Unexpectedly sophisticated and oozing Midwestern charm, Gay Milwaukee is one of those under-the-radar-destinations you’ll wonder why you haven’t heard about sooner.
The heartland of blue-collar America, Milwaukee, is known as a working man’s town. It has long been associated with Harley-Davidson, The Fonz, breweries, cold brews and hot brats. But contemporary Milwaukee takes that reputation, embraces what works and jettisons what does. the results are nothing short of extraordinarily hip and fabulously gay-friendly
Yes. Hip. While Chicago down the road might get all the attention, Milwaukee has quietly been having a bit of a revolution. The obsession with beer and festivals remain, but Milwaukee is also looking to the future – as evident by its trendy Riverside redevelopment production, the surprisingly impressive Harley-Davidson Museum, and the Calatrava-designed art museum. Then there is the gay scene here – which is far from what we expected.
Milwaukeeans might not be holding hands on the Street like San Fran or Berlin, but queer folk here are welcomed and accepted for who they are. Much like Wellington in New Zealand or Brisbane in Australia, we put this conservativeness more down to a general cultural disdain for public displays of affection than intolerance.
There are a few neighborhoods that stand out as particular hubs for LGBT folk, the foremost of which is 2nd Street in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood (by night anyway). Here you can find a mixture of drag joint, dive bar, mega-clubs, and quiet spots for cocktails – all proudly flying the rainbow flag every night of the week. The historic Third Ward warehouse district, gentrifying Riverwest, and quirky Brady Street are also popular for gay residents to live, work and play.
Are you relocating? This guide will help travelers discover the queerer side of the city. However, if you are lucky enough to be considering a move here, we recommend getting in touch with a local gay realtor. They can happily give you no-obligation advice and all the information you'll ever need to know about your new city. And if you then want their help to find your dream home, you are guaranteed fair, equal, and honest representation. No surprises or awkward conversations necessary!
Milwaukee is recognized as the “City of Festivals,” and the season each year is kicked off by PrideFest – a festival for all those who love love taking place over three days in June. If you have experience the Pink days of German festivals in Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Munich, it feels a little like this. But American. PrideFest is undoubtedly when Gay Milwaukee is most fabulous -, but we think the intoxicating mixture of craft beer, Midwestern hospitality, art, and urban renewal makes Milwaukee an attractive proposition year-round.
Either way, this lakeside city is always waiting for you with open arms…
Gay Milwaukee Guide: The Essential Guide To LGBT Travel In Milwaukee Wisconsin
In this article we will cover...
Attractions in Milwaukee
As we already said, there is a lot to love in this vibrant city – and even those who are not interested in beer, Harley-Davidson’s or Mid-western charm will find plenty to love.
There is a prolific arts community, rejuvenated neighborhoods to discover, exceptional architecture, a distinguished restaurant scene, and so many more things to do we couldn’t possibly list them all. If you plan on seeing a lot outside of the Milwaukee core, then car hire is also a very affordable option and will easily allow you access to the more far-flung attractions of Wisconsin and the surrounding area. This is America, after all — and the car is still king!
Naturally, being gay does not define which attractions most of us will want to see in each destination, and most queer travelers will simply want to check out the top things to see in Milwaukee during the day! We found our favorite memories were wandering historic neighborhoods (and picking out our dream house), dancing till dawn with our queer family, exploring craft beer scene from sunny patios, and spending hours in the beautiful Milwaukee Art Museum.
However, if you’re someone who can’t sit still, we have put together a few of our other things to do in this exciting city that are sure to keep you busy!
The Top Highlights Of Milwaukee
- Milwaukee Brewing History Museum – Delve into Brew City M.K.E. to learn about Milwaukee’s beer brewing history. Feel free to sip a fresh-brewed beer in the museum as you take a self-guided tour of the exhibits curated by the Milwaukee County Historical Society. Afterward, present your admission ticket at the onsite bar for one complimentary glass of Milwaukee Tap Beer or Sprecher Craft Soda.
