WITH ALL THE recent Gay Games hoopla, Chicago is finally getting some overdue credit for being gay friendly. In 1961 Illinois was the first state to decriminalize any private sexual behavior between consenting adults. In 1988, the City Council passed the Human Rights Ordinance, outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation and including GLBTQ folks in hate crime protections. Ten years later the rainbow pylons lining North Halsted Street were erected, giving the nation one of its first officially recognized gay ghettos. Mayor Daley loves the gays so much he wants to gay-marry us. If your sexual preference strays in any way from one-on-one penis-vagina action, as far as places to live go, you could do worse.
Today the scene continues to revolve around North Halsted in Lakeview, aka “Boys Town,” and its northerly neighbor Andersonville (on North Clark Street, roughly from Argyle to Bryn Mawr). Both areas are chockablock with shops, restaurants, culture, and nightlife, although property values are such in both places that only the most upwardly mobile can actually afford to live there.
Sidetrack (3349 N. Halsted, 773-477-9189, sidetrackchicago.com), Berlin (954 W Belmont, 773-348-4975, berlinchicago.com), Circuit (3641 N. Halsted, 773-325-2233, circuitclub.com), and Roscoe’s (3356 N. Halsted, 773-281-3355) are known internationally as gay places to get your groove on, and for the ladies Chix Mix parties (chixmixproductions.com) offer some of the most sophisticated clubbing experiences that you’ll find anywhere.
But who can afford to go out like that all the time? And if you’re under 21, it’s not even an option. Sometimes it might seem like everyone else is having a great big boozy butt-sex party 24-7 but that you, youngster, are not invited.
What’s a young, fixed-income sexual deviant to do? If your ID is liquor friendly and money’s your only problem, there are plenty of ways to make the system work for you. By taking advantage of nightly specials at many venues you can get the most of your thin dollar and cut down on your grocery bill as well. Just watch the savings stack up! The week starts with perhaps one of the most famous good deals in town—the free buffet at Big Chicks (5024 N. Sheridan, 773-728-5511, bigchicks.com). Every Sunday at 4, owner Michelle Fire lays out a spread that goes much further than your typical weenies in a crock. In summer the fresh-off-the-grill fare can include burgers, chicken, and brats with a host of sides, and in winter look for steaming pans of lasagna or southern fried chicken. There are always veggie options as well. The buffet is 100 percent free and all-you-can-eat.
Tuesdays are dollar night at the Eagle leather bar (5015 N. Clark, 773-728-0050, chicagoeagle.com), and all top-shelf booze and draft beer goes for a dollar a pop. Also on Tuesdays, from nine to one, Hydrate (3458 N. Halsted, 773-975-9244, hydratechicago.com) offers martinis and manicures for $15 for women and men. Pricey, maybe, but hey— manicure! At What the Fuck Wednesdays at Spin (800 W. Belmont, 773-327-7711, spin-nightclub.com) all well drinks, wine, and domestic beer cost only a buck all night after you fork over a $5 cover. On Thursday nights at Jackhammer (6406 N. Clark, 773-743-5772, jackhammer-chicago.com) domestic beer is $1 all night with no cover. If you want a little class on your Thursday night, the lesbian-owned wine bar Joie de Vine (1744 W. Balmoral, 773-989-6846) offers flight night, featuring $10 wine and cheese flights. On some nights you can actually make an honest buck at the bars. One Sunday a month Jackhammer has its “Strip Search” amateur strip contest with a $200 cash prize (guys only), and on the fourth Friday of the month at 11:30 guys can also participate in the hot jock strap contest at Crew (4804 N. Broadway, 773-784-2739, worldsgreatestbar.com), also with a cash prize. Both guys and gals can compete in Spin’s sexy shower contest, which takes place every Friday night at midnight and offers the winner 150 smackers.
Locals consider Friday and (especially) Saturday “amateur nights” at the bars, when all the suburban punters come to the city, shaking things up with their eight-balls, mullets, and tucked-in shirts. Two of the best alternative dance parties for queers under 30 take place on weeknights: Outdanced, Tuesday nights at the Funky Buddha (728 W. Grand, 312-666-1695, funkybuddha.com), and Trans-mission, the multigenderfriendly dance party every first and third Thursday at Star Gaze (5419 N. Clark, 773-561-7363, stargazechicago.com). Both of these parties are mixed women/men/others, as is the queer rock ’n’ roll cabaret Flesh Hungry Dog Show, held every third Friday night at Jackhammer. For mostly women, Dirty Girl Thursdays at the Lakeview Broadcasting Corp (3542 N. Halsted, dirtygirlthursdays.moon fruit.com) is an upstart ladies’ night that usually doesn’t charge a cover.
