When Boystown gets too boring
Yes, there is life beyond Halsted Street, and here's where to find it
Most people are surprised to learn there are about 50 gay bars in Chicago. While neighborhoods like Andersonville and Edgewater provide a Lakeview alternative, for many gay Chicagoans, cabbing it north for a quick cocktail at Crew or Big Chicks still constitutes an adventurous night out. But these five great bars prove there's a big queer city out there for those willing to venture beyond the Boystown bubble.
Lola's (1005 N Western Ave at Augusta Blvd, 773-862-7208) If you walk into Lola's on a Saturday night, you'll swear someone has removed a slice of queer Mexico City nightlife and restitched it into Chicago. Salsa, Spanish pop and Latin beats blast out of the speakers while an equal mix of gay Latino men and women take to the dance floor and each other with such total abandon it puts other gay clubs to shame. You can find just about everyone here, from middle-aged male couples drinking beer and trading kisses beneath their cowboy hats to young Latina girlfriends snuggled up on couches.
Manhandler Saloon (1948 N Halsted St between Armitage Ave and Willow St, 773-871-3339) Imagine somebody cryogenically freezing 1970s gay life and reintroducing it into the 21st century—that's Manhandler. Located in the heart of Lincoln Park amid aromatherapy shops, yuppie bistros and towering Victorian manses, this is the kind of bar that sends uptight conservatives racing to the North Shore. It's a dodgy and dimly lit place where old men stare too long and the stables in back beckon for illicit adventures (not that anything sexual ever happens in a gay bar!). Still, it's nice to come here for a beer and to imagine those heady days of gay lib when mustaches and short shorts ruled, and safer sex was still light years away.
Joie de Vine (1744 W Balmoral Ave between Ravenswood Ave and Paulina St, 773-989-6846) Starry-eyed romantics will fall in love with this matchbox-size Andersonville wine bar and lounge, where gorgeous mod colors, flickering candles and soft house music are combined with an encyclopedia of international wines and several light bites. Most nights it's just a regular bar where oenophiles of any sexual orientation can pull up a stool and swill pinot. But on weekends, this place looks like a casting call for The L Word with plenty of stylish lezzies gossiping, holding hands and leaving lipstick marks on the glassware. Next time your lesbian friends complain there's nowhere to go on a Saturday night to meet a hot dyke, send them here.
Jackhammer (6406 N Clark St at Devon Ave, 773-743-5772) Don't be surprised to see a delightful mix of guys in jeans and T-shirts or military fetish, Big Chicks regulars, street-tuff trannies, adventurous clubgoers and leather folk. The main room is dominated by a dance floor, and once a month Jackhammer is the host of the queer rock cabaret, The Flesh Hungry Dog Show. Otherwise, a construction-worker theme, a continuous rotation of gay porn and a sign that says work zone—hard on required hint at the rugged masculinity of the place. There's a beautiful outdoor patio that keeps postmidnight hours because of its isolated location, and there's even a psychic on hand Saturday nights. Now that the Boystown crowd has officially redecorated Andersonville, Jackhammer may be the last great gay bar on the Far North Side.
Second Story Bar (157 E Ohio St, second floor, between St. Clair St and Michigan Ave, 312-923-9256) This is a solid option if you're into S & M (straight and married). Downtown gay bars are a magnet for out-of-town businessmen looking for a discreet one-night-stand, and Second Story is no exception. Otherwise, most guests just slump on their bar stools with tie loosened and cocktail in hand. The lights are too dim to showcase the occasional piece of erotic artwork on the wall, and the smell of sex in the air is noticeable only if you're looking for it. The mean age is around 40, but a few young guys looking for sugar daddies do linger.