- Milwaukee Riverwalk District – A three-mile walkway and sculpture gallery along the Milwaukee River reminiscent of the San Antonio River Walk. A hip urban renewal project that has re-connects neighborhoods and businesses over the past 19 years while winning several national awards.
- Milwaukee Food Tour – Milwaukee is called many names; Brew City, City of Festivals, and Cream City, but it is most recognized as the place for great beer and cheese in the Upper Midwest. The large 19th-century Germanic population continues to influence the local food products and dishes here in the incredible restaurants of the Historic Third Ward and East Town Downtown. On this tour, you’ll get to experience and enjoy all the best Milwaukee has to offer and get plenty of ideas for where to try next. Perfect for foodies!
- Bradford Beach – While there is no gay beach in Milwaukee, the Bradford public beach is a great place to spend the day. Lie in the sand, take your yoga mat, or just enjoy watching the boys playing on the beach volleyball courts. Or further to the north, Atwater Park is also another favorite of ours.
- Milwaukee Public Museum – A natural and human history museum in downtown Milwaukee opened to the public in 1884. Since then, it has gathered a prolific collection of over 4 million artifacts, which it displays in its seventeen permanent exhibits. The oldest exhibit still on display is the “Streets of Old Milwaukee”, which opened in 1965, but one of the most popular continues to be the European Village, where the homes and shops from thirty-three European cultures (circa the late 19th and early 20th centuries) are imaginatively re-created. This environment was envisaged to promote a better understanding of some of the diverse European heritages that settled in Milwaukee and the wider U.S. at the time. It’s like Antwerp, Madrid, Prague, and Rome — all rolled into one, and without the airfare.
- Milwaukee Kayak Rental – Rent a kayak and paddle and explore the beautiful City Skyline on your own. Along the way, don’t forget to stop off at one of the many local breweries or restaurants along the river. All that paddling will make you thirsty after all.
- Milwaukee Art Museum – One of the largest museums in the U.S.A., comparable with the best in Washington DC or New York. Inside, nearly 25,000 works of art are displayed on four floors, with works from antiquity to the present. There is everything from 15th- to 20th-century European to 20th-century American paintings, sculpture, drawings, decorative arts, and photographs. Highlights include the American decorative arts, German Expressionism, folk and Haitian art, and American art after 1960. An expansion in 2015 saw the new addition, the exceptional Shields Building, become a reason in and of itself.
- Lakefront Brewery – A capacious pub boasting bar bites and diverse offerings of beers, including organic & gluten-free brews. Started in 1987, this industrious and inventive craft brewery is a popular spot to spend the afternoon riverside – and a point of pride for many beer-loving locals.
- North Point Lighthouse – Ideal for architecture and history buffs. The restored landmark is one of the oldest structures in the city. It features a 74-foot (23-meter) tower and Queen Anne-style living quarters. The lighthouse has been part of maritime trade on the Great Lakes since its construction in the late 1800s.
- Grohmann Museum – On the Milwaukee School of Engineering campus, the Grohmann Museum is unique in that it’s the only museum of its kind in the country and perhaps the world. Nowhere else will you find a collection and exhibition program dedicated to the art of labor, engineering, and human achievement.
- Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear – Delve into the American past at this history museum features displays of Americana created from artifacts collected by the late Avrum Chudnow. Items that were in everyday use in American shops, homes, and workplaces during the 1920s-30s are curated into exhibits that appeal to history buffs and anyone who enjoys a quirky window on history.
- Milwaukee Public Market – A unique downtown food destination exploding with a unique and high-quality selection of ethnic artisan products, and freshly-made prepared foods.
- Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory – Feel the heat of a desert oasis, the humidity of a tropical jungle, and the bright colors of a floral garden…all at one destination! The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, better known as The Domes, is a living museum filled with plants from across the globe, and open every day of the year.
