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

 
The Orbit
Location: 739 S. 2nd Street

Opened:
Closed:

February 1999
August 2003
Clientele:

Male/ female
Bar/ social

 

 
       
 

The building that housed The Orbit bar was originally a pharmacy, built in the early 1900ís. To keep the kids entertained, the pharmacy bought a coin operated pink elephant that sat in the lobby. It was 'Albermart', a corner pharmacy, until approximately the early 50ís when it was turned into an organ piper bar/nightclub. The murals on the walls were painted in 1954 (reportedly by the same guy who did the paintings in the Basilica of St. Josaphat on 6th & Lincoln). The bar itself was built in sort of a half 4-leaf-clover design, and sat about 30 people. Behind that bar was another bar type structure that had a grand piano on it. (Imagine having a cocktail watching someone play the piano above you.) In the late 1990s there was a fire on the 2nd floor above the bar space (fortunately the murals were not damaged).

Two gay men, Michael and Russell, wanted to open a gay bar, and took over the space after the fire. They cleaned up the water damage in the bar and opened the doors of "The Orbit" in February of 1999. The interior ceiling was painted with stars and planets to go along with the murals on the walls. Althought the pipe organ behind the bar had been removed before this time, Michael saw the pink elephant in the basement and brought it back to life giving it a space right next to the front door. They also installed a dance floor at the west end along with the DJ booth.

Many people stopped at The Orbit before heading over to LaCage on Friday and Saturday nights. It is largely remembered for its purple exterior, pink elephant ride, electronic music, sci-fi murals, and elaborate theme parties. Orbit thus created unique and exciting ambience. There were often live bands that played there, drawing more than just gays. The Jeff Aranda Band and Martha Berner are just two of the artists who performed there. Another draw would be the theme parties. Once, he did a beach theme party and brought in tons of sand for the floor.

Michael tried several times negotiating with the owner of the building to purchase, but those negotiations always fell apart for one reason or another. That's likely a major reason for the barís demise. The bar closed in 2003.

(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. Orbit is one of many early LGBT landmarks documented in the book.)

 

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! (Recollections collected and organized by Jamie Taylor.)

     --------   Jamie Taylor recalls (Aug. 2009):
    "You may remember Orbit as that god awful purple stucco building on the n. w. corner of 2nd & National. It was run by Michael and Russell. They took over after a fire above the bar. They cleaned up the water damage in the bar and opened the doors in February of 1999. The interior ceiling was painted with stars and planets along with murals on the walls. There was a half oval style bar on the north wall that sat approximately 30 people. There was a dance floor at the west end along with the DJ booth. Many people stopped there before heading over to LaCage on Friday and Saturday nights. There were often live bands that played there drawing more than just gays. The Jeff Aranda Band and Martha Berner are just 2 of the artists I can think of. Another draw would be the theme parties. Once he did a beach theme party and brought in tons of sand for the floorÖ Good idea? Nope! Josh called me (Jamie) the following day needing my help unclogging the urinal that was filled with sand. I had to pull the entire drain apart in the basement to get all that piss soaked sand out. It was awful. I think I charged him next to nothing because it was Josh who called me.

    "Josh Gorski (my ex) worked there from October 2001 until it closed a couple of years later. You would likely see him bartending there as Michael didnít keep a large staff.

    "Michael tried several times negotiating with the owner of the building to purchase but those negotiations always fell apart for one reason or the other. Iím pretty sure that was the reason for the barís demise. Michael now teaches tennis lessons, which is what he had been doing for years even during the Orbit years."

    I have not been in there recently but was told the murals had been painted over.

     --------   Craig S. recalls (Aug. 2011):
    "There was a wurlitzer pipe organ (not a piano) behind the bar, and the owner's wife (Helen) used to entertain the bar patrons by playing the organ, and leading "sing-a longs!!" She had a GREAT powerful voice, and was a member of the Florentine opera, years ago. The name of the bar was the "Albamart". Yes, the murals have all been painted over, sadly, and the bar area is now an events hall, for Cielito Lindo's restaurant!!"

     

Building exterior, late 1960's
(photo courtesy of Jamie Taylor)
 
Bar interior, late 1960's
(photo courtesy of Jamie Taylor)
 
Detail of one of the murals
(photo courtesy of Josh Gorski)
 
Group photo in front of the murals:
first row: unknown;
second row, L-R: Toni, Josh, Martha
(photo courtesy of Josh Gorski)
 
Pool players in The Orbit
(photo courtesy of Josh Gorski)
 
Josh giving his brother Eddie hugs and kisses in Orbit
(photo courtesy of Josh Gorski)
 
 


Exterior of building, late 1960s


Exterior of building, 2009


Interior, bar of the Orbit
(facing east-northeast)


Photo of one of the murals inside the Orbit


Ride the elephant!
(photo courtesy of Jamie Taylor)
 

Credits: information about the bar, and photos, by Jamie Taylor;
Web site contents, concept and design by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: August-2016.

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