The Mint Bar had one of the longest histories of a gay bar in the Milwaukee area. Opened by Christ Mares on New Year's Day, 1949 on State Street in downtown Milwaukee, 20 years before Stonewall, the bar was an early beacon for gay men in Milwaukee. In 1971, when the GPU News began publishing its monthly GPU News, the bar immediately began advertising, calling itself a "male bar".
'The Mint' was a small, cozy bar, with only a few barstools and tables, but its size gave it a distinctive charm and unpretentious character that was larger than life. New Year’s Eve, especially, was always a big night out at the Mint.
The story of the Mint Bar is closely linked with Angelo Aiello (widely known as 'Angel'). Although Angelo is first listed in City Directory as a bartender there in 1958, and first listed as owner in 1960, there is evidence he in fact started bartending there much earlier. He continued to own and manage the bar until his death in 1978, when his wife Bettie Aiello took over.
(There has been some confusion about the opening year, since Angelo apparently considered the Bar's anniversary based on when he bought the business. For example, the May 16-29, 1985 'In Step' magazine advised in the Calendar for May 18 and 19: "Mint- celebrating 25 years of glitter and glamor at the Mint". However we consider the bar as having opened in 1949 since the bar was early on a mecca for gay men. A major website contributor, 'Bunny', has also mentioned several times how the bar celebrated its anniversary on New Year's Eve every year. It was definitely a gay bar in the 1950s, based on his and many others' testimonials and photos.)
The August 1976 issue of the local "GLIB Guide" describes the business as follows: "Plain. One of the oldest gay bars in the city." But regulars never thought of the bar as "plain"- it was comfortable- and it was their space!
Angelo Aiello’s long-term success inspired everyone from upstart Walker’s Point bar owners to the Balistrieri family, who sought to duplicate Angelo’s success at other venues. Looking back, it is amazing that the Mint survived almost 50 years in the heart of the convention center district. Slowly but surely, every other historic building in the 400 and 500 blocks of State Street was eliminated for parking. Eventually, only the Mint Bar and the neighboring McDonald’s remained. The Mint Bar was sitting on prime real estate that was quietly skyrocketing in value. Milwaukee began to notice.
Relocation to S. 2nd Street:
When the $53 million multi-block Bradley Center project (a new sports and entertainment arena) was proposed in 1985, the Mint Bar was one of seven properties acquired for the site. The Mint Bar, one of two buildings left standing on its block, sold for just $92,900.
On June 28, 1986, the Mint hosted a wake for its State Street location, complete with black wreath, black balloons, tombstones, and a “Rest in Peace” banner. More than 300 attended the ceremony in black armbands. Bettie promised a resurrection party when the Mint Bar reopened as its new address (on South Second Street).
The Mint Bar moved to the near south side, where gay bars were becoming more common. But it survived for just another 3 years on South 2nd Street; other bars were becoming both numerous and popular, and the historical draw of the Mint no longer held sway with younger gays and lesbians.
Shortly after celebrating its 40th anniversary in May 1989, the Mint became Angelos, and then was taken over by new management which first called it BJ's Mint Bar and finally just BJ's. "The Mint", as it was affectionately known by old-timers, was gone for good.
This location has been host to a long tradition of LGBT establishments. The first was apparently "Friendly's Bar" (1944-1947). It was operating as 'The Hustler' in the early 1970s, which may also have been somewhat gay friendly (additional research is needed). Its run as indisputable LGBT establishments really began when it became 'The Decision' in 1976. Next it was Hideaway (1976-c1980), after which its occupancy was uncertain for a few years. But its string of housing LGBT businesses resumed with the relocated Mint Bar II/ Angelo's (1986-1991), followed by BJ's Mint Bar (1991-1993), Zippers (1993-1998), and finally Fluid in 1998-- which is still open as of 2023.
(A book, "LGBT Milwaukee" by Michail Takach, seeks to make the story of LGBT Milwaukee accessible, visible, and portable for future generations--before it is too late. The Mint Bar is one of many early LGBT landmarks documented in the book.)
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!
The Mint - Only there once, which was enough. Some friends insisted on going there just to see what it was like. A number of down and outs seemed to be the regulars and one guy tried selling a watch to one of the guys I was with. My friend told the guy he already had a watch and the guy selling said that my friend could give the watch as a gift to a friend. My friend said his friends also had watches, after which the guy selling the watch said something like - "Well screw your friends then, tell 'em it's a f**king gift!" Shortly afterward another bar patron started having an argument about what time it really was - maybe they could have given him the watch.
Credits: initial contents, web site concept and design by Don Schwamb.
Additional research and commentary by Michail Takach,
with special thanks to contributor 'Bunny';
Various photos courtesy of contributors indicated.
Last updated: August-2023.
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.