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Best Of: GLBT

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Best Gay Variety Show or Open Mike

rThe Reader's Choice Homolatte

It's a simple formula: One queer writer plus one queer musical act, an all-ages venue, and a tip jar from Ikea. Oh yeah—and a magnanimous and community-minded host like Scott Free, master of ceremonies at Chicago's longest running and, to my mind, best queer variety showcase. After eight and a half years and five other venues, Homolatte seems to have settled into a comfy relationship with Michelle Fire's Tweet restaurant (and its sister bar, Big Chicks). Each of the acts—who range from the best of queer Chicago to national touring writers and musicians—gets about half an hour, allowing them to display a wider range of work than at many variety shows, and because they're prescreened, it's not as hit-or-miss as most open mikes. As a result, it's a great opportunity to discover new artists: I've been introduced to many local faves here, including folk-pop duo Carrie Lydon and Kate Rickenbacker and the Gypsy-tinged Heat Birds. In addition, the audience is often treated to a few songs by Free himself—he was, after all, the 2005 OutMusician of the Year. This is all for the (optional) price of $5, deposited in said tip jar, though patronage of the restaurant and bar are encouraged. Proceeds go to the performers; for all Free's hard work, all he gets is that warm fuzzy feeling of bringing the community together and supporting queer arts. aFirst and third Tuesday of the month, 7:30 PM, Tweet Let's Eat, 5024 N. Sheridan, 773-728-5511, homolatte.com. —Kathie Bergquist

&Our readers' choiceCake Chicago

aThird Saturday of the month, 9 PM, Red Line Tap, 7006 N. Glenwood, 773-274-5463, myspace.com/cakechicago.

Best Gay Festival

rThe Reader's Choice International Mr. Leather

On Memorial Day Weekend, IML and its affiliated events—including the International Mr. Leather competition, the International Mr. Bootblack competition, a leather market, numerous fetish parties, and the Black & Blue Ball—take over the Hilton Chicago for what might be one of the most fascinating juxtapositions of cultures and lifestyles ever. (IML also coincides with Bear Pride weekend, and all its fetish-specific revelries, over at the Chicago-Metro Crowne Plaza.)

The contest, started as the Mr. Gold Coast contest at Chuck Renslow's now-defunct Gold Coast leather bar in 1979, has grown steadily over the years, from an original 12 contestants to about 60, attracting swarms of leather aficionados from around the globe—it truly is an international event. And unlike at many Gay Pride celebrations, where participants are virtually tripping over one another to prove how wholesome and normal they are, IML celebrants revel in their queerness and their kinks.

As with Gay Pride or Northalsted Market Days, participation in IML is not limited to gays (and although the contest itself is dudes-only, women and trans folks are welcome at most parties and events), but I've always felt a stronger sense of shared purpose, community identity, and pride at IML events. Maybe it's because the frat boys are scared away. Or maybe it's because the leather community remembers something that the greater gay community sometimes forgets: leather or denim, dominant or submissive, hairy or shaved, we're all in this together. aThu-Mon 5/21-5/25, 800-545-6753, IMRL.com, weekend packages from $165. —Kathie Bergquist

&Our readers' choiceNorthalsted Market Days

aSat-Sun 8/1-8-2, 11 AM-10 PM, Halsted between Belmont and Addison, 773-584-6268, northalsted.com, $5 suggested donation.

Best Gay Coffee Shop

rThe Reader's Choice A Taste of Heaven

This gay- and independently owned coffee shop and bakery has endured its share of criticism from the A-ville stroller set. Remember a few years back, when the posted request that "children of all ages" use their "indoor voices" set off a shitstorm that made the New York Times? But even then no one was criticizing their baked goods, all made fresh in-house, or the giant steaming mugs of latte, always what the doctor ordered for a pick-me-up on a chilly afternoon. The cafe claims its scones are the best in the world—and I'm not sure they aren't. A Taste of Heaven is far from the cruisiest gay-friendly cafe in town, but the low-key attitude is a big part of the appeal; you don't feel like you're on display while perusing the gay papers or indulging in a gorgeous Moon Pie cupcake. As an added perk (I know, groan), coffee is free every Wednesday with the purchase of a bakery item. a5401 N. Clark, 773-989-0151. —Kathie Bergquist

&Our readers' choiceCaribou Coffee

Aka Queeribou, aka Cariboy . . . a3300 N. Broadway, 773-477-3695.

Best Non-Gay Venue to Meet Gay People

rThe Reader's Choice Gethsemane Garden Center

Landscaping might not be what comes to mind when one thinks of gay folks loitering in the bushes, but when it comes to frolicking with pansies (they're my people, I can make these jokes), you'd be hard-pressed to do better than this tony north-side garden center. No doubt it's something about the ruggedness yet preciousness of landscaping, combined with the proximity to Andersonville, that draws GLBTQs in droves every spring for some serious cruising behind garden carts. And can you think of a better icebreaker than "Where on God's gay earth did you find that bromeliad?" aGethsemane Garden Center, 5739 N. Clark, 773-878-5915, gethsemanegardens.com. —Kathie Bergquist

&Our readers' choiceWhole Foods on Halsted

a3640 N. Halsted, 773-472-0400, wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/halsted.

Best Gay News Source

rThe Reader's ChoiceWindy City Media Group

The Free Press is arguably broader in and puts less spin on its news coverage than the opposition, Tracy Baim's Windy City Times, but a visit to Windy City's Web site takes you not merely to the Times but (to eavesdrop on its own boasting) to "an online podcast, two weekly publications, one monthly ethnic online magazine, and an online resource guide." And that's not to mention a portal into the riches—idiosyncratically curated though they may be—of Baim's Chicago Gay History Project, an online collection of videos, biographies, photos and articles. The convoluted history of Chicago's gay press deserves better than the Gay History Project gives it, but Baim has been trudging through that history pretty much from the start, and credit is due. a windycitymediagroup.com and www.ChicagoGayHistory.org. —Michael Miner

&Our readers' choiceFeast of Fools

afeastoffools.net

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