The Leaded Shade was first seen to be advertising in the January, 1974 issue of the GPU News with a simple business-card-type ad, giving just the address and the words "Fine Food and Drink". It was also listed in the 1975 Bob Damron Guide.
According to researcher Michail Takach, The Leaded Shade was intended as a new type of women's bar, opening just before the third iteration of the "Nite Beat" was destroyed in an April 1974 fire. "The old strict rules of butch and femme were no longer enforced, and a new school of younger, feminist-minded women were seeking modern spaces for themselves." Sharon Dixon managed the Leaded Shade during this era, while the bar was owned and operated by Pete and Bev Nilsson. Sharon recalls there were times she kept the bar 'open' and locked up after closing hours because the women wouldn't leave until sunrise.
But the location wasn't new to Milwaukee's LGBT crowd. It had had its days as a series of gay bars previously, apparently by someone who couldn't decide what to name it. First it was "Mickey's Cove" early in 1972, then simply "The Cove", briefly named "The Backroom" and then re-opened as "The Cove" again! But then advertising in the GPU News stops after March 1973. And with the absence of any other LGBT periodicals at this time, the timeline for its closing is unclear.
Advertising for The Leaded Shade continued from January 1974 through September 1975, with the simple initial ad, but with more text giving hours, food information, and slight variations in wording. Then advertising stops for nearly a year.
One year later, the new "GLIB Guide" periodical in its August 7, 1976 issue describes the business as: "Was closed for awhile, now reopened." The August 28, 1976 issue of GLIB Guide updated this information: "In our first issue, we didn't have much knowledge about the LEADED SHADE restaurant, so our listing was limited. The owners of the LEADED SHADE called us up and reminded us that they have completely remodeled their establishment, and they have told us it is predominately a boy's bar. The restaurant is open afterhours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 2am to?, and is open daily from 3 pm."
In the same month (August 1976), advertising also resumes in GPU News. The new ad features a large image of a "leaded shade" lamp, and begins reading "We're Announcing the Big Change!... under new management and your host, Larry Weber, invites you to stop in soon". Similar ads continue throughout most of 1977.
The last advertisement in GPU News appears in the October 1977 issue, and reads in part "Under new management Sue Luke". (We don't know whether that was a first and last name, or two different people's first names.) The same ad also touts that "Both men and women are welcome to sit by our fireside."
But that appears to be the end of the Leaded Shade, as no advertising appears after that ad. (The GLIB Guide had lasted only a month or two, and the only other LGBT publication to print an issue in the years 1976-1977, the "Milwaukee Gay Guide", printed only a single issue in Summer 1977 which did show Leaded Shade in its bar listings. The first issue of the "Milwaukee Calendar" publication in February 1978 does not show The Leaded Shade in its bar listings.) (See Michail Takach's explanation of the end of "The Leaded Shade" in the article below.)
(The Leaded Shade was briefly resurrected about 12 years later as "Leaded Shade II", about 6 blocks farther south on S. First Street-- but we don't know whether ownership was the same or different.)
Michail Takach wrote up a comprehensive history of The Leaded Shade and Leaded Shade II for the Facebook group in September 2022:
September 1976: the Leaded Shade (157 S. 1st St.) announces a change in ownership, with new "host" Larry Weber taking over. GLIB's second (and final) issue remarks, "The owners of the LEADED SHADE called us up and reminded us that they have completely remodeled their establishment, and they have told us it is now predominately a boy's bar."
But was it really?
This was a mighty big change -- considering the Leaded Shade opened as a women's bar sometime in February 1974.
157 S. 1st St. was a historic family meat market -- go figure -- that was converted into the long-running Erie House tavern in 1909. The upper floors contained a 30-room boarding house where many, many transient men met their untimely ends. Jimmy Nohelty bought the 50-year family business in 1959 but went bankrupt in 1967 -- to the tune of $100,000 -- and the bar was closed for several years.
Then it was the pirate-themed Long John Silver, where unescorted single ladies drank for free. (Amazing the bar didn't last long?) After going gay and relaunching as The Cove, The Backroom and Micky's Cove between 1972-1974, the bar found some success as the Leaded Shade.
This was a new type of women's bar, opening just as the ashes of the old Nite Beat were being cleared a block away. The old strict rules of butch and femme were no longer enforced, and a new school of younger, feminist-minded women were seeking modern spaces for themselves. Sharon Dixon managed the Leaded Shade during this era, when the bar was owned and operated by Pete and Bev Nilsson.
