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The Factory is THE Legendary Milwaukee Bar- it is remembered for its large size and high ceilings, innovative decorations and schemes, and was one of the first in the Midwest with a DJ and light show (this was pre-disco!). Thus The Factory was perfectly positioned to be a smash hit when the age of disco came. It opened with 2,400 square feet of public space, and about doubled over time. Its advertising originally read "If you want to make it, make it at The Factory".
During virtually its entire run, the main room of the bar featured a huge island bar with service on all four sides. At various stages of decoration, some of the legendary designs of the Factory included:
During a time in the mid-late 1970's, the Factory was also known as The Inferno; this was the time when a large devil's head was suspended over the dance floor. (A January 1976 ad in GPU News calls the bar "Devilishly Devine". And the August 1976 issue of the local "GLIB Guide" describes the business as follows: "Boogie down with the snorting dragon and nightly gang. Weekends offer second dance floor.")
The Factory is also remembered as generous in specials and giveaways. For example, at New Years Eve parties, there were frequently handouts to each patron (such as the plastic hats given away for New Years 1981 and 1982, shown here.)
During a good part of its run, the Factory also included a side or back room used as a beer bar and game room. An attached annex, connecting through the beer bar, was used for additional dancing and quieter visiting during busy hours, and was also used to host meetings and had a stage for performances. This was an excellent venue for drag shows as well as musical performances. (See sketch of layout.) The annex was also called "The Loading Dock".
For a time, Chuck opened the upstairs in the same building as a men's health club/ spa (aka bath house), the Broadway Health Club, which was raided on numerous occasions by the then notoriously homophobic Milwaukee Police.
There was a tragedy in this bar when, in December 1980, a patron returned with a pistol after an arguement, and after ordering all patrons and employees to the floor, shot and killed the doorman/bouncer, Dennis Wesela. (Coincidentally, a previous doorman/ bouncer of the Factory had been found murdered elsewhere in the city about a year earlier.)
This bar was followed by two other Factory bars opened by Chuck: the Factory II in 1982 at 130 E. Juneau; and the Factory 3 on North Broadway north of the expressway. While both popular in their day, neither matched the long-term appeal, and no bar in Milwaukee has ever come close to the legendary status, of the original "The Factory".
(A book, "LGBT Milwaukee" by Michail Takach, seeks to make the story of LGBT Milwaukee accessible, visible, and portable for future generations--before it is too late. The Factory is one of many early LGBT landmarks documented in the book.)
The Factory bar was the inspiration for a disco in several chapters of a running story, The Beef Matson Mysteries, written some years later by Rick Chris, a prominent national artist who grew up and came out in Milwaukee. It was first mentioned in Chapter 10, and again in Chapter 4 of the second series of stories.
Early ad- May 1973
(GPU News, May-June 1973 issue)
Recollections: The following are recollections of others who have been kind enough to submit their personal memories to the webmaster. You are welcome to do the same!
The Factory - The first gay disco I was ever in, on Halloween night, 1973. On that night, I was taken to the factory by a guy I had just met through a personal ad. Upon entering the Factory, the assistant foreman and the union steward from the company I worked at were standing in the foyer. Great shock for me. I moved quickly into the bar to get lost in the crowd and stepped on the gown of a drag queen who nearly punched me.
Remember the dragon/bull at the dance floor (no one could decide what it was supposed to be) - anyway, the thing would occasionally blow out clouds of dry ice steam through its nose. Remember during the humid summer months how quickly guys would get rid of their shirts while dancing. One summer night, a cute blond guy dancing in cutoffs, decided to drop those as well, dancing around in his birthday suit. The staff came running over to cover him up and I guess he got blacklisted from the bar for awhile.
It was a fun place, very different than any gay bar in the city in its day. Luckily it existed during the cusp and wane of the Sexual Revolution prior to the AIDS scare that virtually crushed the sexual liberation that swept the country which included the GBLTG community. The mix of patrons was interesting, too. Most people just went there to dance and have fun. If someone went home with someone, it was already yesterday's news before the deed was sealed. People didn't fuss and stigmatize the situation or the 'culprits' the way they do
now because we were having too much fun. The crowd's libido was exercised by sexy navy boys on shore leave that frequented the bar on summer nights. And 'oh-what-a-nights' they were!
I remember the lavish drag shows at the Factory. The Neptune Club on Humboldt and Kane was also a great dance bar and general good time; I'd forgotten that Chuck owned them both.
We used to call it The Fagtree. Neptune was great. I hated that it
closed so soon.
It was a fun place, very different then any gay bar in the city in its day. Luckily it existed during the cusp and wane of the Sexual Revolution prior to the AIDS scare that virtually crushed the sexual liberation that swept the country which included the GBLTG community. The mix of patrons was interesting, too. Most people just went there to dance and have fun. If someone went home with someone, it was already yesterday's news before the deed was sealed. People didn't fuss and stigmatize the situation or the 'culprits' the way they do now because we were having too much fun. The crowd's libido was exercised by sexy navy boys on shore leave that frequented the bar on summer nights. And 'oh-what-a-nights' they were!
My first experiences out in Milwaukee were at the Factory! I'll never forget bartender Tony Kiehl (sp?), who used to throw a handful of ice at me every time he saw me come in. No matter where I was standing at the bar, glittering cubes came flying my way...and god help anyone standing in between! Needless to say, I had a HUGE crush on him. When he moved over to 219, I followed. Sadly, both Tony AND the Factory are long gone.
Credits: bar history by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: November-2010.
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