotels). Beginning in the late 1960s and after, primarily after Stonewall, listings more often included what were later considered true "gay bars", primarily catering to gay men and later to lesbian hangouts as well.

For the Antlers Hotel listings, the guides usually indicated that the best bet for meeting other guys was to take a room on the 10th or 11th floor (or, at different times and in different guides, the 7th thru 10th floor, or the 'upper floors'), and usually on Saturday nights.

Most representative listings in early "Gay Guides":
(For more information on the Guides, click here.)

First bar guide, 1963 Lavender Baedeker
1964, "Directory 43"
1964 Lavender Baedeker Guide
1965 International Gay Guide
1966 Male World Guide
1969 International Gay Guide

Antlers Hotel
(Milwaukee County Historical Society)

Antlers Hotel in background, with an iconic
White Tower restaurant in foreground
(Milwaukee County Historical Society)

Credits: site concept, design and arrangement, and early Gay Guide research, by Don Schwamb.
Thanks to Mikail Takach for major additional research and content.
Last updated: July-2020.

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