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

Club 219
Location: 219 S. 2nd St., Milwaukee WI


February 1981
October 2005

Male/ Female
Dance/ disco/ bar


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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.)
                                    - Jamie Taylor


Erotic Santa photo opportunity
December 1982
(face of Don Schwamb)
(Photo copyrighted by D Schwamb)

Erotic Santa photo opportunity
December 1982
(face of Gary Williams)
(Photo copyrighted by D Schwamb)

Water feature on stage at Club 219. Shown: B.J. Daniels, Holly Brown, Erica Stevens, and Ginger Spice in the mid-1980s. Trailblazers all of them. Erica was the first person of color to be Miss Gay Wisconsin, Ginger abd B.J. Daniels were also Miss Gay WI title holders. Holly was an artist, literally whose paintings graced restaurants and other locations. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... Photo courtesy B.J. Daniels.
circa 1985

Show cast at the old Club 219. Left to right Mary Richards, Tiffany Thomas, our pal Jackie Roberts, B.J. Daniels in see through leopard, Timothy Paul Lober, and Lena Chavez aka Ricardo Ferrise. Photo courtesy B.J. Daniels.

These two photos are from B.J. Daniels' earliest shows at Club 219. They had not altered the stage yet, and it had a bridge that went across, and the stairs to the stage were exposed. This would change in a year or so, but this was from 1982, and judging from the shorts etc., it must have been summer. Photo courtesy B.J. Daniels.


Christmas Stage Sets

Here's a great look at the stage sets they used to do at Club 219. Christmas gingerbread house set was amazing. Big Jim and I don't know who all worked on that. Me in tuxedo look and Ginger Spice doing one of her famous numbers. — with Jimmy Mike. Photos courtesy B.J. Daniels.

Holiday high jinx backstage at Club 219 in the mid-'80s. Doris was Santa, others Erica Stevens, Scott the stripper, and in the front row B.J. Daniels and a queen named Bianca. I miss that Club 219 stage, it was so well situated. Photo courtesy B.J. Daniels.


Christopher, a trained dancer, not just a stripper. He taught all of the 'queens' how to do choreography to the best of their ability. Here, he entertains at the Club 219, in undated photos. He was handsome, driven, and had his own dance studio on Farwell Avenue (where the Church is now, across from CVS). He also did drag!! But those assets he had speak for themselves. RIP sweetheart, you are remembered and loved. Photos courtesy B.J. Daniels.


Production Numbers

The days of production numbers at the Club 219 included male performers like Christopher (RIP) who taught us choreography. In these photos you'll find Duwanna Moore, Symone Rashee, Tiffany Thomas, Ginger Spice, Lois Lane, and B.J. Daniels. Those were the days my friends!!! — with Troy Minarik and Duane Redmond. Photos courtesy B.J. Daniels.

More from the days of production numbers at the Club 219 (see description above) Photos courtesy B.J. Daniels.


Halloween 1992

FOLLOWING: The caption on the back of the first photo of the set says, "John Andrew and Kevin Joseph. Halloween '92 Club 219, Milwaukee." Some of the others: Roger, Kevin, Bobby, Stephanie, Tracy, and Don the doorman. Photos courtesy B.J. Daniels.
Don the doorman (left)

Just inside the doorway (coat check behind the wall)


The main bar, to the left when entering, against the south wall. Bartender in white shirt: Kevin Rotar, drowned in boating accident in 1997.

Misc. photos. Bartender in white shirt: Kevin Rotar, drowned in boating accident in 1997.



Performer descending the stairs from the DJ booth (name and date unknown)

View of bar from DJ booth (date unknown)

Factory Bar owner Chuck tipping a stripper, date unknown

Stripper (name and date unknown)

'Savage Male Revue' / 'Body Sweat' dancers appear at CLub 219 with a live tiger
(In Step vol. 11-23, Nov. 1994)

Softball team, date unknown


After Club 219 Closed

Some eerie photos of the former Club 219, circa 2013. At that time the building was for sale I believe for $400,000 some odd dollars and had 2 furnished occupied condos on the upper floors. Wow if THAT STAGE could talk! So many memories. (Photos courtesy Facebook contributor Brian D., 2017)


Next Life, c2023

Photos of the interior of the building in 2023 (Photos courtesy Michail Takach)


Grand Opening ad as 'TRASH / Club 219"
February 1981

3rd Anniversary ad
February 1984

8th Anniversary ad
February 1989

Exterior of Club 219 Plus, March 1991

The exterior of Club 219 early 2004
(Photo copyrighted by D Schwamb)

Street view of entrance, 2006
(Photo copyrighted by D Schwamb)

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.

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