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A Few Clouds
Ladies Night promotions popular despite obscure law
MILWAUKEE -- Many local nightclubs use their Facebook pages to display pictures of attractive and happy people in their establishment, and some use Ladies Nights to attract those fun-loving crowds.
But many customers don't even realize an old Wisconsin law actually makes such bar promotions illegal.
"I'd think that'd be kind of insane," laughed Leslie Meganck, a customer at Victor's on Van Buren in downtown Milwaukee.
In 1895, state lawmakers first passed a public accomodation law, saying no one can give preferential treatment in a public place of amusement because of race and color.
Then in 1975, the legislature added sex -- along with creed, sexual orientation, national origin and ancestry -- to the list of classifications, potentially putting ladies nights in jeopardy.
P.J. Giesfeldt, a customer at Victor's on Van Buren, said he couldn't imagine ladies nights being outlawed.
"It's a drinking town. So everybody comes out and drinks. It's Milwaukee, home of the beer," noted Giesfeldt.
But James Novak and James Luscher didn't see it that way, and in 1994 the two men sued a Holiday Inn Bar in Madison for offering free drinks to ladies -- and not men -- on Sundays.
They lost in circuit court, so they appealed their case and won.
A Wisconsin Appellate Court ruling declared that ladies night violated the public accomodation law -- even though the case states that Novak received a free drink ticket the night he first complained to the hotel desk.
Despite the court ruling, ladies still appear to rule at clubs all over Wisconsin.
On Thursdays, Mo's Irish Pub in Milwaukee offers tap beer and mixers for $1 for women and $3 for men, Buckhead Saloon offers free drinks with Three Olives brand vodka for ladies who arrive before 11 p.m. and Bullwinkle's in Brookfield offers ladies wine, martinis and flamingos for $5.
The bars' Facebook pictures seem to indicate the good times are shared equally, despite the price inequities.
Giesfeldt noted that the ladies night promotions appeal to many men, who show up in the hopes of seeing more women in the bar.
"That brings all the guys in. They gotta come in and have fun. It's money for the bar," said Giesfeldt.
John Jones, the manager of Victor's on Van Buren, says he's not discriminating during his Wednesday ladies night, because he'll offer the same drink specials to men if they ask.
"We do have specials throughout the week, so it's pretty much even for everyone," said Jones.
He says the club hosts a ladies night to "make sure we have something for them to draw them down."
Offering free or reduced-price drinks to ladies to boost business on slow nights is a long-standing tradition at many places, in spite of the 20-year-old case challenging ladies night.
That suit was even sent to the state supreme court, which refused to review the appellate court ruling in favor of the men.
The appeals court eventually returned the case back to Dane County Circuit Court to determine the final outcome.
Novak and Luscher wanted $100,000 in damages, but court records show they only received $50.
And despite the successful appeal by the two Madison men, the public's thirst for ladies night continues to be quenched by local bars.
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