Milwaukee, WI. – Club Marilyn. The Option. New Bar. The Attic West. Park Avenue. Bailey’s. Faces. 21 Below. Cafe Voltaire. And so many, many more!
The Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project, in partnership with the History Press, announces today the launch of its next book project, Children of the Revolution, celebrating Wisconsin’s “teen club” culture of the 1980s.
Following the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, twenty-seven states—including Wisconsin—were pressured to raise their drinking age to 21 or lose federal funding. Faced with losing over $20M/year, Wisconsin reluctantly raised the long-standing drinking age to 19 in 1985 and 21 in 1986. After two years of grandfathered access, time finally ran out. On September 1, 1988, the drinking age was firmly set at 21—one of the highest in the world—and has remained there ever since.
People aged 18 to 20 found themselves in a strange limbo. They were no longer teenagers, but not yet full adults. According to census data, half a million Wisconsin residents were “21 below” in 1988—and they were now all dressed up, with nowhere to go.
Fortunately, the same special legislative session that raised the drinking age also legalized a new revenue stream for business owners: non-alcoholic, reduced-hours, adult-supervised “teen nights” for ages 15-20. Greatly inspired by Chicago’s Medusa’s, teen clubs exploded throughout Wisconsin with dance anthems, laser-lit dancefloors, and disruptive fashions.
For disconnected teens in a pre-digital age, these clubs were an otherworldly escape from hometown doldrums, a playground for outrageous adventures, and a high society of diverse and colorful characters. Yet, within a decade, the teen club craze was essentially over, and today, all that remains of these spaces are fading photos and middle-aged memories.
“Children of the Revolution will explore the transformative impact these nightspots had on Generation X all over Wisconsin,” said author Michail Takach, “with a special focus on how these spaces became connective communities for LGBTQ youth, long before the Internet, social media, GSAs, or other support resources available today.”
“So few of these old spaces are still standing,” said Takach, “and, sadly, so many of our old friends have already left us. We need to tell this story while we still can.”
Children of the Revolution will publish in June 2024.