The Pink Glove was an extremely short-lived gay bar, open for just 67 days in 1958. As such, it's not listed in City Directories, or in any national Gay Guides, which only started being compiled in the early 1960s. LGBT historian and researcher Mikail Takach has compiled the following information about The Pink Glove:
The 600 North block of Broadway may be sleepy today, but in times past, this was quite the sizzling strip. Marble Hall, one of the city's oldest buildings, most storied whiskey saloons, and "the toniest gambling den in town," operated at 625-631 N. Broadway from 1867 to 1947.
In time, the Old Hall became as a big-league betting market, setting the odds for the entire city: on games, on races, on elections, on everything. Governors, businessmen, judges and councilmen brokered deals at the marble bar for decades. Well-connected owner Alfred Pawinski didn’t take Prohibition too seriously – until he was fined and sent to jail for a year. While Marble Hall closed temporarily, celebrated bartender "Broadway Pete" set up a not-so-secret speakeasy above 625 N. Broadway that continued until 1933.
Liquor returned later that year, but business was never quite the same. "Whisky that the old patrons would have scorned now passes over the bar," said critics. The gig was up. In 1947, the last incarnation of Marble Hall (631 N. Broadway) was absorbed into the long-running Phillip's Cafeteria next door. "Perfect ladies never gathered there," remembered The Milwaukee Journal. "Marble Hall was exclusively a masculine preserve."
And that's exactly the vibe Marvin and Harold Klein were gambling on.
On August 5, 1958, Phillip's Cocktail Lounge closed for remodeling. Marble floors and fixtures were covered with red velour; ancient brass fixtures were replaced with soft pink sconces. "(The manager) says he's going to try to build up the night business," said the Milwaukee Sentinel. "Anyone who knows how dead N. Broadway is after 8 o'clock can realize this is a stupendous undertaking."
Two weeks later, the Pink Glove opened for business. Decades ahead of its time, it is believed to be one of the first “concept” gay bars in Milwaukee. Rather than just a place where gay men gathered, the Pink Glove deliberately marketed to the gay community.
"[Marvin Klein] pointed out that homosexuals were orderly people and usually good spenders," reads an FBI report from the era. "He brought in a gay couple from Chicago to promote the idea of a gay bar... He denied that the Pink Glove was part of a national operation catering to homosexuals. He did state, however, that pink is a color used as a signal for sex deviates."
Wisconsin LGBT History Project contributors remember that white and black men openly mingled at the Pink Glove -- years before this was socially acceptable elsewhere in Milwaukee.
The Pink Glove made an astonishing $15,000 (adjusted 2016 dollars) in its first week. Business was good. There was just one problem: the remodel came at a higher cost than the Kleins expected. FBI reports state that the Kleins received remodel assistance from sponsors of "Italian and Jewish extraction." Based on witness reports, emerging crime boss Frank Balistrieri may have been one of those sponsors.
One week after the Pink Glove opened, FBI agents reported that Balistrieri was "sending men into the bar to check the cash register." On September 4, 1958, Marvin Klein and Frank Balistrieri were seen arguing at the Belmont Hotel. Soon after, Milwaukee police began bombarding the bar with raids.
Marvin Klein had already been under strict license review due to his association with "amusement machine distributor operations." In October 1957, he rescued his liquor license by promising to "divorce" himself from the 48 jukeboxes he operated in town. Why would the Common Council even care about jukeboxes? At the time, organized crime syndicates operated most jukebox, cigarette and vending machines, and often used these licenses to strong-arm bar takeovers from within.
In 1958, businesses could lose their licenses just for allowing homosexuals to congregate. Any evidence of “deviate behavior” – something as innocent as two male strangers sitting next to each other at a bar – was enough to justify police attention. Anything more physically intimate could result in violence, arrest, shame and life-changing defamation. Within eight weeks, the Pink Glove had gone from an unusually safe space to a definite danger zone.
Ultimately, the City of Milwaukee ordered the Pink Glove to close or face further charges. The bar closed forever on October 25, 1958, and Klein relinquished his liquor license to the Common Council on November 11, 1958.
"[Marvin Klein] fully expected the police to close the place up in time," said an FBI informant. "He could have avoided this situation if he had paid the right people, but he made no attempt to do so." The FBI noted that Tony's Riviera Cocktail Lounge (401 N. Plankinton) had operated from 1952-1964 as a well-known gay bar without any known police intervention.
Freddy Jordan, former owner of the Empire Lounge (716 N. Plankinton Ave.,) took over the operation. In February 1959, a completely remodeled bar and grill opened at 631 N. Broadway. Not even a hint of pink was left behind.
Seven known gay bars operated in 1950s Milwaukee. While no trace of the other six LGBTQ landmarks remains, the long-vacant Pink Glove – open only for 67 troubled days in 1958 – awaits its next adventure at 631 N. Broadway.
(Read the full article of the Pink Glove and the building that housed it in this article at OnMilwaukee.com by Michail Takach, titled "Gambling on gay nightlife in the 1950s: LGBT landmark still standing six decades after historic shutdown".)
(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. The Pink Glove is one of many early LGBT landmarks documented in the book.)
Phillip Crawford Jr., who has written a book "The Mafia and the Gays", corroborates this information about the Pink Glove. In a blog post titled "Historic Milwaukee Gay Bars; Police Department Shuts Down Pink Glove In 1958 For Not Having "Proper Protection" he relates the following:
"...A place nicknamed Brew City had to have gay bars even during the 1950s. The FBI identified the following "homosexual hangouts" in Milwaukee, WI according to a 1959 report: The Clifton Bar at 336 West Juneau; The Royal Hotel Bar at 5th and Michigan Street; The White Horse Inn at 1426 North 11th Street; The Riviera Bar at 401 North Plankington Avenue; and The Wildwood Bar, a "colored lesbian hangout," at 1420 West Walnut Street. However, like in most American cities at this time, it apparently was necessary for a gay bar to have the "proper protection" -- i.e., making payoffs -- in order to operate without police molestation.
"One gay bar which did not have the "proper protection" was the Pink Glove at 631 North Broadway according to a July 1958 FBI report concerning its closure by Milwaukee cops:
"Information has been developed that the "Pink Glove" Cocktail Lounge has had its license revoked by the Milwaukee PD because it has gained the reputation of being a "fag" hangout; that is, being patronized by queers and sex perverts. This cocktail lounge was licensed to [name redacted] although it is believed that [name redacted] had a financial interest in it. The cocktail lounge is now "for sale" and [name redacted] owner of the popular Jordan's Restaurant on North Water Street, is believed to be interested in purchasing it. Jordan's Restaurant caters to the sporting crowd on Milwaukee's financial row - North Water Street. [Name redacted] has been heard to have said that the reason the Milwaukee PD closed the "Pink Glove" is because he did not have the proper "protection."
"The watering hole did not have a long life as a gay bar. The license holder for the Pink Glove was Marvin Klein, and it previously had operated as Phillips Cocktail Lounge. However, according to FBI files, "this cocktail lounge was recently leased or in some manner the [name redacted] took in partners who are homosexuals with the resultant change in the name of the cocktail lounge to the Pink Glove, which in a matter of weeks became so notorious as a hangout for homosexuals in Milwaukee that the Milwaukee Police Department has been literally forced to close the place up."
Credits: research, text and photos contributed by Michail Takach
with corroboration from Phillip Crawford Jr. and others.
Web site by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: June-2016.
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.