Though Milwaukee in the southeast corner of Wisconsin is not a huge city, the hip metropolis has undergone somewhat of a renaissance and does have a surprisingly good selection of LGBTQ nightspots to meet and mingle. Friendly and picturesque, the city on the shores of Lake Michigan offers many LGBTQ-friendly businesses, from bars and clubs to hotels with cool lounges.
A lot of the hangouts are south of downtown in historic Walker's Point—the warehouse district that has been dubbed "The Gayborhood"—as well as in the adjacent Harbor View neighborhood. Plenty of mixed and trendy spots are nearby in the Historic Third Ward and farther south in Bay View, a neighborhood with one of the city's stronger representations of gay residents and some offbeat and LGBTQ-friendly cafes, restaurants, and lounges. Although you won't find many specifically gay places to be north of downtown Milwaukee, the funky Brady Street neighborhood has a number of shops, eateries, and bars with a significant gay following. Also, if you are in the area in June, don't miss the Gay Milwaukee PrideFest, one of the biggest pride festivals in the U.S.
From leather bars and drag shows to karaoke and tasty treats, Milwaukee is home to some gay nightclubs that bring locals and visitors many fun and engaging evenings out.
- LaCage Niteclub: One of the longest-running gay clubs in Milwaukee, LaCage Niteclub—which has gone through some name and ownership changes over the years—is one of the largest LGBTQ clubs in the city. Located in the center of Walker's Point, the venue is within easy walking distance of gay bars. While the middle floor houses the nightclub, the ground floor of the three-floor complex is where you'll find LVL Bistro, with bar snacks like burgers, wings, and mozzarella sticks. The third floor, called LVL Events, has lounge space with drag shows, cabaret, and more.
- Harbor Room: A bit southeast of the main gay nightlife scene is Milwaukee's top leather gay club, also drawing a mix of bears, men in uniforms, and other cruise-y guys. Enjoy theme nights such as Karaoke on Fridays, playing games and darts, summer barbecues and parties, and a good selection of scotch, wine, and beer. This place is open every day of the year.
Milwaukee has a variety of welcoming bars for LGBTQ folks. You'll find everything from a high-end hotel with a nice lounge and rooftop terrace to a gay sports bar screening games on various TVs.
- This Is It!: You have to search a bit to find this gay bar in Milwaukee's downtown area, which opened in 1968 and is one the longest-running gay bars in the state. The place is centrally located but only discovered through a discreet door along the middle of East Wells Street, just west of Cathedral Square. And what a great little gem it is—you can walk here from downtown hotels and restaurants, and inside you'll find a classic retro-fabulous speakeasy with Tiffany-style lamps and a long bar, and comfortable seating with small cocktail tables. This Is It! has a certain "Mad Men" type of chic: Guys in suits drop by early in the evening while the late crowd is more eclectic and includes a lot of patrons strolling in after having attended local theater productions and concerts, or having had dinner at one of downtown's many fine restaurants.
- Metro Lounge: In the lobby of the gay-friendly, upscale Hotel Metro a couple of blocks from downtown's Cathedral Square, there's a great spot for happy hour. Because the hotel has a bit of an LGBTQ following, you'll often spot "family" in the lounge, or up on the roof at Zen On 7, a terrace with nice views and a fireplace. The Metro Lounge is a good option downtown, near This Is It!
- Woody's: A popular venue with members of Milwaukee's many gay sports teams (including softball, soccer, bowling, volleyball, and darts enthusiasts), Woody's is on the south end of Walker's Point. Trivia challenges, Friday through Sunday beer busts, numerous TVs playing games, and cheap happy hours are part of the draw at this laid-back bar that attracts a mostly male, all-ages crowd of gay sports fans.
- Fluid: On the same block as popular hangouts LaCage Niteclub and Walker's Pint, convivial Fluid is an excellent happy hour choice among the neighborhood's many gay bars. It's particularly well-known for its extensive list of martinis, and visitors enjoy drink specials, bingo and other events, and an outdoor patio when the weather's nice.
- Walker's Pint: This quirky tavern across the street from Fluid and La Cage Niteclub has a mixed lesbian-gay following. Overall it's more of a women's hangout, as the oldest lesbian bar in Milwaukee, but guys are quite welcome here, too. Live bands sometimes perform, and the venue has pool, darts, karaoke, and a cool jukebox. On warm evenings, relax on the attractive patio.
- Nomad World Pub: The globally-themed bar on atmospheric Brady Street has live music many nights and features weekly Non-Pop! events with painting, DJs, and visual projections, along with other fun themed gatherings. Enjoy this venue with one of the city's best selections of beer—you can sample numerous types on tap. The crowd tends toward scruffy, hip, collegiate, curious, and arty.
- At Random: This slightly off-the-beaten-path retro and gay-friendly lounge in Bay View specializes in old-school tropical cocktails, including some with ice cream in them. The dark lounge with kitschy furnishings is a big part of the appeal. If John Waters filmed his movies in Milwaukee, he'd likely shoot a few scenes at At Random.
Tips for Going Out in Milwaukee
- If you are wondering how to get around Milwaukee while checking out the nightlife, the city offers everything from the Milwaukee County Transit System buses—which serve downtown Milwaukee and the county—to several taxi companies to rideshare options like Uber and Lyft. There are also 100 stations with bikes you can use via the share program Bublr Bikes.
- Milwaukee is generally safe, and tourists are not usually in much danger, but it's good to take typical precautions, especially at night. Don't walk in dark/unfamiliar areas, learn your surroundings, and be discreet with money and jewelry. Like in any big city, avoid dangerous neighborhoods.
- It is illegal for anyone age 21 and up to drive if their Blood/Breath Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is 0.08 or greater. If you are under 21 years of age and driving, you must maintain "absolute sobriety;" it's illegal to drive with any amount of alcohol in your system.