Kevin Rotar was one of Gay Milwaukee's most popular bartenders, one of few "professional" bartenders in Gay Milwaukee bars. Over his years of service, he worked at the Wreck Room, Your Place, and Triangle, and Club 219, where he was working at the time of his death.
Long time friends and customers recount that Kevin was someone who really cared about the gay community. He was a first class person; he always had a smile and would always try to make everyone around him smile.
Kevin was missing and presumed dead after a boating accident which occured on Saturday August 9, 1997. The incident which occurred at around 4:00 in the afternoon took place 50 yards from the Lake Michigan shoreline off of St. Francis. According to the Milwaukee Coast Guard, Rotar and a group of friends were aboard a 30 foot cabin cruiser the "Just Right", owned by Club 219 manager Chuck Cicirello.
An eyewitness aboard the boat recounts that the boat was headed south in choppy waters when someone's baseball cap blew into the water. Before anyone could stop him Rotar "executed a perfect dive into the lake". Rotar was a good swimmer, and managed to retrieve the hat, but while swimming back to the boat fighting a strong current, Rotar started bobbing up and down and began calling for help. People began throwing life jackets and ropes but Rotar was too far away to reach them. Suddenly Rotar disappeared beneath the three foot waves and was not seen again. According to the witness, "It all happened in a twinkling of an eye. There was no time to react." He also said there was no drinking or drug use occurred during the cruise.
A nearby boater made a cell phone call to the Police and a rescue effort was immediately mounted. The Coast Guard speculated that Rotar may have developed cramps or become entangled in the large amount of seaweed in the area. Divers searching for Rotar's body reported problems accessing the area due to the high concentration of seaweed and the choppy, windy waters. The body was finally found about a week later, washed up on the beach at Virmond Park, about 15 miles north of where the incident occurred.
Initially there were rumors and speculation in the Milwaukee Journal of possible foul play or suspicous circumstances. However, the St. Francis Police Chief downplayed any inferences and said that a complete autopsy had found no evidence of trauma, that there was no suspicion of foul play, and no one was under investigation. He added that the stories of those present on the boat at the time were all consistent.
Kevin was survived by his partner Ricky, his family and many friends. Services were held on Sunday, August 24, 1997. Rotar was 41.
Credits: bulk of information from Wisconsin Light articles, v10-17 and v10-18;
Photo courtesy of Kevin's friend, Steve Dowell (contributed Sept. 2005)
Last updated: 22-Sept-2005.