History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Wisconsin - Businesses - Bars and Clubs

Location: 814 S. 2nd Street, Milwaukee WI


February 1980
September 1984

Male/ female
Bar/ Restaurant/ social


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Shadows was opened by Frank Thalacker as a 45-seat restaurant/bar serving old fashioned American food. It quickly became a favorite restaurant for the gay community, earning a reputation among locals as well as visitors to the city. The restaurant was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week; the bar was opened until legal closing time (2:00am at the time).

(Contributor and Facebook site host Jamie Taylor recalls that 'Shadow' was the name of Frank and Earl's (of the Finale bar) dog.)

Both the restaurant and the owner Frank Thalacker were praised in an article in June 1980 in Milwaukee Calendar (a 'bar rag' in the mid 1980's). Writers Jon-Henri Damski and Erin Criss of Chicago had high praise indeed; that article read:

    Who would ever think that one of the best American restaurants serving old fashioned American food would be a small 45-seat, gay -owned, and operated restaurant and bar, located at 2nd and National in Milwaukee called Shadows.

    Chicago has nothing like Shadows. San Francisco has nothing better than Shadows. And Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, and New York have no gay restaurant to surpass Shadows.

    When Frank Thalacker, the owner, last February took over the bar Shadows and added a restaurant, he thought he was going into a good business and doing something needed in Milwaukee. He had no idea that he was setting up a restaurant that would be the talk of traveling gays throughout the network from San Francisco, to Toronto, New York and Chicago.

    Why in Milwaukee) Why Shadows? Most gay restaurants are either too loose or too uptight.

    When they are loose, everyone feels free to camp it up, party and be outrageous. But no one feels the food should be clean or hot. Oh isn't that waiter cute dancing on the table. And because it is gay-owned and operated, and we are still cousins together, we are supposed to overlook the burnt toast, the over-cooked vegetables, and the worm crawling on our lettuce.

    When they are uptight, you and your lover are never to hold hands for fear you will give away the owner's secret. And you are not to complain because you are in an award winning, nationally recognized Top 10 linen napkin restaurant: so what if the food is as cold as the atmosphere, the portions are as thin as the waiter, and the price and time they let you eat are a pure hustle.

    Shadows in Milwaukee is just right: the atmosphere is open and loosely gay; the food is warm, American, and excellent in every detail, and the prices are a bargain for everybody. Frank follows the tradition of Milwaukee bar owners: they live with their customers, they don't exploit them. In Milwaukee you have to stay friendly to stay in business: there are not that many tourists to rip off.

    Shadows is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 7 days a week, 11 to 11, and the bar stays open til 2.

    Ricky, the Milwaukee Mick Jagger, and Joe, the Milwaukee Clark Kent, are sweetheart bartenders. They are great guys to wait around with until there is a table for dinner, and great guys to have after-dinner drinks with. Dale is a courteous waiter. And Mark and Jack are real down home cooks: you won't get better cooked eggs and hunks of ham, pork chops, and steaks, and broccoli in any restaurant.

    That's the point. Shadows is a first rate restaurant first, and a first rate place for gays. Guys come in business suits for a working lunch, or in softball uniforms and cleats for breakfast before the games and lunch and drinks after.

    Breakfasts and lunches run around $3; dinners between $5 and $9. Frank realized that a lot of gays live semi-transient lives and he wants them to have a well-balanced meal they can afford. He is generous with his blue cheese dressing and sour cream. His desserts of hot apple pie or cheese cake will make you forget your last trick.

    And if you go to Milwaukee as a visitor, you will probably find that Shadows will be your home base there too.

On February 6, 1981, Shadows hired well known Chef Lois Whitlock to take over the restaurant operations of Shadows, and the business became "Shadows/ Diplomat Cocktails & Dining".

The business continued its popularity, and hosted many shows and parties, while continuing to serve excellent daily dinner specials and other dining opportunities. It also continued many Milwaukee LGBT bars' custom of having a softball team in the SSBL/ Saturday Softball League.

In September 1983, the business advertised a Grand Opening of "the All NEW Shadows Restaurant". It's not clear what changed other than the "Diplomat" name had been discarded; perhaps Chef Lois had departed. A few months later, a blurb in 'In Step' magazine's Steppin' Out column mentions that "Matthew from Shadows tells me that not many of you came in for the Anniversary buffet, but piled in shortly after the buffet table was taken down-- for sandwiches"; from which we infer that business may have been on the decline.

Shadows closed in September 1984; we are unaware of the reasons it went out of business. The space was renovated to re-open as Hot Legs, a lesbian bar, shortly after. Hot Legs lasted a few years, but in a case of deja vu, in December 1987 this same building saw another opening as a new bar/restaurant named Shadows II / The Top Shelf.

Other LGBT businesses in this location include:

Read a summary of the history of these 8 businesses and their effect on Milwaukee LGBT nitelife written by Project Curator Michail Takach at the Black Forest Legacy page.

(In addition to the owner and others featured in various articles and images, another employee at Shadows was Denny (Chris) Welch, who died in 1989.)

Cover image
(Milw. Calendar vol. 3-12, June 1980)
Cover info: Bar manager Rick Wiedeman
(Milw. Calendar vol. 3-12, June 1980)
(Milw. Calendar vol. 3-12, June 1980)
Article on the bar/ restaurant and owner Frank Thalacker
(Milw. Calendar vol. 3-12, June 1980)
Photos: Performers at Shadows show
(Milw. Calendar vol. 3-18, August 1980)
Advertisement: Celebration for new Indoor garden,
Dance floor, Sound system, Sandwich bar
(Milw. Calendar vol. 3-22, Oct. 1980)
Ad: Cabaret starring CoCo & Ginger Spice
(Milw. Calendar vol. 4-06, April 1981)

The building as it existed in 2004
(Photo by Don Schwamb, May 2004)

Early Advertisement
(Milw. Calendar vol. 3-09, April 1980)

Photo: Softball players c1981

Article about bar/restaurant and owner
(Milw. Calendar vol. 3-12, June 1980)

Photo: Chef Lois Whitlock, owner Frank Thalacker, Matthew Gordon
(Milw. Calendar vol. 4-02, Feb. 1981)

Article: Shadows has closed: "being ripped apart (and opening very soon) as primarily a women's dance bar to be called 'Hot Legs'"
(In Step vol. 1-12, October 1984)

Credits: web site concept, contents, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: February-2023.

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