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This location, originally the site of two popular dance bars Gary's and then Circus Circus, was apparently vacant for a time. Then, in August 1980, a "teaser" ad appeared for "Trash" bar, without an address. The bar "Trash" advertised again in an October 1980 issue of Milwaukee Calendar, this time showing the "219 S. 2nd Street" address. But "Trash" appears to have had a slow start, and after just a few months, in January 1981, an ad "Trash it up at Club 219" appeared that essentially signaled a morphing into Club 219, and a major chapter in Milwaukee's gay bar life began.
Club 219 for many years was the most popular place for good times, as the bar gained a stellar reputation for dance. The bar carried on the tradition of bright lights, blaring music, high-energy dance and parties. For some years it was THE place to be on New Year's Eve.
Drag performer Bjorn Olaf Nasett (drag persona "BJ Daniels") described the stage area in a Facebook posting in April 2020 as follows: "Interesting shot of the stage at the Club 219 from the VIP booth across from it. The booth was on a landing along the stairway to the 3rd floor where the DJ booth and dressing rooms were located. The DJ booth overlooked the stage and had a lighting guy for every show. There was also a spot guy who climbed a ladder up the wall behind the VIP booth. Great lighting actually and the two tier stage is a wonderful thing for a performer. / The stage was elevated and the audience was either looking up from the lower bar or went up to the dance floor which was more like 3 feet off the floor. In the picture are me, with red hair, Mary Richards, then up top Dominique Mahon (RIP) and Tiffany Thomas."
Although extremely popular, Club 219 was surpassed as the premier dance bar by La Cage upon that bar's opening in 1984, and after that Club 219 became the "second" gay dance bar. However it was still home of regular drag show performances, as well as hosting male strippers/dancers.
Club 219 became nationally infamous mid-1991 when it was revealed that this was the bar frequented by mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, who met several men here who were subsequently found to be murdered by him.
By the mid 1990's, Club 219 had been eclipsed by several other bars in popularity, and as the 90's came to a close, the area was struggling as development began to encroach on the area, severely limiting parking. The bar continued to operate however, and early 2005 saw new hope as long-time DJ Tony (Tonya) (formerly of La Cage), was hired and began to try to inject new energy into the bar with updated lighting, music, and entertainment.
But unfortunately the bar finally succumbed to declined popularity and sparse crowds even on Saturday nights. It closed its doors early in October 2005.
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!
"I worked at Cest La Vie for a time and John Clayton had an unwritten rule; Cest La Vie bartenders were not allowed to go into 219 or Phoenix. Mostly 219. (There was friction between John and Bobby Lyons over property that was adjacent to Cest La Vie but was owned by 219. John was pissed because 219 would not sell it to him). Well not all of us bartenders followed that rule. I went on a date with what would become my 1st boyfriend (Danny Fonz) at 219. It was exciting as that had been the 1st dance club I had ever been to. After I left Cest La Vie I went in there more often. One night a guy said “Hi” to me. I walked away because he stunk. That person I later learned was Jeffrey Dahmer.
After I started working for In Step (as photographer), I went (to Club 219) a lot (I never had to pay cover charge). I shot many drag shows and strippers there. I also met many famous drag queens there and they all loved me because they knew they would probably make it to the pages of In Step. Ron (owner of In Step) called me one day and said I have a photo shoot for you at 219. I thought ok… until he said 'Oh, by the way, get some good pictures of Carol Channing'. I was elated! She was the first of many national celebrities I would meet over the years with In Step. One time a guy did a show there with a tiger. (I have pics of that somewhere.)
There were many popular bartenders that worked there at one time or another. Kevin Rotar (who drown in Lake Michigan during a boating trip in 1997), Mark Meyerhoffer, Spike and Rodger 'Dodger', just to name a few.
Kimberly Anne spun the records most of the time I went there. We used to go up to the DJ booth and pass a bowl around (back when I did that sort of thing). I was sure to see the strippers 'package' un-wrapped up there too. Kimberly had a knack at getting the strippers to 'whip it out'. Lots of naughty stuff happened in that DJ booth. If the audience only knew the 'access' I had to the strippers they would all be jealous. Hell they should be happy… I was the 'fluffer' on a few occasions. (Gawd, I hope my mother and family never read this… lol.)
Credits: Web site concept, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Primary writeup and photos by Don Schwamb.
Many photos and captions courtesy of B.J. Daniels.
Last updated: May-2023.
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.