All of these suggestions assume you were born on or before this date in 1985. But it’s a mistake to think that queer Chicago only happens in a bar. All of the restaurants around Boys Town and Andersonville are going to be gay friendly. Unfortunately they are also going to be expensive. Nookies Tree (3334 N. Halsted, 773-248-9888) is open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays and offers decent value on diner fare, and the Thai restaurant Joy’s Noodles (3257 N. Broadway, 773-327-8330) is supergay and also won’t break the bank. In Andersonville, Angel’s (5403 N. Clark, 773-271-1138) serves awesome chilaquiles and has a beautiful back patio and reasonable prices. Down the street at Reza’s (5255 N. Clark, 773-561-1898) the prices are higher, but servings are so huge they’ll feed you for a week.
A few off-the-rainbow-road restaurants have the type of hippie/urban environment that makes them attractive to young gays. Alice & Friends Vegetarian Cafe in Edgewater (5812 N. Broadway, 773-275-8797) offers a wide selection of un-meats. Earwax (1561 N. Milwaukee, 773-772-4019) in Wicker Park is queer and vegetarian friendly. Rogers Park’s Heartland Cafe (7000 N. Glenwood, 773-465-8005) is a leftwing haven, making it a popular spot for political queers, and Lula Cafe (2537 N. Kedzie, 773-489-9554), with its eclectic menu, is a popular date spot.
“Queeribou” at Broadway and Aldine (3300 N. Broadway)—that’s Caribou Coffee for the uninitiated—is considered by many to be Chicago’s ground zero for boy-on-boy cruising. Pause Cafe, under the Berwyn stop on the Red Line (1107 W. Berwyn, 773-334-3686) is another popular filling station for the gays, and Kopi Cafe in Andersonville (5317 N. Clark, 773-989-5674) has long been a preferred locale for lesbian lingering.
And then there’s shopping. If you want your thrifting dollar to support a gay cause, check out the Brown Elephant (locations in Boystown, Andersonville, and Wicker Park, howardbrown.org/hb_brownelephant.asp), which benefits the Howard Brown Health Center. And speaking of health, both Howard Brown (4025 N. Sheridan, 773-388-1600, howardbrown.org) and Chicago Women’s Health Center(3435 N. Sheffield, 773-935-6126, chicagowomenshealthcenter.org) offer services on a sliding scale. At Howard Brown that includes HIV and STD testing and treatment, general health care, and, for women, insemination services. At Chicago Women’s Health Center it mostly means lady business. The city’s GLBTQ cultural scenes offer many options that don’t discriminate against age or income level. Gerber/Hart Library (1127 W. Granville, 773-381-8030, gerberhart.org), Chicago’s 25-year-old GLBTQ lending library and archive, offers queer culture aplenty, with a regular schedule of lectures, art exhibits, film screenings, and book groups—and friends, they are all free. Scott Free’s free queer words and music series, Homolatte (7:30 PM on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at Tweet, 5020 N. Sheridan, 773-728-5576, homolatte.com), features one homo writer and musician a week. Chicago’s two most gay-friendly bookstores are Unabridged Bookstore (3251 N. Broadway, 773-883-9119) with a great selection of well-chosen, ultracheap remainder titles, and Women & Children First (5233 N. Clark, 773-769-9299, womenandchildrenfirst.com) with great free programming.
Chicago also has an active queer arts scene full of writers, filmmakers, musicians, theater groups, and visual and performing artists. Every November, Chicago Filmmakers (chicagofilmmakers.org) mounts Reeling: The Chicago International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Estrojam (estrojam.org) is an annual showcase of feminist, queer-leaning music and art, featuring top local and national acts. Queer burlesque is alive and well too: productions such as the monthly Girlie-Q Burlesque (girlieq.com) offer vaudeville, striptease, drag kings, and other gender-subversive expression to enthusiastic crowds. The Youth Pride Center (youthpridecenter.org), in its new space at 637 S. Dearborn, holds movie nights, weekly chat groups, and dances and social mixers for GLBTQs aged 23 and under, including the monthly Curiosity Youth Jam and Grrl Jam parties. In addition, the Youth Pride Center offers housing and job assistance and financial aid for gay teens and young adults. Not to mention a hip-hop dance troupe.
Cafe Pride (cafepride.com) is a weekly drop-in center for queers aged 17-21, Friday nights from eight to midnight, housed at the Lakeview Presbyterian Church (716 W. Addison). Their Web site promises they won’t beat anybody up with Bibles, so if that’s your thing, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Chicago is a big enough city that we have room for many diverse GLBTQ communities—and it’s not that unusual to find two or more of these communities at odds. No matter, Mayor Daley loves us all the same. If you can’t find the scene that you’re looking for here, get off your dupa and make it happen.