- Harley-Davidson Museum – Leather and motorcycles lovers won’t want to miss a visit to this extensive museum that showcases the company’s rich 100-year history and vehicles through a variety of interactive exhibits. See everything that comes together to create a classic Harley-Davidson engine, wander the galleries of bikes from yesteryear, or pop by every Saturday night for special B.B.Q. platters, and live Blues music from 5:30-8:30 PM.
- Milwaukee Sightseeing City Tour – Appreciated for its beer, brats, baseball, and stunning lakefront scenery, Milwaukee has more sights than most adventurers realize. During this fun Milwaukee stour, you’ll spot the city’s famous City Hall, tour the Milwaukee Art Museum, learn about the city’s history, and even get a sense of its extraordinary homes. A good overview for those with a limited amount of sightseeing time.
Gay Things To Do In Milwaukee
- AIDS Walk Wisconsin – Whether you’re looking for a different way to show your support for the fight against AIDS, or just looking for a fun run, the annual AIDS Walk Wisconsin’s 5K Run in October is a good option. Now in its 29th year, this is the largest H.I.V. fundraising event in Wisconsin and has raised more than $13.1 million for the fight against AIDS since its formation. The event takes place at the Summerfest Grounds and includes entertainment and activities, themed rest stops, medical support, and food/water.
- Milwaukee LGBT Community Center – A space dedicated to serving the needs of LGBTQ people and to making the Greater Milwaukee area safer and more inclusive. They focus on anti-violence, healthy relationships, counseling, youth & elder Adult programming, and more. The Center’s resources include a lending library with over 2000 LGBT titles, meeting space for over 100 groups during the year, computer/internet access, and referrals. Located in the historic Blatz Boiler House at Market Street and Highland Avenue, check their website for upcoming events.
- Milwaukee PrideFest – Taking place over three fabulous days each June, PrideFest is the U.S.A.’s only pride festival held on permanent festival grounds. Each year, thousands of festival-goers converge to experience world-class queer entertainment, enjoy delicious food, wander the marketplace, and celebrate love. During the day, around 100 artists and performers are featured across each of the eight stages, showcasing local music and promoting the works of LGBT+ non-profit organizations. There is an amazing dance party at the Dance Pavilion all day and fantastic national headliners taking the party into the night. PrideFest is committed to implementing a safe space for young adults, so there is a dedicated, alcohol-free Youth Area with special entertainment. All restrooms are made gender-neutral for the duration of the festival. From music to voguing, drag performances to community conversations, everyone is welcome, empowered, and celebrated at PrideFest in Milwaukee.
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Gay-friendly and Gay Hotels in Milwaukee
In this modern, bustling city, you will not find any significant hotel accommodation that isn’t gay-friendly.
After all, being gay-friendly is about providing a non-judgmental and respectful environment in which all people are treated equally. In saying that, elegant design, helpful staff, and excellent value for money never hurt anyone. Some hotels in Milwaukee have also gone above and beyond in recognizing and marketing to the LGBT community and given their popularity with gay travelers, we would say it has paid off!
Everybody likes to be surrounded by people with common interests. As such, there are a few hotels in Milwaukee favored by gay travelers – although to be clear; there are no exclusively gay hotels in Milwaukee sadly.
The Milwaukee’s GAYborhood of Walker’s Points, found on 2nd Street, is at the forefront of LGBTQ+ inclusiveness in Milwaukee. Thanks to its diverse community brimming with queer nightlife and gay-owned businesses, this is the place to stay. It’s proximity to all of the main attractions in Milwaukee, and walkability to the many cute surrounding neighborhoods completes the appeal.
The following gay-friendly hotels in Milwaukee are only the most recommended. Still, there are hundreds of other hotels in Milwaukee if you don’t find quite find what you are looking for. Whether you want a fun and social hotel bar, a cheap but private place to crash after a night of partying, or a chic luxury option to sip cocktails surrounded by fashionable people, Gay Milwaukee as something for everyone!
