By Todd Houston
Exclusive to TRRT
Beloit, Wisconsin was a haven for Illinois teens back in the ’70s and early ’80s. Why? Mainly because a person only had to be 18 to buy and consume alcohol. But it was also more than that. It seemed that you could literally pick up a rock, blindly throw it into the air and hit two or three clubs, many of them hosting live music and entertainment nightly.
For this week’s column we decided that it would be fun to solicit testimony from the people who were there. We even tracked down some former bartenders, DJs and patrons to weigh in on the shenanigans that went on north of the border.
Let’s first start with some history on drinking age laws in Illinois. According to DrinkingMap.com, Illinois lowered the drinking age from 21 to 19 for beer and wine in 1973 as a response to the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18. In 1980 the state of Illinois said, “The heck with it. We don’t care if you can vote at 18. If you want to legally purchase or consume any kind of booze you must be 21 years of age. Period.”
Now let’s talk about Wisconsin. In 1972 Wisconsin lowers the drinking age from 21 to 18 but maintained a restriction which said you must be 21 if you were a resident of a bordering state with an age limit of 21. In 1977 they lifted the age old restriction, thus allowing Illinois residents over the age of 18 to consume and buy alcohol legally (in the state of Wisconsin.)
Confusing? Maybe, but as you can imagine the kids from just south of the border were coming over in droves, especially after 1980. I would venture to say that this was generating tons of revenue for the city of Beloit and neighboring cities. The bars and clubs were hopping!
On July 1, 1985, the party starts to fizzle out as the drinking age changes to 19. A year later Wisconsin follows suit with much of the rest of the nation adopting a 21-year-old drinking age across the board which was most likely the right thing to do. It was inevitable that without the extra Illinois cash flow some of the clubs would have to close their doors. ~ The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Bob Dylan
Please keep in mind that this article is not meant to glamorize the use of alcohol in any way. I personally had many friends that didn’t drink at all but rather went there to dance, mingle and have fun. This is merely a look back on a different time in American pop culture.
“We went to The Gaslight pretty much every weekend. I actually met my husband at Coconut Grove on my way to Waverley Beach!” – Cathy Porazzo Johnson
“The Cornellier family owned the Firecracker Lounge and were good people to work for. When I worked the door, I got to meet a lot of great folks. I always thought the Black Cat Room was the best thing in Beloit. Everyone had a great time and it seemed there was always someone on the dance floor.” – Dan Balderrama
“That was the best time in my life! I was up there in Beloit five nights a week dancing and bar hopping in the early ’80s!” – Diana Moore
“When Wisconsin changed the drinking age to 21 it crushed the Illinois business they had coming in. Most people weren’t going to drive the 20 miles to drink in Beloit after they turned 21, so it didn’t take long for bars like Captains Pub to fold. – Rick Counsell (DJ at Captains Pub in Beloit 1983-1987)
“On a more serious note, the City Limits, 25 cent beer nights nearly cost me my life more than once. Ironworks and Turtle Tap also.” Jeff Bender
“I met my wife at Captains Pub on a night my friends and I were just going out just for one.” – Tim Lenz
“My brother turned 18 the day Wisconsin changed the drinking age to 19 and I turned 19 the day they changed it to 21. We were both grandfathered in but it certainly caused a lot of confusion for the people at the door!” – T H
“My husband Trent used to bounce at Le Club and I bartended at the Pier to help a friend out a couple times. City limits and Iron Works were two of my favorite hang outs.” – Mechelle Gagliano Clark
“Prime Time and Le Club! The Metzger brothers knew how to run their bars; 25 cent beers on Wednesday, Ladies Night on Thursday, of course Fridays and Saturdays, plus $1 imports on Sundays!” – Tom Danielson
“Pulaski’s! Played in pool league there, and met my hubby Mark there 29 years ago. I miss that place, and all the bars mentioned hold a special place in my heart.” – Kelly Beebe Christianson
“We went to The Zoo for cheap pitchers of beer and the pool table, then to Prime Time and then to Le Club to dance to Billy Ocean!” – Bruce Mussigan