Milwaukee Magazine Through the Years: The Eighties

Punk aesthetic in MKE, hard times for our mafioso and high times for the Brewers


Around Town

Food, Art, Entertainment

Larry Shue wrote his comedic masterpiece, The Nerd, while working as a Milwaukee actor. He also performed in the Milwaukee Rep’s world premiere of his play in 1981, six years before it made its way to Broadway. Our profile of Shue, in January 1984, ran just a year before the playwright’s death, in a plane crash at the age of 39.

In July 1984, our fine arts column captured Milwaukee Ballet’s “newfound fascination” with a then-trending form of movement called breakdancing

The Cudahy Tower spot that holds Bacchus has long been associated with fine dining, notably the opulent Fleur de Lis. Reviewed in February 1984, this fancy French restaurant served dishes many Milwaukeeans had never seen before (entrées were a shocking $19.95) and more silverware than we knew what to do with. Fleur’s first head chef, Michel Nischan, went on to bigger and better things: winning four James Beard Awards, running a restaurant with actor Paul Newman and founding a national nonprofit that tackles food insecurity. Plagued in its final years by poor reviews, Fleur de Lis crashed and burned in the early 1990s. Another white tablecloth restaurant – this one the beloved Boulevard Inn – moved into those Cudahy Tower digs before Bacchus took over in 2004. The latter led our “It List” of hot restaurants that May. 



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VCRs and the local video stores to feed them were so omnipresent in the 1980s that they necessitated our exhaustive October 1984 guide to rental shops. Why go to the theater, when you could watch Casablanca and Risky Business in your La-Z-Boy recliner? 

Known as the clothing designer that “let children be children,” Milwaukee’s Florence Eiseman created timeless dresses, pinafores and the like, sold at upscale stores such as Sak’s Fifth Avenue. The longest-running children’s clothier in the country – profiled in our December 1988 issue – continues to make its classic garments, even outfitting the kids of famous celebs like Beyoncé.

Though it was set in – ugh – Cleveland, the 1989 baseball comedy Major League put Milwaukee in the cinematic news. Our March 1989 story on the making of the film dished about everything from star Charlie Sheen getting robbed to how cheap it was to make a movie in MKE – exactly why our city served as stand-in.

The Cocaine King

THE NAME TONY PETERS might not ring that many bells nowadays, but in the early ’80s, the man was Milwaukee’s Tony Montana. A July 1984 story covered the 27-year-old’s wild life, as he supplied Milwaukee (and some of the high-flying Milwaukee Brewers of the era) with $17 million a year worth of the “finest cocaine available.” He was found guilty of operating in a criminal enterprise and sentenced to 22 years in prison.


The Milwaukee Mafia

FRANK BALISTRIERI, Milwaukee’s most notorious mafioso, was locked up in the early ’80s, shortly after we started publishing, but his family (and his Family) made several appearances in our pages in the years since. In ’87, we printed an excerpt from a letter Frank’s son Joseph wrote to a judge, denouncing his father. In 2008, we wrote about his daughter Benedetta’s lawsuit against her siblings. And in 2011, we covered the story of Ned Day, a Balistrieri associate-turned-journalist who helped take down the Vegas mob. 

A Milwaukee Ballplayer’s Farewell

IF ANY BALLPLAYER was ever born to play in Milwaukee, it was Gorman Thomas. With a beer-drinking foundry-man’s physique and a snarl of unkept facial hair, Thomas was the rowdy everyman slugger at the heart of one of baseball’s most feared lineups. The fans loved his mash-or-miss approach, but his increasing failure to produce led to a stunning trade to Cleveland in 1983. His departure was a reminder that baseball was, beyond all the cheers and heartbreak, a business at its core. “Goodbye, Gorman,” we wrote in a September 1983 appreciation of Thomas’ Milwaukee playing days. “Or maybe, goodbye romance.”

Photo from MilMag Archival Scans

Big Debut: Dave Luczak

Radio legend Dave Luczak – who for decades was half of the “Dave and Carole” show on WKLH – kicked off his career at the station in 1984, and a year later was pictured drinking cocktails at ultra-hip Polaris (the revolving rooftop restaurant at the Hyatt Hotel Downtown) in an April 1985 story about where local celebs dine. Luczak – featured in our mag many times over the years – these days co-hosts WKLH’s “Dave and Dorene Saturday Morning Binge.” 


The Marquette Mohawk

In 1989, Jonathan Bykowski was the most recognizable student on Marquette’s campus – by a long shot – thanks to his foot-high mohawk dyed multiple colors. “At Marquette, he’s regarded by some as a walking freak show, a standout in a sea of J. Crew-clad yupsters,” we wrote in a profile of the 19-year-old in our August ’89 issue. Bykowski says that the bold choice, along with ripped jeans and combat boots with spurs, was a sort of “polarizing filter to see who would accept me for who I am, or who would reject me just based on appearance.” 

Photo from MilMag Archival Scans

Well, 33 years later, we can report that the Marquette Mohawk has faded to something of a … well, fade. Bykowski, 52, graduated from Marquette in 1993 with a degree in biomedical engineering, and went on to design an artificial heart with the Milwaukee Heart Project before landing at Kohler Co., where he is currently a master engineer doing research and development. He lives in Shorewood with his wife of 26 years, and has a son and daughter, both in their early 20s. 

The legendary mohawk died a slow death while he was first dating his wife. “It just kind of faded away, unfortunately. Or fortunately, I guess,” he says. “My wife’s helped me dress more appropriately. … I recognize that, you know, wearing punk rock garb to a funeral may not be the best thing.” But despite the squaring of his haircut, Bykowski’s bold fashion spirit is still alive. “I’m not afraid to wear some pink pants,” he says.

Cheap Eats, 80s Style

THE DINING COVER story that capped off 1989, “Cheap Eats” was our magazine’s first foray into dining frugally – we’re talking “extraordinary meals that allow you to eat like a king” for under 10 bucks. Of the featured restaurants still in business, the East Side’s Pasta Tree offered $8-$9 pastas – ohh, Gorgonzola cream sauce! Thirty-four years later, they start at $16. And those “monster-size,” $2.30 burritos from Taqueria Jalisco? Now $12 and up. One thing that hasn’t changed?  Our appetite for bargain-basement prices. They’re just a lot harder to find these days.


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s January issue.

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