Gay-Popular Hotels in Milwaukee
- Saint Kate, The Arts Hotel ☆☆☆☆☆ – The latest Milwaukee hotel to open with a dedication to celebrating the arts. Set in the stimulating, artsy East Town neighborhood, Saint Kate is a different, boutique art hotel designed by artists for artists. From business travelers looking for a coworking space to local creatives seeking a source of revelation for their next project – the Saint Kate is ideal. The rooms feature unique artwork, comfortable beds, and off-beat offers like a record player, butcher-block paper, and ukeleles. There is also a trendy pizzeria, modern cafe and multiple bars, gym, and (naturally) an art gallery onside.
- Hotel Metro ☆☆☆☆ – An Art Deco-inspired hotel centrally located in the heart of Downtown Milwaukee within walking distance to museums, restaurants, Bradford Beach, and all the 2nd street gay bars. There are 63 luxurious suites, several with fireplaces, fully stocked minibars, and a 42in flat-screen T.V. should you feel more like binge-watching gay rom coms then heading out one night. However, with a buzzing rooftop patio, modern cocktail lounge, sauna, fitness center, and free bike rental – there is plenty of reasons to leave your room, should you wish.
- The Pfister Hotel ☆☆☆☆ – Established in 1893, the opulent Victorian-style Pfister Hotel in the Historic Third Ward has been a local icon for over a century. As one of the best hotels in Milwaukee, the Pfister continues to observe a solemn tradition of courteous service and flawless style. From the moment guests arrive, they’ll discern the remarkable architecture inside and out, the magnificent furnishings, the world-class personal service, and comfortable beds. To complete the appeal, there is a popular steakhouse, martini bar, fitness center, and an indoor pool with views of Lake Michigan on the 23rd floor.
- Kimpton Journeyman Hotel ☆☆☆☆ – Experience the extravagant style and exceptional amenities at this new downtown Milwaukee hotel in the Historic Third Ward district. We always find the Kimpton brand to be exceptionally queer-friendly, and their Milwaukee is no exception. There is a lot to love with warm, sophisticated decor, loaner bikes, evening wine hours, and a luxe rooftop bar with views and fire pits. A welcome getaway for weary, and not so weary, travelers, with this Midwestern delight, you are always in good hands.
- The Iron Horse Hotel ☆☆☆☆ – This Milwaukee hotel has won awards for its conversion of a 100-year-old downtown warehouse into contemporary luxury boutique accommodation. With a surprisingly tactful motorcycle theme, The Iron Horse Hotel meets the different needs of both corporate and leisure guests with a 24-hour fitness center, onsite spa, business center and, several dining options and a patio bar. The oversized guest rooms are suite-sized by industry standards and uniquely configured to take full advantage of the architectural features of the building. You’ll find plenty of wow-factor amenities and exclusive “extras”. Lovers of masculine design will feel right at home.
- Brumder Mansion B&B ☆☆☆ – A romantic Victorian mansion stay, filled with historical elegance. There are six guest suites, each with their own individual character and featuring a blend of old and new. Each offers private baths, working fireplaces, and free breakfast included. Wonderfully gay-friendly, well located, and uniquely memorable.
- Cream City Hostel Milwaukee ☆☆ – Unlike Barcelona, Berlin or Amsterdam, there are no gay hostels in Milwaukee – but Cream City Hostel is wonderfully gay-friendly and located in the hip Riverwest neighborhood. Only a ten-minute drive to the gaybourhood., this is a clean and cozy budget-friendly alternative to hotels, where travelers can relax and meet new friends. Housed in a repurposed bank, they offer a variety of mixed dorms, with shared and en suite bathrooms for private rooms. There are substantial common areas to catch up on your sports or favorite queer T.V. shows, an upscale fully fitted kitchen to cook in, and generally well-kept facilities! If you are on a budget, traveling solo, and don’t mind sharing your space – this is your best option.
