History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - People - Bios

Clarence Germershausen
aka 'John Clayton'


August 29, 2005
Primary Involvements:

Bar/ Restaurant Owner/ Operator





Clarence Germershausen, better known as "John Clayton", owned several gay bars in the 1970s until his death in 2005. Most popular of these wss the C'est La Vie (opened 1974 and still going strong at the time of his death), but also included the Advent bar.

The OutBound magazine issue of January 2003 featured Cest La Vie on the cover, and inside added "Owner John Clayton has helped many gay men by providing accomodations and jobs for those in need." There are many stories of John helping young gay men, making avaible both a few residence rooms above the bar, as well as bartending and other jobs. While some people make comments about John perhaps 'taking advantage' of some, most stories are very positive and complimentary of his soft heart, behind a seemingly strict and staid exterior.

Others recall John's attraction to the stock market, and how he would often spend mornings late in life checking market trends and trading on the internet in his own apartment above the bar.

In addition to his bar ownership, John owned another building just north of C'est La Vie, and rented out parts of it first in 1988 to the Cream City Foundation for a Community Center, and also to In Step newspaper for its publishing office. The building was pretty run down, and a lot of work was needed by both organizations to get the front office areas into shape; but the spaces were some of the first made available to the budding LGBT community.

Germershausen was "Born to Eternal Life on August 29, 2005 at the age of 74 years. Preceded in death by his mother Calverna Eutin "Kelly". Further survived by family and friends."

Wisconsin Gay News websie's obit read:

    Milwaukee -- Colorful Milwaukee gay bar owner Clarence Germershausen, owner of C'est La Vie has died at age 74. Germershausen was more well-known in the communty by his "Nomme De Plume" John Clayton.

    According to reports, Clayton died of complications due to cancer and had been ill for a number of weeks. Visitation is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 1 at the Borgwardt funeral home from 4 p.m. until time of service at 7 p.m.. Private interment Wisconsin Memorial Park.

    Clayton's Cest La Vie has been a fixture in Milwuaukee's gay bar scene for decades, no immediate information was available about the status of the club.

According to "windycitymediagroup.com" in November 2008, "Cream City Foundation-- an organization for LGBT people in southeastern Wisconsin-- has announced that Clarence Germershausen ( a.k.a. John Clayton ) left it a legacy gift of $400,000. It's the largest gift in the foundation's 26-year history. 'Mr. Germershausen was one of Cream City Foundation's first supporters,' said Tim Clark, the foundation's president. 'We are honored to receive the generous and thoughtful bequest from Clarence. His gift makes it possible for us to strengthen our Mission Fund and future grant making efforts that advance LGBT equality.' Biztimes.com expanded upon this: "Germerhausen's gift will be invested in Cream City Foundation's Mission Fund where only the interest growth from the fund will be available for efforts to create a more respectful and fair community, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The structure of the gift ensures a permanent financial source for LGBT funding. When Germershausen died, he made sure that the work he cared about in his life would continue, leaving the vast majority of his estate to Cream City Foundation-- a community foundation focusing on serving LGBT rights."

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!

    "He so sarcastic. We did (dry) shots before the bar got full. He was kind to me never trying to hit on me. Truly was a fixture in the community."
                                    - Eric C. (via Facebook)

    "John never drank alcohol. His "drink" was milk, (or coffee and milk). "
                                    - Jamie Taylor (via Facebook)

    "Used to see him cruising around in his big car as I was going home after closing up at M's"
                                    - Charles B. (via Facebook)

    "He hired me as a bartender the first time I ever went in with 2 friends. It was my first time at a gay bar. This was April of 1975. He never hit on me while I worked there. He was ok. I heard the stories, but I never saw any of it. He fired me in early fall, then rehired me to work at his other bar, The Blue goose. I think I was only there at the Blue Goose for 2 months. I can't remember if I quit or what happened."
                                    - Steve P. (via Facebook)

    "Anyone else remember his big banner over bar for Queer happy hour. 25 cent drinks 7-9 then 50 cent doubles from 9-11. Was before Queer nation so uproar over using the word queer. First night there cops came and checked all IDs. In two years I was there never busted for underaged...must have good fake IDs. Fired for dating Phoenix bartender and going over there. No love lost between Sam owner of Phoenix and John."
                                    - Steven D. (via Facebook)

    "He was always funny. Played and was the Pervy guy. Partied after hours upstairs, never physically lewd to any of us 17 yr olds. (another pcontributor mentioned John's waterbed)"
                                    - Keith R. (via Facebook)

    "I was his chauffeur when he was closed & John went to Chicago to visit the juice bars. (One time) I ram around town visiting the banks where John had accounts to get the $750 to bail him out of jail when the Milwaukee cops arrested him on a minor charge. I also was a rooming house tenant from October 1981 until i moved out in 1989. I even have a VHS tape where John goes against the common council about licences."
                                    - Paul D. (via Facebook)

    "I lived upstairs from John Claton for a very short time until i moved behind LaCage in that rooming house. John and i used to go see all the drag shows"
                                    - Bob H. (via Facebook)

    "I was the only female allowed up stairs. Went to court for him as a witness for a beating he took from jealous man. Bad man threw bottles at back bar mirrors shattering them and John put a cinder block through the man's windshield. Cops caught dude down the street. Had free drinks from John till he passed."
                                    - Karen B. (via Facebook)

John at 1991 boating trip (photos by Jamie Taylor)

John's mother, Kelly, mid-1980s
(photo by Jamie Taylor)
Another pic of John's mother, Kelly (date unknopwn)
(photo by Rick S.)

Clayton, mid-1980s
(photo by Jamie Taylor)

Clayton at a party
(date unknown)

Clayton with his trademark 'big red flashlight'
(date unknown)

Credits: web site concept, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb;
Additional photos and info courtesy Jamie Taylor and his Milwaukee LGBT History Facebook site.
Last updated: January-2021.

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