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

Boot Camp Saloon
Location: 209 E. National


Sept. 1984
May 2011

Male/ female
Levi/ Leather Bar/ social


Boot Camp Saloon was opened and operated by Si Smits as one of Milwaukee's levi/ leather bars. When it was first opened, Boot Camp went head to head against The Wreck Room, the veteran and premier leather bar in the city. As other businesses took over the area surrounding Wreck Room and parking became more difficult there, more and more gay men opted for Boot Camp rather than Wreck Room, and Boot Camp Saloon became an institution.

Boot Camp featured 3 major rooms and an outdoor patio. The main bar and secondary room were open continuously, with the second room (to the south) originally used for a pool table, but in the mid 1990's the pool table was removed and then held just electronic games. Another room to the south-east originally held a second bar and was open only certain nights (mostly Fridays and Saturdays), but with a decline in business later became a lounge area with television showing either live TV programs or movies. (Sunday nights regularly featured a movie.) The patio also opened up to a lawn area to the south which was used for the bar's annual anniversary party and other special events. During busy Friday and Saturday nights, the patio and the back rooms were known to witness some sex activity, although management half-heartedly tried to supress it.

Boot Camp Saloon was the major sponsor of the Milwaukee Gay and Lesbian Community Center Trust Fund, which operated a building about 2 blocks away. That building (see photos) was best known as the location for approximately monthly after-bar parties, but by the mid-2000's those too became infrequent.

(The "Milwaukee Gay and Lesbian Community Center Trust Fund was not to be confused with the separate Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, which was a community-wide center. The Community Center Trust Fund became more of a fund share, making small but regular contributions (a few hundred dollars) to a few organizations' operating funds.)

The Boot Camp began a gradual decline around 2000, due to a combination of factors. Initially, the opening of another leather bar, the Harbor Room, took away much of its business. Later, the opening of Kruz bar also attracted some of Boot Camp's patrons. (In fact, the popular leather club The Castaways began holding monthly beer busts at Kruz rather than at Boot Camp.) Finally, younger gay men were unlikely to patronize Boot Camp, often citing the general ambiance.

The era of the Boot Camp Saloon came to an end in the early morning hours of Wednesday, May 18th, 2011. Firefighters arrived on the scene around 4:00am, declaring it a total loss by 5:00am. Much of the damage came on the south side of the building, near a deck area. The building housed the Boot Camp on the lower level, and the owner's home on the second floor. Fortunately the owner, Si Smits, was not in the residence at the time, and arrived on scene indicating that to his knowledge no one was in the building when the fire started.

The burned out building was quickly demolished, and the land remained vacant for the next year, but Si retained ownership. In May 2012 there was a rumor that the land might be bought by the same company that had just purchased the Triangle bar building across the street (which had just closed)-- time will tell. But it doesn't appear Si will rebuild.

owner Si + bartender, Sept. 2000
Patio at Anniversary, Sept. 2000
Customers at Anniversary, Sept. 2000

Middle room, July 2005
Patio, July 2005
Patio, July 2005

After-bar building, Dec 2005
After-bar building, Dec 2005

Web site page (the only page), May 2011
News photo of fire, May 18, 2011
After fire, May 18, 2011

After fire, May 18, 2011
After fire, May 18, 2011
After fire, May 18, 2011

Fundraiser for artist Robert Uyvari, 1986
(In Step vol 3 issue 13)

Advert, Sept. 1988

Ad, Feb. 1992

Anniversary Invitation, Sept. 2000
(400k PDF)

Holiday Party flyer, Dec. 2000
(400k PDF)

Web site page, May 2011

Fire, May 2011

Credits: contents, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: May-2012.