Gay Nightlife in Milwaukee Wisconsin
With Milwaukee being one of the most gay-friendly cities in the U.S.A., you would expect an incredible gay nightlife scene – and luckily, Milwaukee does not disappoint. From sports fans and leather daddies to dance floor freak and lovers of fierce drag queens – there is something for everyone.
Depending on your mood, you can find anything in Milwaukee from a relaxed cocktail in an upscale bar to an all-night dance party surrounded by your queer family. There is also plenty of old-school dive bars, bingo events, mimosa brunch spots, and even a lesbian bar.
Almost every LGBTQ-centric space in the city is either on or within walking distance of 2nd Street in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood – the heart of gay life here. There is a certain amount of truth to the statement that the gay scene in Milwaukee has gone straight, however, and it can be tough to distinguish gay bars from gay-friendly spaces at times.
For the following gay venues, however, we were looking for rainbow events, exceptional recommendations, and spots specifically marketed towards gays. That’s not to say there are not other fabulous spots to check out; we just had our hands full with these Milwaukee gay bars.
We were anything but disappointed, and are confident you’ll love them too…
Gay Clubs & Bars in Milwaukee
- Kruz – A cute little gay bar with no signage opened in 2006 for those ‘in the know’. While we were told it was a “leather bar,” we saw no real evidence of this and found Kruz drew a wonderfully diverse queer crowd of bears, Levi lovers, lesbians, and more. A few minutes from the main Milwaukee gay scene, Tucked away in gentrifying Harbor View, Kruz is hidden in warehouses, old industrial buildings, and a few boatyards. Though this is all very much part of the charm. Kruz is not a dance bar by any means, but a fabulous place to socialize and meet new friends. We especially enjoyed their patio with table-top fire pits and sturdy furniture – and the little touches, like the purple milky way interior lighting and innovative drinks. Upscale without trying too hard.
- Fluid – A straight-friendly gay bar with great bartenders, fashionable decor, and comfortable love seats for canoodling at the back. There is relaxed outdoor seating for socializing on those long summer nights – and plenty of events to draw in the crowds with everything from packers games to drag shows and bing. The martini menu is extensive, and somewhat of a house-specialty. Fluid is right in the heart of the Walker’s Point gayborhood, so why not stop in and say hello…
- Woody’s – Milwaukee’s only gay sports bar where everyone is family, and those who love love are welcomed. On the southern edge of the Walker’s Point gay area, this is a classic gay dive bar with decor that hasn’t been updated in half a century. And that’s why customers love it. There is an expanded selection of beers on tap, updated T.V.s, more vodka – but that’s about all that has changed here over the year. A living piece of local queer history. There is dependable daily happy hour special, including a popular 2-4-1 Thursdays. If there is a Packers game on you want to watch – Woody’s is the place to be. And it’s of no relation to the Woody’s gay bar in Philly or Toronto – we asked!
- D.I.X. – A gay cornerstone bar that packs something extra – and the best place to experience the Milwaukee’s drag scene. After the shows, dance the night away with D.J.s spinning tuns to make it impossible not to werk (or twerk). Duck into the photo booth, snatch a selfie in the monster mirror in the unisex bathrooms or take advantage of the regular drink specials. If you’re looking to unwind without judgment, D.I.X. is the place for you.
- Club Icon – A popular LGBT dance bar in southwestern Wisconsin located in Kenosha between Milwaukee and Chicago. If you happen to be nearby or have time for the adventure, they offer great happy hour drink deals, late-night D.J. dance parties, and fun themed nights.
