Disco was fading when Bobby Bell opened Papagaio in December 1981. Inspired by crackling Rio nightlife, Papagaio spun-- and hosted-- the most groundbreaking 1980s acts. The bar's popularity increased with the opening of Underground, an upstairs live music venue. (Bell had operated The Red Baron disco from 1977 to 1981.)
Primarily a 'straight' bar, Papagaio hosted Wednesday-only gay nights (using the old Park Avenue/ Sundays as a model).
Facebook contributors recall the place as a "shaky old building", with one commenting "That dance floor OMG I swear it was going to fall through!".
When the drinking age raised to 21, the bar reinvented as Club New York before closing in August 1987.
According to "MilwaukeeRockPosters.com": "Papagaio was a short-lived club that was run for a while as the Underground by Tony Selig, which was odd since you had to climb UP the stairs to get in. But it made sense since Tony had been running a club a few doors down with the same name. It was also known as Club New York for a short time. The building has since been torn down, along with the original Underground."
An article from "CudahyNOW.com" in April 2007 reports that the bar from Papagaio was preserved and reused in The City Lounge, at 3455 E. Layton Ave.: "The back and extensive front bar were both preserved from Papagaio's, the popular downtown bar/concert venue from the 1980s, and were restored to look as good as new."
The same building also hosted the third bar named The Factory bar (aka "Factory-3"), although that bar used the "511 N. Broadway" address rather than the 515 N. address used by Papagaio.
(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. Papagaio is one of many early LGBT landmarks documented in the book.)
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!
Papagio's-- I had my drag Debut there. BJ Daniels and Abbey Rhodes were performing and Gloria P. Hole was a no-show. My friends and I went to see the show in drag and as we were driving to Milwaukee from Illinois we were all so excited and asked each other what would we do if they asked one of us to perform. I immediately said I would jump at the chance. Everyone else said no way.
Low and behold. BJ ASKED ME IF I WOULD FILL IN... Having to save face with the girls, I said, sure. Like I knew what the hell I was doing. I'd never been so terrified in my life.
BJ took me backstage, introduced me to Abbey, who was super grumpy and dismissive. Later, I realized that was just her personality. If you knew her, you know what I mean. Quite harmless. Just her personality. Lol
'Burning up' by Madonna had JUST hit the airwaves and that was my debut number. I ROCKED it...and also fell on my butt. The crowd gasped and I didn't miss a beat. I threw a leg up, rolled over and crawled across the stage twerking like a mad woman. Not missing a beat.
The audience ate it up. I got a fortune in tips and when I went backstage, BJ asked me if I could come back the following week and do a full set. I literally died and went to heaven at that moment. Two weeks later I was in the show lineup at 219.
Bjorn Olaf Nasett and I have been soul sisters since. We contact each other regularly and I don't think I ever properly thanked her for that opportunity and introducing me to the ride of my life.
- Miss B.J. Daniels via Facebook (2021)
Credits: contents, web site concept and design by Don Schwamb.
Additional research by Michail Takach;
Two photos used by special permission of Wisconsin Historical Society;
One photo used by special permission of Milwaukee County Historical Society.
Last updated: October-2023.
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