901 W. National Ave.:
The Nite Beat women's bar was an early "lesbian" bar, the first to open on the south side. But it had some trouble finding a permanent 'home'. It was housed in three different locations over about 12 years.
The "Nite Beat" was originally located at 901 W. National, according to the 1960 Milwaukee City Directory. According to historian/ researcher Michail Takach, who interviewed some of its customers, it is remembered as an old school, no-nonsense “diesel” bar heavy on butches and light on femmes. Regulars were skeptical of women who did not fit traditional roles. “Carrie ran a tight ship,” remembered a contributor. “No fighting, no arguing, no nonsense.”
196 S. 2nd St.:From 1962 to 1968, Nite Beat was relocated at 196 South Second Street, and was listed as such in national gay travel guides from 1964 to 1968. (This location was to later become long-time home of the Ball Game bar, 1974-2012.)
183 S. 2nd St.:
In 1969 Nite Beat moved once more, across the street to 183 S. 2nd Street, and was one of the early advertisers in the GPU News. During this period, it was variously advertised as "Girl's Bar", and "Where Women Meet". The proprietors were indicated to be Carrie and Stan in advertising.
The Nite Beat became the Riviera Show Lounge, or the New Riviera, in June 1972. This began a series of renamings or reinventions: (New Riviera in 1972, Carrie’s in 1973, Dionysus in 1974).
The venue was destroyed by arson on April 22, 1974. According to legend, a drag performer, fired from the Dionysus show, set fire to the bar in revenge.
(There is a muddle of gay bars who apparently inhabited this block in the mid 1970s, including Seaway (after being evicted from its Jefferson St. location), Carries, and Flame. These are variously reported as being at 183 S. 2nd, 181 S. 2nd, and 173 S. 2nd, all around 1973. Many details still need to be worked out, although ironically, 'the Flame' was reportedly scorched in the same 1974 fire that destroyed the former Nite Beat/ Riviera.)
Six years after the fire, Art Guenther reopened the abandoned bar as Just Art’s Saloon, which remains a popular bar and grill today.
(A book, "LGBT Milwaukee" by Michail Takach, seeks to make the story of LGBT Milwaukee accessible, visible, and portable for future generations--before it is too late. Nite Beat is one of many early LGBT landmarks documented in the book.)
More information about this business is welcomed from anyone who can contribute it.
Recollections: The following are recollections of others who have been kind enough to submit their personal memories to the webmaster. You are welcome to do the same!
The Nite Beat was a hard-core diesel bar. Butches were butches, femmes were femmes, and my generation of role-light young feminists was viewed with total suspicion. Although it was on street level, you felt as though you were walking into a basement. My first time there, I met Buffy Lee John, who made little circles in the palm of my hand with her middle finger and whispered, "You've had the rest, baby, now have the best!" Buffy was a skinny little bulldyke, cigarettes rolled into the sleeve of her black muscle shirt, tattoo of the famous femme Lana on her bicep. All the butches of the generation just before mine competed for Lana, especially Buffy Lee John and Spike the Dyke. Some really good stories that I'll save for later!
The Nite Beat and the Castaways were two different bars, across the street from each other. The Beat was the women's bar; Castaways was mostly guys but women were welcome, too. I met the love of my life there, Sue M., who shall remain last-nameless since she is a very private person. She's still with the dagger she left me for...
The original Nite Beat was indeed where Castaways II and later, the Ball Game were located: 196 S. 2nd. I used to go there in 1967, when I was too young to get in. We'd try to look older, as if we knew how, by slicking our hair back and trying to dress conservatively. When they didn't let us in the front door because we had no ID, we'd sneak in the side door and dance until they'd catch us. I remember asking why there were walls at the front instead of windows. The answer was that women constantly got into fights and broke the windows, throwing one another around.
If they caught us too soon, we'd go downtown and 'camp' down the avenue, being as outrageously gay as we could. It was really the beginning of the gay rights movement in Milwaukee. Later, we'd go to The Loop, on 5th and Michigan to wait for the 'bar crowd' so we could be with gay people. They had the worst hamburgers in the world, two slabs of bun with the burger carelessly thrown on it. You had to buy something to be there, so that's how I know. They had a notoriously mean, black haired, middle-aged waitress named Marie. You had to stay on her good side if you wanted to be there for bar crowd.
I met Buffy Lee John, and Spike the Dyke, too, there. Buffy had bleach-blond hair and was mean as a snake. I had the hots for Lana, her girlfriend.
D.H. Cass M.
Credits: contents, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Additional location information by Michail Takach.
Recollections contributed as indicated.
Last updated: July-2020.
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