A Next-gen Experience in Walker’s Point

by | Nov 1, 2023 | 0 comments

Across America, gay bars have been closing at an astonishing rate. Over the past 20 years, Milwaukee has lost its longest-running icons: Ball Game (38 years), C’est La Vie (34 years,), M&M Club (30 years), and Club 219 (24 years). The national prognosis is chilling. Between 2012 and 2021, over half of the gay bars in the country closed. Lesbian bars have been decimated: Walker’s Pint is one of only 25 remaining in the nation.

Considering this mass exodus, it’s exciting to see a new gay bar open anywhere. But it is especially exciting to see a landmark address “reclaimed” by the community—with an exciting and energetic vision.

On September 8, POP celebrated its grand opening at 124 W. National Avenue, formerly home to Switch. Make no mistake: This is not your 20th century gay bar. POP has replaced the traditional Milwaukee tavern ambience with a bright, colorful explosion of sights and sounds.

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And no, they won’t be resurrecting those foam parties.

“You’re not the first person to ask,” said Marcus Wise, who owns and operates POP with partner Daniel Patterson. “That was then, this is now. Due to expansions and renovations, the Switch patio no longer exists.”

“Historically, a lot of gay bars were crowded, dark, secretive, anonymous places to protect people’s safety,” said Wise. “But we’re making a loud and proud statement. We’re bright, we’re spacious, we’re colorful. Our doors and windows are always open. We have no reason to hide.”

Originally from Buffalo, NY, Wise has extensive experience in the entertainment and service industries. His first jobs were working in restaurants, following in the footsteps of his father (a chef) and his mother (a bar/restaurant worker). He’s owned multiple art galleries in New York and Wisconsin, as well as the Buzz Social family entertainment center in Green Bay.

After eight years in Wisconsin, Wise felt the decline of gay bar culture firsthand. Over time, he envisioned opening a new kind of bar: One that served art, entertainment, and community in a neighborhood space. But he wanted to be clear: It needed to be a gay bar, first and foremost.

“I understand why there’s not as much demand for gay bars today,” said Wise. “We have more opportunities to be out now. But, on the other hand, there is still a need for safe spaces. Just because most of our population might be out and proud, doesn’t mean that everybody is ready to be out and proud. We’re also seeing so much hatred and discrimination right now. We cannot honestly say we don’t need gay bars. I hope that we are moving closer to a world where anyone can feel safe anywhere, but we are not there now.”

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“Over time, our space will evolve as it evolves. But I want to create a safe space that makes room for everyone.”

POP is not just a bar, but a full-service restaurant with a clever, seven-day menu, including weekend brunches and “fast casual” hand foods the rest of the week.

“We hired a great kitchen manager who is really killing it,” said Wise. “This helps us serve the community. When you can eat tasty food right here; you don’t need to leave to find a quality meal.”

“As I like to say, drink with one hand—and eat with the other.”

Wise also hopes to flex his arts and entertainment background to create an ever-changing vibe.

“We’re creating a space for people who love to go out and have fun,” said Wise. “I built this bar because something was missing in Milwaukee. We are creating a space where you can watch videos at the bar, or grab a snack, or watch a Packer game, or RuPaul’s Drag Race, or meet friends for weekday happy hours, or bring the family for brunch. We’ll have drag shows, but we’re not a drag bar. We’ll have DJs, but we’re not a dance club. And we look forward to partnering with our neighbors in Walker’s Point on bar crawls and neighborhood events. We’ve got so many exciting things coming up in fall and winter. We’ll be trying new concepts, listening to our customers, and seeing what our community really wants and needs.”

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“We’re creating a space for people who like what they like—and aren’t afraid to say so.”

POP is open 4:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Monday through Friday and 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sundays. Kitchen menus and reservations are now available online. For ongoing news and event updates, follow them on Facebook and Instagram. 

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