The little information we have about this bar is from a Facebook contributor (Don M.). He recalls:
"Here is another blast from the past. In the late 1960's, (this bar) was known as the "Grand Prix", the name deriving from an earlier incarnation as a bar with a racing car motif. By the late 60's, the interior was red and black and decorated with the caricatures of celebrities by Al Hirshfeld.
"When this bar (which was a "Gentleman's Club") opened, the nearby Marcus Center for the Performing Arts had not yet been so named and was called simply the Performing Arts Center, thus the name "Art's Performing Center" became a play on words.
"My favorite memory was sitting there listening to Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) belt out 'Don't You Want Somebody To Love'."
Another contributor (D.H.C.M.) recalls: "I was there once when it was raided by Milwaukee's finest. They carded everyone and I had to show them my fake ID. They didn't catch it. What a relief! We called the place the GP."
The Grand Prix is listed in national Gay Bar Guides from 1966 to 1972, usually as "Grand Prix Lounge". Listings are all over the place: sometimes "very popular", sometimes "rough area", then "primarily women" and "private club". The final listing in a 1972 guide reads "on and off"- and there are no listings after that. Local documentation is scarce.
No contemporary photo from the building as "Grand Prix Lounge" is known. The photo to right shows how the building looked c2010-2012 on East Juneau west of Water St.
The discovery of an advertisement from January 1961 indicates the bar (at least at that time) was owned by Fred Rediske and Karl A. Ratzsch Jr. Karl Ratzsch was well known in Milwaukee for his name-sake restaurant.
(From Eater.com website based on a New York Times article:) Milwaukee institution Karl Ratzsch's Restaurant closed April 2017. The 113-year-old German restaurant had in its time counted Wisconsinites Liberace and Frank Lloyd Wright among its patrons. Just a year earlier, 'James Beard Best Chef: Midwest' finalist Thomas Hauck bought and renovated Karl Ratzsch's, with the goal of updating the century-old restaurant. He got rid of the dining room's traditional tablecloths, German knickknacks, and year-round Christmas decorations, and added more modern takes on German cuisine to the menu. The changes turned off longtime regulars, and the restaurant never managed to find its footing with a younger crowd.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Karl Ratzsch was one of only a few restaurants representative of the city's German heritage still remaining. First called Otto Hermann's Café before being purchased by Hermann's son-in-law and restaurant employee Karl Ratzsch, the restaurant had occupied an elaborately painted building in downtown Milwaukee since 1929. It stayed in the Ratzsch family until 2003 when the family sold it to employees who then sold it to Hauck.
More information about The Grand Prix bar is welcomed from anyone who can contribute it.
Credits: web site concept, contents, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Additiioonal background and image by Michail Takach.
National gay guide research by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: September-2021.
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.