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

 
Fannies
Location: 200 E. Washington Street

Opened:
Closed:

Nov. 1982
2000
Clientele:

Female/ male
Bar/ social

 

 
       
 

Fannies was opened as a lesbian bar in November 1982 by Sharon Dixon (who had previously been a business partner in at least one other lesbian bar, the Sugar Shack).

In a rare interview Sharon gave to LGBT historian Michail Takach in 2017, she outlines much of the inside story and history of Fannies:

      Fannies (200 E. Washington St.) opened in 1983. The bar was known for its monthly theme parties, including Trekkie Night, Pajama Party, Black Party, White Party, 50s and 60s parties and and more. For a long time, the bar featured a basketball court and a sand pit volleyball court. There were countless cookouts and street parties over the years, some including elaborate outdoor stages and performances.

      The bar would get big-name drag talent for its shows, sometimes from competing clubs, as well as local newscasters (like Marty Burns Wolfe of Channel 12 News) as emcees. Over the years, Fannies raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local AIDS, cancer and LGBTQ causes, as well as community members in need of care.

      "Everyone supported me right from the start," said Sharon. "From the junkyard owner behind me, to the owner of George's Pub next door, to the men's bars owners and the neighborhood. They always stood with me."

      However, the name and connotation of Fannies didn't always sit well with everyone. After all, we weren't talking about a woman named Fannie. One night, Sharon was criticized by a group of "militant" women who didn't like the imagery of women's swimsuit bottoms behind the bar.

      "They told me I was demeaning women by having swimsuit photos on the wall. I said, I'm a lesbian, and I'm not demeaning anyone. I like a pretty face and a pretty ass. The regular customers never complained, just these three women. They also criticized me for allowing men in the bar. Since I advertised as a women's bar, they felt that men should not be welcome. I told them that men would always be welcome here.

      "That's something weird about Milwaukee. Women weren't supposed to go to men's bars, and men weren't supposed to go to women's bars. That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of. I had fun with the boys, and of course I wanted them to come to my bar. I mean, I used to hang out at the Wreck Room. I would dress up in leather and intimidate them!"

      Despite the drama, Sharon recalls only one memorable bar fight over the years.

      "One Saturday night, some guys came in and grabbed the woman who was checking IDs at the front door," said Sharon. "They literally pulled her off her barstool, dragged her outside and started kicking and beating on her. I told the bartender, lock this door and don't open it until I come back. I went right out there and did what I needed to do. I shut that down right away!

      "And afterwards, I said, 'you do realize that you've just attacked an off-duty police officer, right? That's an instant felony.' She pressed charges and the story spread like wildfire. I got the reputation for being a "female Clint Eastwood" and the next morning I got a standing ovation at the M&M Club brunch!"

      Longtime employee Mary Connell remembers Sharon keeping a protective, watchful eye over the younger patrons.

      "Sharon ran a tight ship, but it was also a fair and caring place for any woman to come into," Connell said. "No matter how rough someone's life had been in the past, Sharon would help them get on their feet with a fresh start. I can't even count how many women she's helped over the years."

      Over the years, Fannies became one big happy family. Softball, darts and pool leagues continued for decades. Regular customers would frequently ask to have their names engraved on their barstools, because those were known as their seats.

      One Halloween, a group of a dozen women dressed up as men and forever became known as "the Brothers." Sharon fondly remembers coming downstairs one morning and finding the hanging pendant lights over the bar covered in bras and a single pair of men's Jockey shorts.

      Diane "Legs" Gregory remembers, "All the women hung out at Fannies back then. It wasn't a young women's bar or an older women's bar. It was a women's bar, period. Sharon would always be at the corner of the bar, holding court and watching out for us. It was always about dancing, drinking, talking and laughter. I have only the best memories of Fannies!"

      For a while, Fannies hired local drag performer Vanessa Alexander to bartend and work the grill. "The girls would egg her on and say, 'show us your breasts,' and Vanessa would just laugh and say, 'You're just jealous mine are bigger than yours.' Sharon and Vanessa became great friends. In 1990, Vanessa won the Miss Gay Wisconsin pageant with Sharon's full sponsorship. The two later worked together in the Etc. kitchen at La Cage.

      Fannies continued until 2000. Sharon subleased the bar for a while, then began testing a number of different concepts. Before Out-n-About (1407 S. 1st St.) opened in 2003, the owners considered purchasing Fannies, but declined because it didn't have a full kitchen. Eventually, Sharon opened Studio 200 which is the bar's identity in 2017.

Fannies is best known to some for its colorful and checkered history. Extremely popular with the lesbian crowd for many years, there were a few accidents and fires and a great deal of speculation about whether the owner was involved in one or more of them. The bar was closed several times for renovation after fires or other reasons, and on one occasion the owner was rumored to be in jail for suspected arson.

In the early 2000's Fannies became more a mixed lesbian/gay bar, and in 2002 was reopened as Pulse, a mostly gay bar.

 


Fannies building in 2004 (as Pulse bar)


Owner Sharon Dixon sometime in 1980s
(photo courtesy Sharon)


Customers in Fannies
(photo courtesy employee Mary Connell)


Customers in Fannies
(photo courtesy employee Mary Connell)


Reopening flyer, March 1998

Credits: major content and photos from an interview by Michail Takach.
Web site concept, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: May-2017.