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Walker's Pint held their grand opening on Friday July 13, 2001, and it's been busy ever since. As of mid-2021, it was one of less than two dozen lesbian bars left in the entire United States.
When it opened, Walker's Pint (known by many simply as 'The Pint') was co-owned by Elizabeth (Bet'z) Boenning and Becky Persin. But Becky moved on around 2003-2004, and became a manager of the new Pumphouse bar. Meanwhile, Bet'z had a vision that didn't stop.
Owner "Bet'z" Boenning had previously worked at Dish, a women's bar in the 1990s. Dish transitioned to being more of a dance club, and then closed in 2000. Boenning still wanted a space where she could just hang out, so she saved money to open her own bar. She soon found an ad for a small bar at 818 N. 2nd St. with a patio and big windows. And 'Walker's Pint' was born. "Most of the gay bars were dark. The buildings are from the industrial era, so no windows. And all the boy bars have the windows all blocked up," she recalled to JSOnline in 2021. "I didn't want to keep going to these dark places. I want to have just a regular bar with awesome windows, and get sunlight, and not have to hide anymore."
The first room when entering appears much like a typical corner bar. A long bar area extends to the left (the north wall), plastered with bumper stickers and signs which, at first a bit distracting, actually give it a homey feel once it grows on you. Immediately to the right on entering is a small stage which can be used for shows, and is a perfect platform when the bar has a live DJ. In addition to the large window facing S. 2nd Street behind the stage, more large windows run along the south wall, where tall tables welcome small groups to sit and chat.
But there's much more here than meets the eye. Continue toward the back, and a wall divides the space. To the left is a narrow game room with a scaled-down pool table. On the right is a glass door leading to a covered outside area, with benches and additional tables, and a dart board. Walk along that outside space, and another small bar appears, with seating, and covered to keep out rain and snow.
On occasion, the bar can open a fenced-in large patio area with tables and chairs, using part of the vacant lot to the building's south. This makes a great area for a band or DJ, dance area, or just relaxing and drinking during special events.
Owner Boenning wrote about the bar for an article in OutBound magazine on the occasion of the bar's 10th anniversary in 2011:
"I opened Walker's Pint primarily as a women's bar to provide a safe, casual bar atmosphere for everyone. Over the past 10 years, the Pint has provided a fun and comfortable space for many. It's a place where both genders and all sexual identities, have developed loyal friendships. I am so proud of what the Pint has turned in to, and proud to say we have been serving beverages and the community for 10 years.
"Walker's Pint isn't just a bar, it's a community. It's a safe place, a meeting place, a place where the customers matter and are a part of the process. It's a non-pretentious little bar with a big personality - it is a mutual respect bar. I look at it like the gay "Cheers" of women's bars. [ed: refering to the TV show 'Cheers'.} Whether you are gay or straight, woman or man – you are welcome in the Pint and encouraged to have a great time.
"When opening the Pint I really wanted to set it up as is a corner type bar with lots of options. Over the years we have tried to update and improve on what the Pint offers our customers. We offer live music, karaoke, DJ's, occasional drag shows, friends and family days, spelling bees, Scorpio party, and an amazing patio to list just a few things. We also have dart, pool, bags leagues and we sponsor many sports teams throughout the year."
And over the years, the bar has made good use of its space. Since its opening, it has hosted numerous fundraisers and neighborhood events. They have welcomed political candidates for fundraisers, and frequently partners with gay bar Fluid across the street for special events. According to owner Boenning, during just the first 10 years in business, they donated well over $20,000 to local and national charities (including but not limited to: breast cancer, leukemia/lymphoma, AIDS/HIV, food pantries, and battered women's shelters).
After 20 years of fundraising for different causes, Boenning created a nonprofit organization named 'Forwrd Please' to help facilitate charitable ventures.
Boenning talks more of events she has hosted at the bar in the JSOnline article in 2021:
For Boenning, her most memorable weekend at Walker's Pint was the PrideFest weekend in 2014 when gay marriage was legalized by the United States Supreme Court.
"The energy that was in this neighborhood was so positive. (The Supreme Court legalized it on) Friday. My wife and I went down to the courthouse and got married that Saturday. We came back and celebrated here," Boenning said. "I still get chills thinking about it."
Aside from PrideFest, Walker's Pint thrives for a weekend in July when they throw a Scorpio party, since many bartenders from the Pint's early days, including Boenning, are under the Zodiac sign of Scorpio.
