Tom (aka Thom) Butenhoff was part of Milwaukee's gay social scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He moved away from Wisconsin in 1974, but has fond memories of his time here. He contributes the following recollections:
"Does anyone remember Swittel's Hi-Fi lounge in Wauwatosa?? Jimmy Swittel ran the bar upstairs (through the green door) while the straight guys were playing pool downstairs in Swittel's bar. Jimmy would sing - he had been a professional of sorts in the 40's I believe. His family was prominent in Wauwatosa. The bar was not strictly gay - but was quite a place and very entertaining. The decor was exotic, the drinks GREAT (you always got a side car if you were young and cute - I was back then). It's a place I will always remember.
"One of the things I remember MOST about Milwaukee was the Castaways bar (on S. 2nd st.), as that was THEE place when I came out. I remember how amazed I was that guys could dance together. Of course raids were still going on then, and occasionally the lights in the dance area would brighten which meant "separate" or get your hand off of your friend's leg. You had to have a flashlights distance between you when you were slow dancing. It was bizarre, as they would have the raids, but you would also see cops in there coming up from the basement with cartons of liquor.
"The reigning drag queen at the time was Mother Crystal (Mother Chris) who made draperies for a living. His real name was Tim, but I don't remember his last name. Chris had a huge attic full of gowns, and only a very select few people ever were invited up there. I was!!! She also injected the "queens" with saline (I think) before big shows so the "girls" would have real looking breasts. What a time!!! It was a time of much less freedom but a really wonderful sense of community.
"My partner at the time (Gregg Kraemer) and I had an old upper flat on North 29th street - and often at bar closing time in Castaways, the announcement would be made that there was going to be an after hours party at Thom & Gregg's. That was usually the first we heard about it as well, but we'd trudge home and throw a party together. We had the attic of the flat, and it was huge. We made it into a party area. The local kids called it the "gay room" and when we had SCHEDULED parties would direct guests to the entrance.
"One thing that was rather unique and exceptional was the Friday Night Fish Fry at the VFW post in West Allis. I think it's still there, off 68th street near Greenfield Avenue. Anyway, they used to have a wonderful fish fry, and there were a lot of us guys who went there regularly. This was/is a working class neighborhood, and at the time was in midst of the Briggs and Stratton plant and Allis Chalmers. I grew up very near there as well. In any case, those Friday nights there were always fun. There was a very special waitress there, her name was Dolores if I remember correctly. The place was pretty much of a stripped down banquet hall, with fold up tables and flourescent lighting as I recall. Dolores would always recognize the gay guys when they came, treated them very well and was very kind. Her trademark greeting was characteristically "Oh, I have the table under the chandelier for you boys". Of course there wasn't a chandelier in the place. She just knew how to make us feel welcome and special. I have remembered her for that over all these years.
"After Gregg and I broke up, he moved to Santa Clara California. He died of AIDS in 1994. My partner after him was David Pagel whom I met at the River Queen. We moved to Philadelphia in 1974 and later moved to New York City. He died in our Catskill Mountain summer home in 1990 also of AIDS. My next partner was a much younger guy from New York named Kevin Hansen. He ALSO died of AIDS in 1996 at age 33. A lot of tragedy. ANYWAY - I've been with my current partner nearly 7 years now, and we are growing old together!!"
Credits: information and photos contributed by Tm Butenhoff;
Last updated: January-2007.