So it seems Leaded Shade closed for awhile, before remodeling and reopening in summer 1976 as a "boy's bar." But it was still heavily mixed, as the 1977 Gay Business Guide mentions its popularity with both women and men. Leaded Shade must have closed later that year. It doesn't appear anywhere in the Milwaukee Calendar (launched January 1978) or any other publication after 1977.
By summer 1978, the property was 1st Street Wharf, "Milwaukee's only authentic New Orleans themed restaurant." Milwaukee Journal restaurant critic James Auer said in 1979, "The Leaded Shade purveyed just about the best hamburgers in town -- to a highly specialized clientele."
What killed the Leaded Shade? The bar likely faced heavy competition from new women's bar Sugar Shack and about a dozen new men's bars (including M&M Club and Circus.) The timing makes sense as the Nilssons moved to 27th & Michigan where they operated Lost & Found from 1978 to 1984.
Weirdly, the Leaded Shade name was resurrected in December 1990 at 1st and Washington. Advertisements said "Look Who's Back!" as if readers would immediately recognize the bar and its manager. (Who was "Paul?") But Leaded Shade had closed over a decade earlier. Was there really enough nostalgia remaining for the "Leaded Shade" name -- to draw a crowd to a new location that looked and felt nothing like the original?
Seems like the answer was no. The Leaded Shade II only lasted about nine months. By September 1991, it was replaced by another short-lived bar, Rainbow Revue, and the Leaded Shade name was forever retired.
157 S. 1st Street has been known by many, many, many names since its days as the Leaded Shade. The building was dramatically restored in the past few years, but the interior has no resemblance to its days as a gay hotspot. But if those walls could talk....
More information about this business is welcomed from anyone who can contribute it.
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!
"A classier women's bar than some of the others we frequented. Everybody looked better under the subtle lighting!"
The first 'Leaded Shade' was owned by Pete and Bev Nilsson who went on to open the 'Lost and Found' bar and later owned a bar on 1st and Washington. They were an interesting couple who loved the LGBT community. I know they were like parents to many including me, Michael Roberts, a drag queen 'Donny', and many more. Everyone called Bev, 'Ma'. She was a very funny woman.
I was a bartender for them in 1977-78ish. Every night I closed L & F and Bev sent me to Webb's on Clybourn for burgers. Once on the way back, I got mugged of the burgers! We all lived above the bar in the apartments. Once we heard her yelling from her apt. Here she was sitting on the toilet and the whole plaster ceiling had fallen on her head. Another time they had a BBQ and it rained. Some genius pulled the grill inside. She called me at my other job so I came "home" and the whole bar was full of smoke. Seriously silly times. The AC there was a weird rigged up car radiator thing in the warehouse behind the bar. She got me up at about 4am and showed me out of her window, that water was leaking from somewhere in the bar. I could see water running clear down to Clybourn. I had to go downstairs and it was the AC in that creepy dark warehouse. I figured out how to shut it off. Lots more stories from there.
Can't remember drag queen Donny's last name. Donny was really wasted one night, dancing the night away and she got carried away and her wig slipped until it was sideways.
"Little Donny" was about 5"6", thin with dark brown hair and smoked unfiltered cigarettes. I used to do shows with Little Donny...she was a blast. I loved Donny, I used to come up and stay with her on the weekends when I still lived in Racine. We had some WILD times. Donny came down to Racine a few times to do my shows at Jo Dee's.
When i first ventured onto the neighborhood around 1972, there was a brick building to the left of the Leaded Shade that was a closed bar from back in the 1960's. Then next to that was a junk shop (Ferry Street). I remember it was boarded up with a big padlock on the front door. John Clayton & I went to look at the one next door because the city seized the property & was trying to sell it for $1.00-blighted property.
The Leaded Shade building definitely still stands. It started its life as a meat market (!) and was The Cove, Mickys Cove and The Backroom before it was Leaded Shade.
For a while this location was called "The Oar House" (aka The Whore House!).
Credits: Contributors via "History of Gay Milwaukee" Facebook group and Jamie Taylor.
Full history of Leaded Shade and Leaded Shade II by Michail Takach.
Web site concept, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: August-2023.
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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.