You can cram a lot of Milwaukee music memories into a small space.

For 22 years, Circle-A Cafe, located at 932 E. Chambers St. in the city’s Riverwest neighborhood, has served as an intimate and quirky venue for an untold number of Milwaukee bands, musicians, and DJs. A “packed” show at Circle-A might feature only a few dozen people, but the impact of the club has always been far greater than its modest size.

But now, sadly, owner Jennifer Mueller has announced that Circle-A will close its doors soon after the end of summer. Following a series of Friday- and Saturday-night shows in September, the venue will close the weekend of October 6-7.

“There are a million different reasons [we’re closing], and those million reasons just sort of all came down at once,” Mueller says. “We’ve been open for 22 years or so, and it’s just time to do something else.”

Mueller’s deep love for Circle-A is evident. She fondly remembers countless bartenders, bands, and regulars who have graced the club over the years.

“The music, the people, the DJs, and the regular bands that have come in and played a number of times, those are going to be the memories that will stay in my brain forever,” she says.

But the little things will also stick with her—like making the funky space, well, funky.

“Some of my favorite memories are decorating Circle-A, putting up the memorabilia and putting up flyers and decorating the walls,” she says. “I liked that you could see the whole history of Circle-A on the bathroom walls.”

One Circle-A (and Riverwest) fixture Mueller specifically remembers is Paul Setser. The beloved Milwaukee musician long handled booking for the club. He also worked the door, introduced the bands, and was always quick to ask the crowd if they wanted to hear “one more song.” Setser passed away in 2020, at the age of 68.

“Paul helped me with the booking and scheduling, and he eventually took over the ‘Alive at Eight’ series,” Mueller says. “He is sorely missed. We think about him often. I think his birthday is in the month of September. It was a very sad day when we lost Paul.”

Circle-A’s final full month—September—will be a busy one, with many local bands paying tribute to the club in the form of one final show. There are can’t-miss shows from Sex Scenes, Holy Shit!, and Peroxide; Full Nude and Iron Pizza; Certain Stars and dRew; Tim Schweiger & The Middle Men; and many more. The Dick Satan Trio will drop by Circle-A on September 1 to play their final show, period. Find information on all these shows HERE.

Circle-A’s final weekend, however, will be a little different. On Friday, October 6 and Saturday, October 7, a total of eight bands—plus a host of DJs—will play the music of The Velvet Underground. The 48-hour tribute to the Velvets is something of a personal treat for Mueller.

“I hope it’ll be a lot of fun,” she says. “It will definitely keep a smile on my face and put me in a really great mood. I think it will be a perfect way to end 2023 for me.”

Beyond 2023, Mueller says she doesn’t have any specific plans, but sees the end of Circle-A as a personal “new chapter in an open book.”

“I’m not really putting any undue stress on myself about what I should do,” she says. “I don’t want to put that on me right now. That that will come later.”

The future of the space, too, is unclear.

“I’m not entertaining any ideas about giving someone else the space or passing it on,” Mueller says. “But since I don’t own the building, I don’t really have a big say in that.”

But Milwaukee will have a say in saying goodbye to Circle-A. Go to the final shows. Go to the final weekend bash. Cram inside the club one last time. Let those actions do the talking when words fail.

“It’s really hard to encapsulate a couple of decades into a few sentences,” Mueller says. “I can’t really articulate all the different feelings. It’s been a good run.”

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About The Author

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Co-Founder and Editor

Matt Wild weighs between 140 and 145 pounds. He lives on Milwaukee's east side.