History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Businesses - Restaurants

Granfalloon Coffee House
Location: 1627 E. Irving Place, Milwaukee


approx 1970
October 1971

Male/ female
Coffee House



Granfalloon Coffee House was an early gay gathering place, at least from 1970-1971, when it was the one and only alternative to gay bars. Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project historian Michail Takach write the following summary of the gathering place for the 'Milwaukee LGBT History' Facebook group in February, 2022:

Granfalloon was originally owned by John Kois, publisher of Kaleidoscope, and it was a popular place for gay youth. Later, Kaleidoscope admitted, "it's unclear who actually owns this place, other than the people who gather here.' It was previously known as the Blood Factory Coffee House.

"Many people in the gay community are interested in keeping the Granfalloon alive," said the September 1971 Kaleidoscope. "One gay man said the restaurant was the only alternative to bars. While there has been some harassment of gay people by certain customers, the Granfallon has an arsenal of baseball bats to deal with anyone bothering the young gay kids."

The Granfalloon also had to deal with the East Side Mothers, a group committed to shutting down counterculture hotspots, head shops and concerts. (The East Side Mothers headquarters was across the street from the Granfalloon!) They were not happy to have homosexual youth hanging out down the block.

In summer 1971, the coffeehouse was also the scene of a police raid of the Billie Shears Film Society. The Society, composed of alternative film lovers, vowed to increase appreciation for films not seen in theaters or on television. Founded by Jim Sorcic in fall 1970, the Society was taken over by Leroy Burt, who showed underground and experimental films from around the world. Later that year, Robert Adams took over with a more commercial approach. At the time, the Downer and Oriental Theaters were not Landmark Cinemas, but regular theaters showing third and fourth run films.

The closest thing Milwaukee had to an "art house" cinema in 1971 was the Esquire Theater (310 W. Wisconsin Ave.,) which ran Harold and Maude, Billy Jack, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Summer of 42 and Alejandro Jodorowsky's X-rated El Topo. (John Waters' films would later make their Milwaukee debuts at the Esquire.)

Police claimed they were operating illegally as they charged admission and held no theater license. Organizers argued that since it was a membership club, not a public showing, they were not subject to licensing. Still, police raided Andy Warhol's "Nude Restaurant" and scared many members away.

Billie Shears Film Society also faced pressures from UWM. A film professor reported their Bugle American ad to a film distribution company hoping they would be charged with rental violations. The Student Union refused to allow them to hang "illegal" posters on campus as they weren't a campus group. The East Side Mothers encouraged students and pressured police to tear down their posters. The Society moved to First Baptist Church (911 E. Ogden Ave.) and switched to less controversial films. However, Adams told the Milwaukee Journal on September 5, 1971 that he "tried to aim films at gay people, too. There's a very large gay audience in Milwaukee -- but nowhere for them to see movies about them."

In November 1971, Billie Shears Film Society brought "The Queen" (1968) to Milwaukee for its first-ever screening. "I tried to get films for gay men and women, but they bombed... so I had to get films that were more commercial... films that would appeal to straights," organizer Robert Adams told GPU News in September 1972. Robert Adams moved to San Francisco in February 1973 and the Billie Shears Film Society ceased to exist.

Granfalloon closed in October 1971 due to "building code violations." It is now the Bullseye Records store on Irving and Farwell.



Advertisement for films shown by
Billy B. Shears Film Society at Granfalloon
(date unknown)

Credits: web site concept, contents, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
History and photo courtesy of Michail Takach.
Last updated: February-2022.

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