For a city its size, Milwaukee (population 600,000) has a surprisingly good selection of LGBTQ nightspots, although as with many other cities around the country, the numbers have fallen a bit in recent years. Still, you'll find plenty of great places to meet and mingle in this hip metropolis that's undergone a bit of a renaissance in recent years. Many of the gay hangouts are in Walker's Point (and adjacent Harbor View), to the south of downtown, and you'll find plenty of mixed and rather trendy spots nearby in the Historic Third Ward and also—farther south—Bay View. Here's a look at some of the top LGBTQ hangouts in this friendly and picturesque city on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Not only is La Cage (801 S. 2nd St., 414-383-8330) the largest gay club in Milwaukee, it's actually the largest in the state of Wisconsin, or at least that's the claim. The longest-running gay club in the city, La Cage is smack in the center of the bustling gay nightlife district in historic Walker's Point, just south of downtown, several other gay bars are within easy walking distance.
As of 2018, La Cage was rebranded and renovated into a three-floor complex called LVL. On the ground floor, LVL Bistro has a full food menu with bar snacks like burgers, wings, and mozzarella sticks. The main floor in the middle is called LVL Complex, and the top floor (LVL Cabaret) is a performance and lounge space with drag shows, cabaret, and more.
A bit southeast of the main GLBT nightlife scene in Walker's Point, the Harbor Room (117 E. Greenfield Ave., 414-672-7988) is Milwaukee's top leather gay bar, also drawing a mix of bears, men in uniforms, and other cruise-y guys. Theme nights (jock straps and nipple ring on Tuesdays, leather and boots on Wednesdays) and one of the better scotch, wine, and beer selections of any gay bar in town account in part for Harbor Room's popularity.
A popular spot with members of Milwaukee's many gay sports teams (including softball, soccer, bowling, volleyball, and darts enthusiasts), Woody's (1579 S. 2nd St., 414-672-0806) is on the south end of Walker's Point, about 15 blocks down 2nd Street from the city's other gay sports bars, Ballgame. NTN Trivia challenges, Friday through Sunday beer busts, and cheap happy hours are part of the draw at this laid-back spot that draws a mostly male, all-ages crowd of gay sports fans.
In the lobby of the gay-friendly Metro Hotel, an upscale boutique hotel a couple of blocks from downtown's Cathedral Square, the Metro Lounge (411 E. Mason St., 414-272-1937) is a great spot for happy hour (or a bottle of wine on Thursdays, when they're half-price all night long). 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 Seven, a lounge that's only open for special events. It's a nice option downtown, which has only one true gay bar (the nearby This Is It lounge). The swish Metro Lounge adjoins excellent Cafe Metro restaurant.
You have to search a bit to find the only gay bar in Milwaukee's downtown area. The aptly named This Is It (418 E. Wells St., 414-278-9192) is centrally located but 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, a long bar, and a bench of comfy seating with small cocktail tables. This Is It has a certain Mad Men-esque 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.
On the same Walker's Point block as such popular hangouts at La Cage and Walker's Pint, convivial Fluid (819 S. 2nd St., 414-643-5843) is an excellent choice among the neighborhood's many gay bars for happy hour. It's particularly well-known for its extensive list of martinis, such as the "Gay Polack" with Pravda vodka, triple sec, cranberry, and orange juice, or the "Carol Brady," a refreshing concoction of Skyy Citrus, lemonade, and chambord. Two-for-one specials are a hit at happy hour, and there's an enticing drink special on offer just about every night of the week, plus very popular bingo-themed parties about once a week.
Charmingly quirky Walker's Pint (818 S. 2nd St., 414-643-7468), whose name is a play on the Walker's Point neighborhood in which it's located, is a welcoming tavern with a mixed lesbian-gay following. Overall this is a bit more of a women's hangout than other bars in the neighborhood (its official motto is "Lock Up Your Daughters"), but guys are made quite welcome here, too. Live bands sometimes perform here, and there's pool, darts, karaoke, and a cool juke box. On warm evenings, relax on the attractive patio. Walker's Pint is across the street from two other popular Milwaukee gay bars, Fluid and La Cage.
Although you won't find many specifically gay hangouts north of downtown Milwaukee, the funky and atmospheric Brady Street neighborhood has a number of shops, restaurants, and bars with a significant gay following, with the decidedly quirky Nomad World Pub (1401 E. Brady St., 414-224-8111) leading the way. The globally themed bar has live music many nights and one of the city's best selections of beer—on tap you can sample Founders Dirty Bastard, Magic Hat #9, Saison Dupont, Smithwicks, Tripple Karmeliet, and many others. From the list of cans and bottles, consider Central Waters Mudpuppy Porter, Duvel, Hitachino White, Kronenburg 1664, Lindmans Framboise, Negra Modelo, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, and good ol' favorites like PBR and Schlitz Tall Boys. The crowd tends toward scruffy, hip, collegiate, curious, and arty.
Although the south Milwaukee neighborhood of Bay View has one of the city's stronger representations of LGBTQ residents, it doesn't actually have any gay bars. Most of those are located just a short drive north in Walker's Point. However, Bay View does have its share of quirky, offbeat, and very gay-friendly cafes, restaurants, and lounges, with a particular retro-inviting highlight being At Random (2501 S. Delaware Ave., 414-481-8030). This slightly off-the-beaten-path lounge specializes in foofy, old-school, tropical cocktails, including more than a few with ice cream in them. The dark lounge with kitschy furnishings (including creepy clown paintings) 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.