View the Images & Articles Gallery page.
View excellent article about Woody's from 2019: Hidden Gem by Bobby Tanzilo, of OnMilwaukee.com.
Visit Woody's Facebook page
View a PDF of the web site as it existed in November 2005
Woodys' was opened on November 14, 1997 by Steve Behl and Ray Arce in what had previously been the gay bar B's, and was soon a hit. (Quest v4-i21 pg16-17)
The first news of the coming bar appeared in September in an interview with Ray Arce in the 'Quest' magazine (vol. 4-15, Sept. 1997). (See transcript of that interview on Images and Articles page.)
The first room is a typical bar, with the bar along the long south wall opposite two small rest rooms. The back room is much larger: long and open with a high ceiling. Because the bar is located on a corner (the northwest corner of 2nd St. and Lapham), a a few windows open from this larger back room to the outside (although starting at a height of about 4' off the floor- so letting in outside light without really being open to view from outside). There is a small bar situated at the far end of this larger room. (Even before this building had housed B's gay bar, it had housed a popular Mexican bar, which used the back room for large dances.)
The bar's Grand Opening was mentioned all the gay media with large addvertisements. 'Quest' magazine v4-i21 had a blurb in the 'Leather/ Fetish' column on pages 16-17, and photos on pg 35. The blurb reads "Woody's opened Sat., the 14, with a very nice turn out. The whole inside has been freshly painted and has new lighting. The big dance hall has been rearranged into a game room up front, with the back 2/3 designed for shows and dancing. The atmosphere is very clean, friendly and the staff knows how to make you feel welcome."
Upon opening this bar, the owner (Steve) saw the need for a gay sports bar- and thus installed a very large screen TV in the back room to make viewing games more enjoyable. Woody's thus became the first gay bar to be wildly popular for Packer Games, Badger Games, etc. On a typical Packer Sunday, the bar was packed full of customers from game time until the cheerful or gloomy end of the game-- helped by a beer bust for the entire game (and one hour beyond), and free shots with every Packer score. (Originally $6, beer busts unfortunately had to keep up with inflation, so as of 2018 were $9.)
Woody's has a pool table, a collection of video game machines, and also subscribes to an interactive video gaming system, where patrons can join in answering trivia questions etc., competeing against other players nationwide.
The back room, because of its size, is ideal for larger gatherings or events. For example, in addition to housing a larger crowd for Packer games, several leather gear 'swap' gatherings have been held here in years past, where various vendors or clubs show off their gear and sell what they can.
The bar changed hands in August-September 2009 when Bill Lison took over (OutBound v7-09). Then in about May 2009, Toby Heney and Kurt Baldwin bought the bar and the building. Long-time bartenders such as Lance and Roman continued to work there as they had a solid customer base, with Toby primarily managing and partner Kurt making frequent visits as a 'customer' bringing his friends along. But by and large the bar relied on word of mouth for business: it no longer had a real advertising budget or social media presence, and aside from Packer games, no longer held very many events. However it retained a core of regulars who kept the bar in business.
An excellent article on the history of the building and the bar appeared on the 'Urban Milwaukee' web site in 2016, in an article titled "Woody's is a Ramshackle Gay Bar". The article offered an excellent description of the current state of the bar, as well as the colorful history of the building.
During Steve's original owenrship, he somehow found and acquired the "dildo wagon" or cart that was once in the legendary Wreck Room bar. Known for the maybe-life-size "dildo" carved as the wagon yoke, the wagon was not always assembled, but when it was, it made an interesting setting to hold pizza, barbecue, or whatever is being served at Packer games or other events. Much earlier, the bar had also resurrected one other Wreck Room tradition: salted-in-the-shell peanuts were available in a barrel virtually all the time. As at the Wreck Room, patrons were encouraged to throw the shells on the floor.
Unfortunately, the original cart is no longer owned by the current bar: legend has it that previous-owner Steve kept the wagon wheels and undercarriage when he sold the bar. However as of mid-2018, the 'dildo yoke' and wagon top was still in the back bar area, making a curious piece of 'furniture' of which few people know the back-story.
On January 1, 2019, shortly after the midnight toast, the bar changed hands once again. Alan Kettering left a 9-to-5 engineering office job to buy the bar, and planned to make important but subtle improvements over time. But he wanted to keep the bar basically as it had been: laid back at times and busy at others, with a mix of regulars and newcomers. And he intended to continue to make Packer Games the best and most popular of any LGBT bar in the city.
After a year of 'business as usual' and some improvement, the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 hit, and the bar (along with millions of other bars, restaurants and other businesses around the world) was temporarily forced to close in March 2020 to reduce the spread of the disease. A large exhaust system was installed with a large duct above the main bar, and when the bar reopened around July 2020, legal capacity was temporarily greatly reduced and customers had to remain seated with social distancing and face mask use by staff and customers enforced. Through the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holidays, large capacity-size crowds were essentially banned and (like all bars) the ambiance was subdued.
But it was great timing for an article on the "OnMilwaukee" web site. The 2019 "Hidden Gems" article written by OnMilwaukee's Bobby Tanzilo, (as one of a series of articles he has authored on Milwaukee's "Hidden Gems", old taverns not always recognized as historical) was re-posted for Pride in 2020, and brought in just enough new faces to join the 'regulars' and help the bar get back on its feet.
COVID restrictions were gradually reduced, and about June 1, 2021, mask use by those vaccinated was lifted and capacity limits raised back to pre-pandemic levels. Woody's had survived the pandemic-- but many bars and restaurants across the country had been forced to close permanently, having been unable to sustain a year or more of no or greatly reduced business. Even such national gay bar landmarks as The Stonewall and Julius' in New York City had nearly gone under. The bar landscape was drastically changed. What will the future look like for bars, and especially gay bars?
But Woody's survived. As Packer football season began in September 2021, Woody's once again was packed with customers to watch the game, with pizza at half-time, and a free shot whenever the Packers score a touchdown. Although (like most bars) weekday nights have sparse turnout, cocktail hours see a strong business, and many nights see semi-regulars coming in for drinks, especially Friday and Saturday nights.
Woody's bar approaches its 25th anniversary with optimism and a loyal customer base. Leading up to their anniversary, the bar has changed gaming-equipment vendors, and had all new pool table, juke box, sound system and speakers, and gaming machines installed early in September 2022. Plans are underway for a 25th anniversary party on November 12, 2022, with a DJ, drag performances, drink specials and more. Moreover, as 2022 is the 50th anniversary of the opening of The Wreck Room bar as well as the 25th anniversary of Woody's, Woody's will bring the old Wreck Room "dildo yoke" out of storage for a special appearance during the anniversary weekend. With more changes and updates planned for the bar, Woody's should be around for some time to come.
Credits: web site concept, contents, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: July-2022.
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.