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

Loop Cafe
Location: 603 N. 5th Street, Milwaukee



Male/ female
Restaurant/ Cafe



The Loop Cafe was a cafe/ coffee shop. Originally located across the street at 616 N. 5th Street (from about 1947 to 1963), it was reportedly owned by a former police officer, Charles Kohel. In the late 1940s and early '50s (in its 616 N. 5th location, and prior to being known as a gay hangout), The Loop was believed to be a "Super Bar"; which, in addition to serving customers on-site like any tavern, was also allowed to sell packaged beer, wine and liquor to be consumed off-site. Owner Kohel declared bankruptcy in 1962 and divested of The Loop- after which time it appears to have changed hands a few times, according to researcher Michail Takach.

In 1963, The Loop Cafe moved across the street, to 601 N. 5th Street-- and continued to be popular with sailors, and served great hamburgers as it had in its old location. But according to reports, while it was straight during the day, in the new location it inclined toward gay clientele at night. In addition to lots of sailors, drag queens also frequented The Loop. Noted female impersonators who hung out there included Jamie; Delmar (Raymond Neil), and Jeff Page.

It was during this time that The Loop is listed in several national 'Gay Bar Guides', from about 1966 to 1970 (1971 issues included it but it aappears to have closed late in 1970.)

The black and white photo to the right is the only vintage photo known of both the site of the Loop Cafe (the first business on the left with the sign "FINE FOOD"), and the New Yorker Lounge gay hangout (next door with the "Blatz" sign: 605 N. 5th St.). The color photo is the building about to be torn down, which at the time was The Lib bookstore.

    The large hotel beyond in both photos, with the sign "Sheraton-Schroeder" in the older photo, was so-named from 1965-1971. The hotel was bought in 1972 by the Marcus Corporation, and renamed the Marc Plaza. As of 2015, it is the Milwaukee Hilton.

The Loop Cafe closed sometime in 1970, and in 1971 became The Lib bookstore. The Lib remained open until 1986. Boston Store had recently purchased the entire half-block building, also home to the scandalous Lampost Bar, and demolished it for a parking structure.

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!

    I used to go (to the NiteBeat) in 1967, when I was too young to get in. We'd try to look older, as if we knew how, by slicking our hair back and trying to dress conservatively... Later, we'd go to The Loop, on 5th and Michigan to wait for the 'bar crowd' so we could be with gay people. They had the worst hamburgers in the world, two slabs of bun with the burger carelessly thrown on it. You had to buy something to be there, so that's how I know. They had a notoriously mean, black haired, middle-aged waitress named Marie. You had to stay on her good side if you wanted to be there for bar crowd.

    The Loop was on the northwest corner of 5th and Michigan, kitty-corner from the old Royal Hotel. The Loop had two rooms, one with a lunch counter that looped around the room and had stools around it. There was a great juke box in that room. The second room was filled with oblong tables and kitchen chairs. It stayed open 24 hours, 7 days a week. Everyone went there after the bars closed. Because we were underage, we'd stay up all night until bar crowd, when we'd invade The Loop, looking to meet people. To kill time, we'd 'camp' up and down the avenue (Wisconsin), making a lot of noise and being outrageously gay. 'We' being crowds of six or seven teenagers, mostly queen types (Winnie, Delma, Danny Leigh) [There's an ad on your site that features Winnie. I think it's from the Royal Hotel bar. Delma is like a 7-foot tall black queen, who does or did live in SF.], some in make-up, being goofy and loud and acting queer in an 'in your face' manner towards all straight people on the street. I guess we were sort of 'wilding.' We didn't cause any harm or mayhem, and we weren't drinking or doing drugs. It was sort of a weekly, impromptu gay pride parade pre-Stonewall. We'd go out many Friday and Saturday night and do this. We all became hippies and grew up to be the GLBT movement.

    The infamous waitress at The Loop was Marie. Marie was short, middle-aged, stocky, had dyed black hair, puffy cheeks, swarthy complexion, and she wore rather a lot of make-up, and a classic waitress uniform with lapels and an apron over it. She almost never smiled. She was very strict and we had to behave or we'd be thrown out. Once barred, we were screwed, as there was nowhere else to meet gay/lesbian people. The food was horrible at The Loop, but for obvious reasons, nobody cared. I remember frozen french fries and dry hamburgers on dry buns, with nothing but ketchup to put on them. Even the cokes were flat and too syrupy. The decor was non-existent. It wasn't even bad decor. Just drab and not done at all, kind of stuck in the 1930s depression era. I used to go to The Loop from 1967 to probably 1969, when I turned 21.

    D.H. Cass Magnuski


Listings in early "Gay Guides":
(For more information on the Guides, click here.)

1966 Bob Damron's Address Book
    Publisher note
Notes: Code "C": Coffee, Food
1966 International Guild Guide
    Title pg   Editors note
1967 International Guild Guide
    Title pg
1968 Bob Damron's Address Book
    Title pg   Editors note   Codes
Notes: Code "C": Coffee, Food
1969 International Guild Guide
    Title pg   Editors note   Codes
Notes: Still popular/ YC, many underage/ mainly after bar spot
1970 Bob Damron's Address Book
Notes: YC, C/ after hours
1971 Bob Damron's Address Book
    Title pg   Codes
Notes: YC, C/ after hours

Loop Cafe is to the left with the "FINE FOOD" sign
(c1971; see notes in the text to the left)

Photo of bldg about to be torn down, late 1986
(The location had most recently been occupied by the Lib Bookstore)
(photo by Don Schwamb)

Photo of the area from about 1971
(see notes in the text to the left)

Credits: web site concept, contents, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Additional narrative and early photo courtesy of Michail Takach.
National gay guide research by Don Schwamb.
Recollections contributed as indicated.
Last updated: February-2022.

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