Writing for UrbanMilwaukee in 2018, Michael Horne wrote: "Elizabeth A. 'Bet-z' Boenning has owned Walker's Pint since July 2001. Around that time there were numerous other Lesbian bars in the city, including Dish [1998-2000], Fannie's [1982-2000], Kathy's Nut Hut [1980-2014] and Mona's/Out 'n About [1998-2012]. Today the neighborhood tavern in Walker's Point, where 'Every Night is Ladies Night,' is the last one remaining. This echoes a national trend in which gay bars — particularly Lesbian ones — have closed at a time when public acceptance of gays has grown."
That was an unfortunate foretelling of what was already happening. A CNN article in 2021 entitled 'There are roughly two dozen lesbian bars in the United States. The ones that are left are evolving to survive' describes the decline of gay bars, and lesbian bars in particular, in some detail. Excerpts from that article (edited for flow):
The number of lesbian bars has dropped precipitously over the past 40 years. In the 1980s, the US was home to more than 200 lesbian bars. Now it has only about two dozen left in operation.
The plight of the lesbian bar has been brought front and center this Pride Month as movements are afoot to preserve and grow them. One recent effort is the Lesbian Bar Project, a documentary film and campaign that's gained the backing of Jagermeister and "Orange is the New Black" actress Lea DeLaria. Project organizers believe there are only 21 remaining lesbian bars in the nation.
The Project takes an inclusive approach to the definition of "lesbian bar." The label, according to the filmmakers, extends to places that prioritize "creating space for people of marginalized genders," including non-binary and trans folks. "In a way, we're also recognizing that the community is changing," said Elina Street, who along with Erica Rose, are the filmmakers behind the project.
The trend of bars going dark isn't unique to lesbian, gay or other LGBTQ+ establishments. There are far fewer bars of all types now than before.
As best anyone can tell, the number of lesbian bars peaked in the 1980s, topping out around 200 businesses, according to Greggor Mattson, an associate professor of sociology at Oberlin College & Conservatory, who researches LGBTQ+ communities, gay bars, inequality, and gentrification. Since the 2000s onward, there haven't been more than 33 lesbian bars open across the US at any given time, Mattson said.
"I think for all LGBTQ+ places, the onus is on them to make themselves inclusive spaces for everyone in the community," he said. "I think the surviving lesbian bars have figured that out."
The article includes mention of Walker's Pint:
In the Walker's Point neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sits a green, front-gabled building that's kept ale flowing for more than a century. And for the past 20 years, the name "Walker's Pint" has donned the awning. The "non-divey dive bar," that's a "not on the corner" corner bar, as owner Bet-z Boenning, 50, describes it, has sports on the TV, memorabilia on the walls and good gameday specials.
Walker's Pint, a women-forward sports bar is located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was opened in 2001. It's celebrating its 20th anniversary in July. It's also the city's and, likely, the state's only remaining lesbian bar, said Boenning who opened the women-forward sports bar in July 2001.
Coming of age and coming out in a time when lesbian bars where forced to hide away in dark, dungeon-like spaces, Boenning didn't want that for her bar. Walker's Pint has big, open windows. "I wanted sunshine," she said. "I wanted to be able to look out and see out, see what's going on around us."
Even the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021 couldn't bring down this bar. Originally forced to close (like all bars and restaurants) by state and city edicts around March 2020 to stop the spread of COVID, the bar reopened as soon as restrictions were eased, and patrons tolerated the need to wear masks and stay 6-feet from other patrons for months, until vaccines became available in January 2021. Most restrictions were gradually lifted in early-mid 2021, and soon it was clear that Walker's Pint had survived the pandemic. But many bars and restaurants across the country had been forced to close permanently, having been unable to sustain a year or more of no or greatly reduced business. Even such national gay bar landmarks as The Stonewall and Julius in New York City had nearly gone under. The bar landscape was drastically changed. What will the future look like for bars, and especially LGBT bars?
The JSonline article in June 2021 is more upbeat. A few excerpts from that article read:
"Being out at bars, and people calling you a 'dyke,' and you're not included, and you're made fun of an dismissed as less than, it's not a good feeling," (owner) Boenning said. "I've really lucked out that I've had a great support system. There's a lot of people who don't have anything, so we try to make them feel welcome here."
She has gay staff, straight staff, and people who are transitioning genders working for her. They are all welcome to join Boenning's family at the Pint.
"I never thought we would have a community like this," said Kristina Gibbons, who has worked at Walker's Pint for many years. "We've gone through people who hate us and that protest us, and we've seen it all, especially during Pride(Fest). Just people treating us like garbage, so it's nice to have a safe space."
So there's clearly hope that Walker's Pint will survive. Michael Horne in the UrbanMilwaukee article sums it up: "Walkers Pint's survival is in part due to the strong management skills and good humor of the owner."
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Last updated: September-2021.
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