History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Wisconsin - Organizations - Social

Milwaukee Guerrilla Gay Bar


July, 2007
approx. mid-2011

Gay and Lesbian, Social alternative



View the Full List of Takeovers of Milw GGB.

View the Milwaukee Guerrilla Gay Bar web page as it existed in its heyday.


Milwaukee Guerrilla Gay Bar was founded in the footsteps of similar groups in San Francisco, Los Angeles and other locations. It seeks to provide alternative social outlets for LGBT people of all ages. Milwaukeeans Luke Schtele and Don Schwamb were waiting in an airport lounge in Toronto for a flight home, and came across an article in the 'New York Times' about the "Guerrilla Gay Bar" movement in San Francisco and a few other cities. On returning home, within a few weeks, Milwaukee's own Guerrilla Gay Bar group was founded.

Using the largest social media platform of the day, "MySpace" (Facebook wasn't yet a household word), the group recruited other LGBT people to keep an eye out for "straight" bars to "take over". Then once a month, no earlier than a day prior, the word went out of that month's "target" bar. The group's first "Takeover" was on August 3, 2007, and started an over-three-year tradition of monthly gatherings. The December 2007 gathering saw 140 LGBT people show up, and within a year over 250 people attended each month's "Takeover".

According to the group's web page:

    Milwaukee Guerrilla Gay Bar once a month, takes over the coolest straight bar we can find, for one night only and you're invited, as long as you're gay, and game. Milwaukee Guerrilla Gay Bar (MGGB) was inspired by our comrades in Los Angeles and San Francisco who wanted to branch out of the gay and lesbian bars and "take over" a hip straight bar for one night each month making it gay.

    On the first Friday of every month, MGGB takes over the hippest straight bar we can find in Milwaukee. We don't tell 'em we're coming - we'll just show up - by the hundreds - and make ourselves at home.

    Trick is, we don't announce our shindig's digs until the day of the party - we don't wanna give them any notice. So, the only way to know where to go for the party is to sign up for it here. A week prior to each event, we'll send you a message so you can save the date and invite your friends, and we may (or may not) offer a clue as to the location. The actual location will not be announced until one day prior to each event, when we'll give you the full lowdown by message and on our website.

    Word to the wise: The words "takeover", "revolution", and "guerrilla" are used ONLY for fun, as in jest. MGGB is above all just a chance for gays and lesbians in Milwaukee to go out and have fun at different venues while being around other gay folks...we wouldn't do anything more in-your-face at straight bars other than buying beer and playing pool. It's an opportunity not to be ghettoized and have to go to a gay bar to be around gay pals (old and new). MGGB does not condone any confrontational behavior. Remember it's about fun and mixing.

Reaction at the takeover bars was mixed. Most of the bars loved the huge influx of business (even though the staff was sometimes nearly overwhelmed). As the number of 'gay' attendees swelled, it was more difficult to find straight ('str8') bars that had the space to handle the large number of extra customers descending on the place. 'Straight' regular customers of the takeover bar were sometimes off-put and in rare cases downright unwelcoming-- but the number of gay attendees (wearing bright red stickers to identify themselves to others of the group) meant the regular patrons were usually outnumbered, and in most cases shrugged and let it go.

There was also pushback from some of the gay bar owners, who felt drawing some of their customers away on a Friday night was hurting their business. (This despite the fact that takeovers were only one day a month, and ran only from 9:30 pm to about 11 pm or midnight- after which attendees typically wanted to continue partying and invariably ended up at one of the city's LGBT bars.) But attendees loved the idea: it was a chance to see one of the area's more popular str8 bars with friends without feeling out of place.

Late in 2008, shortly after the group's 1-Year anniversary party and an Obama Get-out-the-vote event, co-founder Luke left Milwaukee to pursue his career, and Michail Takach took over as the group's leader. Attendance continued to grow and the group also held some 'Happy Hour' events in addition to its traditional "9:30 pm first-Friday Takeovers".

After a few years, the movement began to lose some of its popularity. All mainstream bars were becoming more welcoming to all people, so "gay" people were no longer feeling unwelcome at any bar. Attendance gradually dwindled and the group stopped having takeovers around mid-2011.

Read about mainstream-Milwaukee-media coverage of the Milw GGB group and events.

See Takeover photo collections on Flickr

Related articles that describe the phenomenon:

    San Francisco: "Guerrilla Queer Bar - Guerrilla Queer Bar organizes parties at straight venues" Excerpt: "In the past year, what began with a handful of friends trying to spice up San Francisco's gay nightlife has become somewhat of an international phenomenon. Bored by what they describe as the "same scene with the same music and the same faces" in bars of the gay-oriented Castro and South of Market neighborhoods, the organizers started throwing informal parties all over the city. Now on a monthly basis, Guerrilla Queer Bar, with its slogan "Don't Clone, Colonize," descends unannounced upon unsuspecting straight-identified venues. Partygoers collectively bring with them campy, edgy, and sexy queer sensibilities they might not individually exhibit, especially in nongay spaces."

    Los Angeles: "Gay Social Activism, With the Accent on the ‘Social’" (New York Times, July 22, 2007) Excerpt: "There’s a place for gay bars, but we feel gay people have become so segregated that some of them don’t go out into the wider community anymore,” said Matthew Poe (of the Los Angeles "Guerilla Gay Bar" group)... The first gay party-insurgents surfaced in San Francisco in 2000 under the name “Guerrilla Queer Bar,” and since then similar groups have formed, disbanded and formed again, in cities like New York, Austin, Atlanta and Detroit... The group shows up en masse at a straight site, mostly bars, once a month. They pick targets based on the location’s perceived coolness — past choices (in Los Angeles) included the Saddle Ranch restaurant on the Sunset Strip and Brennan’s Pub in Marina Del Rey — and take their roving gay bar to places where they would not go by themselves."

    web site for Guerrilla Gay Bar, Los Angeles

    Washington, D.C.: "Guerilla Queer Bar DC" (ABC News, April 9, 2007) Excerpt: "The blending (by) Guerrilla Queer Bar DC (is) a social experiment bordering on activism. Through a network of Internet profiles on Myspace, Friendster and Yahoo, they sound the call to gays and lesbians around the city and descend on a straight bar, on the third Friday of every month. Tired of being limited to a few dozen gay bars and just two lesbian bars in the city, the group began seeking out straight bars three years ago."


Original group logo

Founders Luke (left) and Don (right)

Group's first 'Politburo', the group that ran the events

Article in Queer Life News

Letter sent to takeover bars after event

Credits: Bulk of contents from organization's own archives.
Web site concept and Design by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: August-2021.

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