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

Back Door
Location: 46 N. Park Street, Madison WI


December, 1972
October 31, 1977

Bar/ social



The April 1973 issue of GPU News advertised the opening of the Back Door bar with an ad, "New to Madison! The Back Door", touting "3 levels of entertainment" and listing proprietors Rodney and Jack. According to a bio of Rodney Scheel years later, the bar went through "its share of experimental phases- bar, restaurant, piano bar, dance club, and home-away-from-home for many of the newly-liberated Gay men and Lesbians and their friends of that era".

The bar held an employee/customer appreciation party in 1973, which in 1977 became a city-wide fundraiser for Madison LGBT organizations known as the MAGIC Picnic. (MAGIC was an acronym for 'Madison Area Gay Interim Committee'.) The MAGIC picnic ran at least into the early 2000's.

Meanwhile, 1977 was to be a year of transition in more ways than the MAGIC Picnic. In July 1977, a larger gay bar, Going My Way, opened. According to a later posting in a Facebook group, "When the larger 'Going My Way' on West Main Street opened, much of the dance crowd stopped going to the Back Door." For whatever reason, by October 1977 invitations went out for a "Good Bye To OZ" week at the Back Door, from October 24 to 30, and an invitation-only final evening party on Monday October 31.

Two years later, Rodney Scheel would open Madison's legendary bar of the 1980's and 1990's: Rod's in the Hotel Washington, which was to become an LGBT landmark housing at three LGBT businesses: 2 bars and a cafe.

Twenty years later, the Back Door was still a fond memory for Rodney: in December 1992, the Hotel Washington held a grand re-opening, culminating in a "20th Back Door anniversary party" (see ad below).

More information about this business is welcomed from anyone who can contribute it.

Ad for Annual Picnic, plus Disco Bar and Sunday Brunch
July 1976
Mention in "Mad City" article:
"has three levels, and you're constantly
going up and down stairs a lot and it's fun"
August 1976, (GLIB, vol 1-02)

Rod's bar holding "20th Anniversary Party" and "Back Door Weekend"
20 years after opening of the Back Door, which had closed 13 years earlier
(In Step vol 9-24, Dec. 1992)

Article about genesis of MAGIC Picnic
(Wis Light vol. 9-14, July 1996
Ad for MAGIC Picnic
(Wis Light vol. 9-14, July 1996

Photos from 1995 MAGIC Picnic
(Wis Light vol. 9-14, July 1996
Article about MAGIC Picnic
(Wis Light vol. 10-14, July 1997

Article about MAGIC Picnic
(25% down in left column: article's author incorrectly
states it was "originally a political event")
(Wis Light vol. 10-14, July 1997
Financial Balance Sheet
for 1996 MAGIC Picnic
(Wis Light vol. 10-14, July 1997
Photos believed to be from Closing Party
(from Facebook posting)
Photos believed to be from Closing Party
(from Facebook posting)
Photos believed to be from Closing Party
(from Facebook posting)

Photo of the Back Door, March 1974
(courtesy Wis. Historical Society)

Advertisement for Back Door, April 1973
"New to Madison... with hosts Rodney and Jack"
(from GPU News, April 1973)

Photo, owner Rodney Scheel
(believed to be from closing party)
(from Facebook post)

Advertisement for Back Door, January 1974
"Can you handle the best?"
(from GPU News, January 1974)

Advertisement for Back Door, June 1975
Third Annual Back Door Picnic/ "Flamingo Festival"
(from GPU News, June 1975)

Handout cards promoting events
(from Facebook post)

Closing week invitation images
(from Facebook post)

Credits: web site concept, contents, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: May-2024.

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