Joey Grihalva
Weekly Happy Hour

This is It! Has Daily Discounts

City’s longest running gay bar has great drink specials seven days a week.

By - Jun 9th, 2016 02:34 pm
This Is It! Photo by Joey Grihalva.

This Is It! Photo by Joey Grihalva.

When you walk into Wisconsin’s longest running gay bar, This is It! in East Town, you can feel the weight of history. While the bar was able to avoid police raids in an era when that was the norm, their original clientele dealt with a much different social climate around queer lifestyles than today’s generation. There was no primetime network TV show with beloved gay characters like “Will & Grace,” no out athletes like Robbie Rogers and Jason Collins, no openly gay politicians like Tammy Baldwin, and no public celebrations of LGBT pride in Milwaukee. Put it this way: the back door of the bar used to see a lot more foot traffic than the front.

This is It! (418 E. Wells St.) was opened by June Brehm in 1968. By virtue of her kind and accepting spirit, plus the fact that a nearby gay bar had just closed, This is It! became a haven for the gay community. Her son Joe Brehm took over operations in 1980 and was an ardent LGBT ally, even though he faced harassment and was ostracized by some of his friends. Until his death this April Brehm used the bar to raise money for HIV/AIDS victims, and supported PrideFest and other community groups and causes. The bar is now ran by George Schneider, 31, who was groomed by Brehm for the position.

Drink special chips. Photo by Joey Grihalva

Drink special chips. Photo by Joey Grihalva

If you’re looking for a dizzying array of drink specials, look no further, because this is it! The happy hour is simple enough, with $1 off all drinks from 3 p.m. (when they open) to 8 p.m. However, that only applies on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. This is because on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays there are a different set of specials. On Progressive Tuesday you’re given a set of 4 chips that get you 50 cents off your first drink, $1 off your second, $1.50 off your third, and 2-4-1 on your 4th round. In case you don’t make it that far you can keep the chips and bring them back another Tuesday.

I don’t know of another bar in town that offers a 3-4-1 drink special, but This is It! does on Fridays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., which includes rail mixers and tap beers. Sunday is their service industry night, with 2-4-1 on all drinks all night, with the same deal for non-service industry members from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday is late night happy hour, with 2-4-1 rail mixers and tap beer from 8 p.m. to close. The Wednesday and Friday specials come with punch cards to be redeemed the next day (Thursday or Saturday) for additional discounts. Thursday night offers $10 fishbowls and $1 off mules from 8 p.m. to close. Monday is karaoke with Carly-Rose (9 p.m. to 1 a.m.) and rail prices ($5) on flavored vodka from 8 p.m. to close. There’s also a disco ball hanging in the middle of the bar and whenever it randomly turns on, usually for about 5 minutes, all drinks are 2-4-1.

Before walking into the cozy, dimly lit bar you’ll notice their 13-point House Rules poster, the first of which states drinks are already poured double tall and priced affordably. One glance at the liquor shelves and you can guess that the most popular drinks are vodka based. “We’re trying to get the entire Skyy line,” bartender J.D. quipped. They have four tap lines (currently Karben4 Fantasy Factory, Spotted Cow, Riverwest Stein, and Miller Lite) and almost 40 import, domestic and craft bottles and cans ($3.50-$5.50 regularly). They are one of the few places I’ve seen with Lakefront Growing Power Organic Ale in their fridge and the first with tallboys of Henry’s Hard Orange Soda.

Not much has changed inside This is It! during the half-century they’ve been open, save some new cash registers, a digital jukebox and the addition of craft beers. Beautiful stained glass light fixtures illuminate the bar, along with rainbow-colored rows of lights on the ceiling. There’s still a payphone near the front door, they have cigarettes for sale, a few vintage beer posters hang outside the bathrooms, and inside the Men’s there is Old Hollywood-themed wallpaper pasted above the tile. Despite the vintage decor, Schneider is helping bring This is It! into the digital/social media age. For instance, all of the Captain Morgan cocktails involved in this month’s specials are named after gay dating apps.

Pretzels are the only snack available at This is It!, but if hunger strikes you can walk across the street to one of the best eateries in town, Real Chili, which predates the bar by almost 40 years. The bar is also around the corner from Cathedral Square, making it a popular place during and after Jazz in the Park. With PrideFest taking over the Henry Maier Festival Park this weekend, This is It! will be bustling, and they’ve spent “a pretty penny” to bring in drag queen Detox (the 5th queen from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to appear at the bar) on Saturday night.

This is It!

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