Posted tagged ‘The Dangle Lounge’

Remembering Al

December 10, 2021


Al Reichenberger and I were dog-walking buddies. He favored Labradors. I’m a German Wirehaired  Pointer guy. We’d let our dogs frolic off leash and smell the smells of our eastside parks while we discussed matters small and large.

            A friendship was built on these casual conversations and small intimacies. I’m honored that Al’s family asked me to write his obituary.

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Al Reichenberger, a complex man who lived a rich and adventurous life, will be celebrated by his friends and family on Jan. 9, 2022, from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the Eno Vino Downtown restaurant. Reichenberger died from cancer on Oct. 19, 2021, at the age of 80.

His likes will probably not be seen again in Madison.

Reichenberger was a raconteur and storyteller, a world traveler, a fiercely loyal family man, an avid pilot, a lover of both fine German cars and Labrador dogs, and the guy you always wanted to be talking with at the party.

But for most Madisonians, Al Reichenberger is remembered as co-owner of The Dangle Lounge, 119 East Main St., with his younger brother, Thomas, and for their many legal battles with City Hall over just how much skin could be safely revealed in a Midwestern burlesque house.

Reichenberger spent 25-plus years in the “gentlemen’s club” business before he sold his share to Tom in 1994 and executed a life transition that was unexpected if not astonishing. While wife, Jayne Neuendorf, continued her career at Merrill Lynch, Al settled into being a house-dad for their two sons, Wolfgang and Gunnar.

For a guy raised in the Old World strictures of Deutsch Milwaukee, “house dad” was not an expected life choice, but Al Reichenberger always cut his own path. His parents, Max and Frances Reichenberger, were German immigrants who moved to Milwaukee in the 1920s. His dad was a furrier who began traveling to Germany for various business ventures after World War II.

Al wound up living with German relatives for five or so years, to the point he lost some English fluency. Back in the States, he attended parochial school until his youthful candor became an irreconcilable issue for the school authorities.

Reichenberger was a proud graduate of Rufus King High School in Milwaukee. He joined the U.S. Air Force at 17, served in a bomber refueling station in North Falls, Mont. He later told his boys, tongue in cheek, he was part of our frontline defense protecting Americans from a Canadian invasion.

Politically, Reichenberger was always quite conservative, but he had a strong libertarian streak and did not like to be told what to do, which explains why a military career did not interest him. He told friends that the Central Intelligence Agency had hinted at recruiting him for surreptitious work in East Germany, but Al already had his eye on civilian life. He attended UW-Milwaukee where he earned degrees in business and history and then worked for North Central Air. He came to Madison in 1968 when brother, Tom, opened a bar just off the Capitol Square and needed a partner.

Ah, the Dangle Lounge!

So many stories, many of them even true, have been told about its colorful chapters in Madison history. City officials, urged on by an angry fundamentalist preacher and his flock, tried to close down nude dancing establishments in Madison. The legal fireworks became a show in themselves over the years, as the brothers retained some of the edgiest lawyers around: Percy Julian Jr., Jeff Scott Olson, Sarah Crandall and David Loeffler.

In February 1969, Mayor Otto Festge issued so-called “entertainment guidelines” for strippers and go-go girls, as historian Stuart Levitan details in his book “Madison In The Sixties.” The Festge edict went into a highly detailed, almost salacious, description of “the sensual elements” of a woman’s body that could not be displayed on stage.

Two weeks later, Levitan recounts Reichenberger led “a protest march of go-go girls in bikinis and winter coats around the Square,” as he denounced Festge’s rules “as pretty ridiculous.”

A few years later, the city pulled The Dangle’s liquor license, and the Reichenbergers relaunched the club as The Jazz Workshop, which brought in jazzman Ben Sidran and other musicians. Sidran was playing one night when the great James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield, new to Madison, walked in, and they hit it off.

“It was definitely a scene,” says Sidran. “The Dangle-Jazz Workshop was sort of a thumb in the eye of the city fathers, and that of course made it attractive to a lot of us.”

Indeed, Capitol denizens, irreverent lawyers, hustlers, crooks, lost souls, visiting yokels, and lots of excitable men all populated The Dangle.

Isthmus, Madison’s venerable alternative newspaper, was conceived there when bartender Vince O’Hern, a journalism school graduate and Peace Corps veteran, began plotting the new paper with former Capital Times columnist Fred Milverstedt, a Dangle regular.

Eddie Ben Elson, the free spirit, provocateur and lawyer, even announced his candidacy for Dane County District Attorney naked on The Dangle stage. His campaign slogan: “Obey only good laws.”

The Dangle legal skirmishing went on for years and only ended when the Reichenbergers agreed to vacate the downtown property and consolidate their operations at Visions, 3554 E. Washington Ave. Olson, the attorney, points out the city attorney’s office forgot that the deal was supposed to end after five years, which set the stage for Visions to operate for decades longer.

Reichenberger’s great passion was traveling for skiing and adventure. To Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Italy and Germany. “The dollar was so strong it was cheaper to fly to Innsbruck, Austria, and ski there than go to Aspen, Colorado,” says Casey O’Keefe, who first met Reichenberger on a crowded Van Galder bus to O’Hare for a ski trip.

All the better both men were car aficionados. Early on Al had Jaguar XK120s and then Porsches and BMWs, says O’Keefe. On a trip to Stuttgart, Reichenberger bluffed their way into a Porsche factory tour and wound up test-driving a Porsche at “full throttle open” on the Autobahn.

“I know, because I had to do the math in kilometers. It was 148 mph,” O’Keefe says, and then follows up with a hair-raising tale of their impromptu bobsled run in Salzburg.

“Al liked adventure,” O’Keefe attests. Wolfgang and Gunnar make the same point. Their dad was always pushing the limits. He took up snowboarding at the age of 52. At 65 he learned to barefoot water ski.

To look back at Al’s life is to see that he lived the famous American imperative as laid out by Henry David Thoreau in Walden: He “wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

Al did just that.

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The Jan. 9 celebration of Alfonse Reichenberger’s well-lived life will take place 3 p.m.-8 p.m. at ENO VINO DOWNTOWN, 1 N. Webster St. That’s one block from the Capitol on the 10th floor of the AC Hotel.

Besides Jayne and their sons, Wolfgang and Gunnar, Al is survived by his brother Thomas’ three children, Thomas Jr., Elena and Zachary. Tom Reichenberger died on March 13, 2019, at the age of 75.

Friends who wish to memorialize Al’s passing are asked to contribute to the Agrace Foundation, which cared for Al in his final days. He succumbed to squamous cell and multiple myeloma cancers.


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