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The M & M Club was one of Milwaukee's favorite GLBT destinations for almost 30 years from the time it was opened on July 4, 1976 by community activist Bob Schmidt, with partners Leo Peters and Jime Moes. A mecca for men and women looking to relax, meet friends new and old, and join in community events, the Club long served the gay and lesbian community with a mix of activities unique in the Milwaukee business scene. Housed in the Pabst Brewing Co. Saloon and Boarding House built in 1904, and renovated in 1987, the M & M Club was for thirty years a gateway business in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward.
(An early ad for the bar, appearing in the September 1976 issue of the GPU News, may explain the genesis of the name, "M&M"-- a logo reads "MAN&(Another)Man".) But a 15th anniversary booklet has another explanation: according to that, in the code of gay men communicating in the midst of heterosexual colleagues, "the letters M&M+ were used to describe a gentleman of better than average qualities or 'Medium Meat Plus'." The true genesis of the name is still closely held.
The August 1976 issue of the local "GLIB Guide" describes the business as follows: "Plush, roomy. Just up from the Inferno and Wreck Room. Large dance floor. New."
In 1980 Bob decided he wanted an outdoor patio. He commissioned Milwaukee's premier artist, Robert Uyvari, to design the project and work with the craftsmen start to finish. This was the beginnning of a long collaboration between Uyvari and the M&M, including several art shows and design of an exclusive M&M Christmas card.
Throughout its history, the Club featured daily drink specials, ranging from happy hour 2-for-1 cocktails, to special pricing and themes on certain nights of the week. There was a regular schedule of entertainment ranging from professional piano and singer acts, to sing-along/ karoke nights.
The M&M Club also had the longest-operating restaurant of any LGBT business in Milwaukee with a full-service restaurant, serving the community since the early 1980's. Beginning in fits and starts, it began to take hold with lunch soup and sandwich schedule in 1977, advertising as The Sideboard. The restaurant really took off with the addition of Sunday brunch and Friday fish frys- it quickly evolved into a fully staffed and 7-day-a-week food operation. With full menus and daily specials, including lunches, The M&M Club Restaurant became popular enough to prompt the addition of a glass attrium/ greenhouse on the north side of the building to house restaurant seating in 1983; and from that time on the restaurant was more frequently known as the Glass Menagerie Restaurant. The business also hosted meetings, banquets, and other events in an upstairs banquet and meeting room renovated for that use in 1988.
The M&M Club established a reputation for sponsoring events connected to the performing arts. The Club regularly organized meal and play packages for visiting arts performances (plays, etc.), often followed by cast parties where attendees and other patrons could meet and visit with cast and staff of the performance.
The Club, staff, and customers were also intimately involved in the community as a whole. The Club sponsored teams in softball, darts and other leagues, and also sponsored various fundraisers benefiting the local AIDS and other community betterment organizations. They made their banquet room available to the Visiting Nurses Association for annual flu shots, to the BESTD Clinic for anonymous AIDS screenings, and similar health-directed efforts. The banquet room was also used on occasion for art shows, etc.
By 1985 Bob Schmidt had bought out both partners, Leo and Jim, and Bob continued to run the business day to day. But after 25 years, Bob was ready to relax, and in 2002 sold the business to one of his long-time employees, BooBoo, while retaining ownership of the building. But business wasn't the same without Bob Schmidt around, and, in part because of a changing neighborhood (gentrification, an increasingly difficult parking situation, etc.), the business went into decline. In April 2006 Bob Schmidt sold the building to a Chicago company, which announced plans to reopen it as an Irish pub.
The news broke late in April 2006 that the bar would close at end of business on Saturday, May 13, 2006. The final "Last Call" week featured no end of "lasts"- last Sunday brunch, last show, last Thursday night 2-4-1, last Friday fish fry, and finally the last karoke and contest on that Saturday night-- all well attended by a community in shock. Shortly after midnight, the packed crowd choked out the song "For the Good Times", and the show microphones went silent for the last time. Bob Schmidt and many other long-time employees and customers left the bar for the final time, and early on Sunday morning, May 14, 2006, the M&M Club closed its doors forever.
Unlike many bars however, the story doesn't end there. The M&M Club was so popular and cherished by so many people that anniversary parties have been held several years since the club's closing. The latest party was on Sunday May 8, 2016, the 10th anniversary of the bar closing, in the same building (which is still an Irish pub). The party was attended by as many as 300 people, including former owner Bob Schmidt and many other long-time employees and customers. The Club was also honored with the creation of an historical panel for display at PrideFest 2016 and future Pride celebrations.
Credits: bar history by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: May-2016.