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Harbor Room was opened by Gregg Fitzpatrick as a bar tucked just off South 1st Street, about 6 blocks south of the major bar area- and its main competition, the Boot Camp. The Boot Camp had been the city's sole levi/ leather bar for some years, and was becoming crowded and a bit "tired" for some people. Parking around the Boot Camp was also becoming more difficult. The time for another Milwaukee leather bar just seemed right.
Harbor Room is housed in an historical building, mid-block. Almost kitty-corner to the Allen Bradly complex, and at the time largely surrounded by Grede Foundry, the bar was popular almost immediately, and in short order was filled to capacity late on Friday and Saturday nights. The owner (Gregg Fitzpatrick) and his partner (Eddie) moved in above the bar, and they and their dog were seen regularly. Soon after opening, a patio was opened outside, about 50% larger in size to the inside area of the bar- used for cookouts and general customer appreciation of the weather. A raised section was built as well, and used for shows (especially the annual Mr. Harbor Room contest).
Harbor Room has been innovative in several areas. For one thing, they open early in the morning: initially at 8:00am, and later opening at 7:00am each day. Surprisingly to some, they have seen good business with their early hours, as the only gay bar open when 3rd shift employees get off work. The patio also has extended use: while some bars close their patios during the winter, the Harbor Room patio is open whenever the bar is (a porta-toilet added to the back of the building, coupled with the always-open patio, legally doubles their occupancy limit). They have regular drink and bar specials- most notably early on "half price drinks for men without shirts- all the time" (although that promotion was cancelled around 2015). They served free pizza during happy hours daily.
An election was also held each anniversary for the Mr. Harbor Room title-holder (see the Images page for the list of title-holders and photos.)
As with most bar and restaurant businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic starting in early 2020 and continuing into early 2021 caused severe disruption of the business. The bar was closed for some time, and as of January 2021 continued to operate at reduced capacity and with strict social distancing rules, and the elimination of such things as shared food/ pizza etc. But the bar continues to operate and was coming back to normal as vaccines became available.
Unfortunately, 2021 saw two tragedies: first co-owner and Gregg's married partner, Eddie Carver, passed away in June 2021. Then on December 12, 2021, owner Gregg Fitzpatrick also passed away. (We are told that Gregg left the bar, in equal parts, to Brian Kohler and Robert Murphy, who plan on keeping it running. )
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! (Recollections collected and organized by Jamie Taylor.)
Gregg Fitzpatrick, the owner, recalls:
"It was originally owned by the Damjanovich Family. (Nina Damjanovich?? I need to check on that name.) They had several children. The family lived up stairs which was a kitchen, pantry, dumb waiter, dining room, parlor and 3 bedrooms. They served fish fry, cooked up stairs, and sent down the dumb waiter to a very small dining room just to the east of the ladies room. (A Milan Damjanovich to this day (who I think was a son) still is the owner of MONA'S across the street.)
"Years later, it was purchased in about 1953 (again, I need to check that date) by her daughter and husband, George and Helen Stoisolovich. It was run from approximately 1953 to 1974 as George's Tavern. This was a Serbian bar all of these years, and for several years was the UNION BAR for the workers of Allen Bradley Corporation. Business was slowing down quite a bit in the early 70's and he remodeled the building, taking out the large old windows, and replacing them with the windows that are there today. He also paneled the entire bar room, and installed a drop ceiling and chandeliers. The new front windows, meant, that the building needed to be re-bricked for the front of the building and around the entrance.
"But by 1974 he was in financial problems and had the bills yet from all the remodeling. He got the assistance of a loan shark, slum landlord type by the name of Arthur E. Friedman, who waited till George was in default and foreclosed on him and took ownership of the building. Art Friedman owned the building from 1975 to May 31st, 2000 when I purchased it from him. During those years, Art rented the building out several times, at least 3 times to people who ran it as a Mexican bar and restaurant. (Art Friedman liked to rent the bar/restaurant or sell it only to people he knew were dumb and would default on a loan so he could get it back, keep money that was paid in, and still exercise the remainder of the contract.)
"Two gay guys took over the bar in 1992, and lasted less than one year. They operated it as a gay bar called "The Other Place." I have info at the office with their names. They blew through their money and that of one of their mother's in no time and went belly up. They are credited with installing the kitchen, shag carpeting, updated drop ceiling and chandeliers and ran a white table cloth restaurant there. One of the two men died shortly after they went out of business of Aids. Bill Wichmann from our bar knows this story better than I do.
"The last tenant in the building before me was a man by the name of Darcuis Young, a black man, who operated the location as Club 117. Darcuis thought he could lure the black clientele from the Grede Foundry to the bar. He installed a large mirrored dance floor adjacent to the ladies room and a second dance Stage on the second floor.
"I began negotiations with Art Friedman in February 2000 about the purchase of the building. He only wanted to rent, and when we discussed a sale, we were at times as far as $100,000 apart in negotiations. After much invested time, I asked Art to not have any contact with me any longer.
"On May 12, 2000, I received a call from him informing me that he wanted to see me in his office within 15 minutes. We met about 2 hours later at his run down office on 75th & Appleton Avenue. He wanted to know where we had left off in price. I thought to myself, the first person who speaks, LOSES. I sat there and shut up until he threw out a number. Astonishingly it was the very FIRST amount I had offered back in February with it being a land contract sale. There were two catches. First he said, he would have to add $ 4,000 to the price because of the potential of the location. I said fine. Second, we had to transact the SALE that VERY DAY and have it CLOSE no later than May 31, 2000. That was fine except, to transact a sale, you need Earnest Money Down. I had money but none that was not "tied up."
"After many phone calls from his office, (we started at 11 a.m. and concluded this day at 10 p.m.), we met with my banker who financed the down payment plus working capital on a signature note, and he acted as a witness for the entire transaction, I also needed to have my attorney drop everything and come in from Delavan, Wisconsin to prepare the papers. The time line did not even allow for a Title Company to get involved in proper time. So we closed without the title company, taking great risks. Between my attorney and me, we did our own title searches.
"The closing did take place on May 31st, 2000, and I took possession of the building at 8 p.m. that day. Art was positive he had netted himself a real smart talking dumb ass, which by that time I knew thatís what he was looking for. Because of that fact, I had negotiated a 30 year fixed loan at 9% which is totally UNHEARD of for ANY commercial property. I paid the (guy) off IN FULL on December 31, 2004."
Jamie Taylor recalls:
Credits: Bulk of basic information by Don Schwamb,
Recollections collected and organized by Jamie Taylor.
Website concept, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: February-2022.
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