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In November 1978, Park Avenue opened in the Button Block building, an 1892 landmark and the former home of the Mad Hatter. The days of Drink and Drown Wednesdays, purple shag carpet, and psychedelic wallpaper were over. Park Avenue was an ultra-swank, multistory New York nightclub, unlike anything Milwaukee had seen, with three-story flashing light towers, lethal blender drinks, and surprise feather drops on the city’s largest dance floor. Situated in a landmark red stone building just north of the expressway spur for I-794, the building had a commanding presence.
The Park Avenue Discotheque was a large dance club in downtown Milwaukee, with a primarily "straight" clientele every night except Sunday night, which was reserved as "gay night" and used the name "Sundays" on that day. (A membership card stated "John and Dave present 'Sundays' / 'a very private affair'.") Sundays produced exotic fantasy parties for the city’s hottest people.
The interior of the club was expensively decorated, and had a most impressive dance floor in the center of the building. Chairs and stools were situated on all sides (with the main bar along the entire south wall), and the dance floor area itself rose two floors in height. Patrons could move between the first and second floors at will, dancing themselves on the first floor, or watching the dancing from the second level from balcony railings surrounding the dance area. The second level had its own bars, but also some quieter areas for relaxing and talking (including a windowed alcove fitted in the turret, in the southwest corner, above the entrance).
Popular during the days of disco, the dance floor for some time had the best light show in town. For some time, the dance floor had towers of flashing lights in each corner, which could be controlled to lower from the ceiling down to the floor, and then rise back up, throughtout the night. (Dancers below had to beware, but that was part of the fun.) This was always a high excitement dance experience, but without the extremely loud blaring music that some other dance bars felt was mandatory.
Park Avenue and "Sundays" was however the source of a great deal of controversy among other bar owners, and caused the demise of at least one LGBT publication ("Gay Milwaukee" magazine). The issue was that other gay bar owners were upset with "sunday only" competition, and pressured gay publications to not accept advertising from Park Avenue. Gay Milwaukee stopped publishing partly for that reason (see articles on advertising page), and it continued to be an issue even after that.
After a million dollar renovation, the venue reopened as Nitro in 1992, and later a series of restaurants. Rumor is that Milwaukee’s former “it spot” will be redeveloped as a hotel in 2017.
(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 Park Avenue/ Sundays is one of many early LGBT landmarks documented in the book.)
Credits: majority of contents, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Additional research by Michail Takach;
One photo used by special permission of Milwaukee County Historical Society.
Last updated: August-2016.
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