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

Pirate Ship
Location: 116 N. Fairchild St., Madison


approx. 1972
approx. 1977

Men's Bar/ social



The only information we have about this bar is from a few contributors. The Pirate Ship was a fairly dark wood-paneled interior cruise bar with a nautical theme (nets, port holes, lanterns, etc) catering to an older clientele. The primary bartender (and possibly owner) was a short, older woman.

The bar closed early – midnight or so; those patrons who hadn’t gotten “lucky” during bar hours gathered in the back parking lot and frequently ended up migrating to someone’s house or apartment for further partying and frolicking. (Read the "Recollection" below for more information.)

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 matron (bartender and, I think owner) was a short, older, ornery woman – probably a lesbian but I never knew for sure. I came to like her very much.

      The story as to how I found the Pirate Ship is amusing. I was a UW student (EE) and a fraternity member (ZBT). One evening one of my older frat brothers asked me if I wanted to join he and another brother to go down to a local gay bar to have a few laughs at the faggots.

      Of course I knew I was gay but very much in the closet and didn’t want to be included in such a venture. But, at the same time, I was curious where this place was. So I went along with the guys. We walked in – the others snickering at the older gay men (me, totally agog). The matron immediately picked us out, grabbed us by our ears and escorted us out the front door, “I never want to see you boys back in here again!!”

      Naturally, later that evening, I went back. Upon seeing me enter she immediately began her tirade, but I stopped her, “I belong here – please let me stay.” She replied, “I’ll have my eye on you and if you don’t behave, you’ll be back out the door!”

      I was to return to the Pirate Ship many times over the next couple years.

      I was in Madison from ~’72-’76 so it must have been during those years that I was a regular at the Pirate Ship. There were a couple other gay bars catering to students and a younger clientele, but my thing was older men.

      Bob L., California

      I attended UW-Whitewater and later UW-Madison. One of my roommates took me to the Pirate Ship and came out to me. But even that didn't make me comfortable enough to come out myself. My roommates didn't know it, but I started sneaking out to the bar on a regular basis. I would lock my door, climb out a second story window and then sneak back in later. I would tell them I was going for a swim and jump in the lake on the way back just so there wouldn't be any questions. The joke was on me: My roommate wound up being a lesbian who would have her dates over while I was out. I was concealing myself from someone who was also concealing their true selves from me.

      Gary K.


Interior of The Pirate Ship
(courtesy of Gary Kampe via Michail Takach)

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

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