Michael Murray and David Skwarek opened PumpHouse in fall 2006, seeking to recreate the video bar vibe of Chicago's Sidetrack in Milwaukee. Promising "non-stop, crazy entertainment," the owners recommissioned a 1931 water pumping station in Bay View's industrial corridor into an LGBTQ nightspot.
It's important to note that, while the owners told OnMilwaukee they were creating the city's first "video bar," that title was already held by La Cage, who opened with this concept in 1984. Other bars, such as 219, Park Avenue and Hot Legs, were also known for their video concept decades before Pump House.
PumpHouse sought to create a laid-back, marina lifestyle, with upscale appetizers and local microbrews. (They even had Sprecher Root Beer on tap!) The property, which included multiple boat slips, volleyball sand pits and bonfire spaces, was set to become Milwaukee's new summer destination. The interior was redesigned to include darts, pool and video games on the 3,000 sq. ft second floor, and bistro high tables and chairs downstairs, in a semi-circle around the bar, with an open-air, two-story central atrium on the 4,800 sq ft. first floor. There were two outdoor decks, both offering scenic views of downtown.
What went wrong? It's not entirely clear. Although the bar sometimes played videos, it was far from non-stop entertainment. There was rarely music and there was no dancefloor. In fact, the logical place for the dancefloor (in the center of the two-story atrium) was fully carpeted and filled with tables. Milwaukee was seeking new dance spaces, but all Pump House had to offer was another bar and grill.
In October 2007, Murray and Skwarek sold the PumpHouse business to the owners of Riviera Maya restaurant (2258 S Kinnickinnic Ave.) A blurb on MySpace (the then-equivalent of Facebook today) read: "Yes it's true, 'The Milwaukee Pumphouse' now has new owners. As of 12-07 The Riviera Maya Team are the new owners of the 'Milwaukee PumpHouse' business. The new staff is working hard to bring to you another gay NightClub in the Milwaukee Scene. Many Rumors were flying that the PumpHouse would change to a Restaurant or its name. Milwaukee PumpHouse will remain with its name and the building will become a Nightclub. The Riviera Maya team is planning to offer their Menu and food during Happy Hours, however the idea is still in planning stage and will possibly be announce sometime during the spring."
The property sold in May 2009 to the Horny Goat Brewing Company, bringing an end to the "PumpHouse'. Horny Goat created an extremely popular sports and recreation space, but somehow went out of business on October 11, 2015.
Since then, the historic Pump House building was demolished. As of early 2021, a luxury apartment complex called 'RIVER' was under development on the former footprint of the Pump House.
Credits: web site concept and design by Don Schwamb.
Primary bar write-up by Michail Takach;
Photos by Don Schwamb;
Last updated: March-2021.
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