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

 
This Is It
Location: 418 E. Wells Street

Opened:
Closed:

1968
(still open April 2016)
Clientele:

Male/ female
Bar/ social

View the Images & Articles Gallery page.

 
       
 

This Is It was opened in 1968 by June Brehm. Its first advertising in a gay publication doesn't appear until the August 1972 issue of the GPU News however, when its ad stated "The East Side's New Food 'N' Fun Bar" and listed proprietors Mike and June.

The August 1976 issue of the local "GLIB Guide" describes the business as follows: "Popular downtown lounge busy with reserved gentlemen and then some not so reserved."

Joe Brehm, June's son, continued to operate the bar as a gay bar in relatively unaltered condition architecturally. Of course, color scheme and other changes have been made (the booths along the east wall were removed, etc.) but the bar retains it overall ambiance. While June retained ownership for over 40 years, until her death in January of 2010, her son Joe was the effective manager throughout many of those years.

Under Joe's management, the bar has the distinction of being not only one of the longest continuously running gay bar in the city, but also being a staunch supporter of the gay community. Joe was close friends with Terry Boughner and Jerry Johnson when they produced the Wisconsin Light newspaper, helping them computerize and use new technnology for typesetting, layout, email, etc. Joe and This Is It! are also often the first in line to support community causes, hosting fundraising events for the Cream City Foundation, AIDS, and other worthy causes.

Around 2010, George Schneider joined the staff of 'This Is It', and has since become part owner and manager. George brought both experience from other bars in the city and a loyal following of new customers. Together George has helped Joe modernize in small but important ways: a new paint scheme and a sign were added out front, new drink specials and promotions, and a major presence on social media (Facebook etc.). But the overall character of the bar continues unchanged- and still successful.

In 2012, the Wisconsin Historical Society Press published a book "Bottoms Up- A Toast to Wisconsin's Historic Bars & Breweries" (written by Jim Draeger and Mark Speltz). The book highlights 70 bars and breweries that have defined Wisconin as a tavern state. "This Is It" is mentioned in the text as a bar that shaped gay and lesbian bars in the state, and is one of only 6 bars in Milwaukee singled out for a 2-page writeup. The article begins in part: "In the late 1960's... Gay bars were far from common, but (June Brehm) knew a lot of gay people and wanted to create a comfortable and safe gathering place during a time when gays suffered great discrimination." (The bar has a copy of the book on hand for curious patrons.)

Through the years, Joe and now George have together kept the bar exciting, and have maintained a loyal following of old-timers as well as new blood. The bar continues to be busy on evenings when other bars' business lags, in part because it is the only gay bar in the immediate downtown area (and thus easy for visitors staying in downtown hotels to get to), but also because even the young guys new to gay life like the combination of old and new they find in the bar.

(Joe Brehm passed away on April 3, 2016. George Schneider intends to continue to operate the bar as before.)

 

Read the article about This Is It!'s 40th anniversary from the November 2008 issue of Q-Life newspaper.
 
This Is It featured in the book "Bottoms Up" (copyright Wisconsin Historical Society Press)
Read the book's chapter on This Is It here.
 
This Is It included in an article "Tolerant Times" in
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2012 (copyright JSOnline)
Read the article on JSOnline.    -OR-     Read the article here.
 
Mayor's Proclamation of Joe Brehm Day
March 31, 2016
U.S. Senator Baldwin Letter
March 2016

 


Advertisement, May 1973


Advertisement, May 1979


Photo of the bar from sometime in the 1970s
(posted to Milw. LGBT History 'Facebook' page by D.M.)


Advertisement, May 1991


Halloween, October 1995


Owner Joe Brehm, May 2004


Interior, May 2004


Interior, May 2004


George Schneider (left) and Joe Brehm (right), c2014

Credits: contents, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: April-2016.