Walker’s Pint is the quintessential Midwestern corner bar. It has everything you would expect from a neighborhood pub: those familiar black leather barstools, photos of regulars behind the bar, Miller Lite on tap and a collection of High Life moon signage and memorabilia. One thing sets it apart from the rest: Every night is ladies night at the Pint.
At least that’s how owner Elizabeth Boenning puts it. The lesbian dive is right at home in Walker’s Point, also known as Milwaukee’s “Gayborhood,” among many gay bars. Boenning opened the bar (818 S. Second St.) 21 years ago to build a safe space where she could eventually find a girlfriend, and the timing couldn’t have been better.
At the time, places for lesbians were becoming scarce here. Dish (1997-2000), Kathy’s Nut Hut (1980-2002) and Fannies (1982-2002) all shut their doors just as Walker’s Pint was emerging – adding intense pressure for it to succeed.
In the late 1980s there were around 200 lesbian bars in the country, according to the Lesbian Bar Project. Today, the Project estimates there are just 24 left – Walker’s Pint is the last one in Wisconsin – and they are continuing to disappear.
So where did all the lesbian bars go? The answer depends on whom you ask. Boenning’s first instinct is that “nesting,” which she describes as a tendency for lesbians to settle down together and become chronic homebodies, is to blame.
And Michail Takach, a curator for the Milwaukee LGBT History Project, cites the rising cultural acceptance of (especially white) queer people. “It used to be that bars were the only place that queer people could find each other because nowhere else was safe,” Takach says. “Now we are able to navigate a life that is much more balanced, and that means that the bar is more of a social event than a necessary community center.”
Some say persistent income disparities leave men more likely to have startup funds required to open new bars – and the disposable income to patronize the ones that already exist. Others say that younger queer people lack a strong connection to lesbian identity. No matter the cause, Takach makes it clear that what’s really at stake is lesbian histories going unshared as these community hubs – spaces created for lesbians – disappear.
Though Walker’s Pint is still not meeting its pre-pandemic numbers in terms of patrons, Boenning is confident that the business is moving in the right direction, particularly if younger lesbians work to keep the culture alive. The future of Wisconsin’s last lesbian bar, she says, is “completely in the hands of our community.”