- This Is It! – The name says it all, and if you want just one gay bar to dance the night away in Milwaukee…this is it! One of the original queer venues in the city dating back to 1968, they recently renovated and had a bit of a glow up. There are now multiple bars, high ceilings, carpeted walls, extravagant projectors, fabulous vintage lighting, and bassy sounds – plus additional bathrooms. This is a safe space that draws in a diverse crowd of young and old thanks to its decades-old reputation. It is also the only LGBT+ bar in Milwaukee to host 18+ nights ( a result of a collaboration with The Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project, which saw historical panels installed chronicling the history of the Milwaukee gay bar scene. It is rare to find a historic gay bar that remains so fresh, but This Is It! refuses to trade purely off its past and has a fun weekly line up, including Gayme nights, bingo, drag shows, bottomless mimosas brunches, and more. Not to mention a diverse range of dance events. Fondly known to locals as “TITS”…
- Harbour Room – A classic gay man’s bar, and the closest things to an Eagle Bar in Milwaukee. You won’t find any RuPaul’s Drag Race girls handing out here, but you will find the Levi and leather crowd – and those who enjoy a good fetish-fest. There are event frequent pop=up events if you want to purchase toys, or are curious to learn more. Harbour Room, close to the Harbourside, is a staple of gay Milwaukee – but never gets super busy. The bartenders are friendly, and there are a jukebox, darts, and a pool table to keep you occupied.
- Walker’s Pint – Located on 2nd Street in the gaybourhood, Walker’s Pint is Milwaukee’s oldest lesbian bar. Yes, ladies, you read this right – there is a lesbian spot just for you. There is no need for those lesbian dating sites – you can meet people in real life, just like the boys. Walker’s Pint is a vintage-style tavern where the conversation is easy going and service is welcoming to all. Being Milwaukee, the beer selection is excellent, as is the outdoor beer garden to enjoy them in. The wooden cues of the pool table are the straightest things in the place, and we hope it stays this way. There are thought to be less than 20 lesbian bars left in the U.S.A. Like we recommended for Gossip Grill in San Diego or Wildrose in Seattle, you girls need to support these spots to keep them in business. We would hate for it to be the last call…
- LaCage NiteClub – A three-level queer club in Milwaukee that made its grand debut back in 1984 – has stood the test of time, albeit with a brief flirtation with a rebrand as LVL Dance. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, LaCage Niteclub re-re-opened in 2017 – but kept LVL Bistro serving food on the sub-level of the complex. LVL Events also still take place here with bi-weekly drag shows on the third floor. LaCage today submits several dance floors for you to explore on a hedonistic night out, as well as plenty of happy hour specials and strong cocktails. If you want to boogie, twerk, bar-hop, or socialize until the early hours with fabulous queer people, LaCage NiteClub is for you.
- Hamburger Marys – The Milwaukee location of this fabulously gay American burger, bar and grill chain. We loved the old-school diner vibes, the nightly queer entertainment, the iconic drag, and the cute arcade bar attached. The drag brunch shows are particularly worthwhile and always come with a hefty side of sass.
Cruising, Gay Saunas & Bath Houses in Milwaukee
Milwaukee might be an under-the-radar gay mecca, but sadly you will not find a single-sex clubs or bathhouse here, or anywhere in Wisconsin.
In the past, the Midtowne Spa group operated a popular gay sauna in Milwaukee, but their break-up saw this location close down (as well as their Austin, Houston, and Dallas facilities). Midtowne Spa still has three clubs in Denver and Los Angeles, but for now – your option for naughty fun in Gay Milwaukee is limited. You are going to need to drive the 1.5 hours to Chicago’s gay bathhouses – or rely on hook-up apps / cruising the gay bars of Milwaukee.
Love them or hate them, cruise spaces are an important part of queer culture, and their loss irrevocably changes the gay fabric of a city. We felt their distinct loss in Boston, New Orleans, and Palm Springs — and hope bathhouses return to Milwaukee in the future. We won’t be holding our breath, however.
The acceptance of gays has changed the world for the better – and has taken away our need to sneak into back-alley places for carnal pleasure. Most bathhouses around the world today have only survived by modernizing and offering more than just a discreet place to meet. While their sordid reputation is often hard to shake, many offer a different experience than what you may expect.. As such, we have a few tips for anyone looking to explore a gay sauna for the first time and would encourage you to try them, should you have the chance.