Ride him, cowboy
We round up Chicago's gay country-western scene
There's little doubt that Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee's much-anticipated Western weepy about two male ranch hands who fall in love while herding sheep one summer in rugged Marlboro country, will spur a surge of Western fanaticism here in the Windy City. Once audiences see Jake Gyllenhaal bending down aside a mountain stream in nothing but a pair of cowboy boots, chances are jeans will be worn a little tighter this winter. The following bars, shops and organizations will help bring out the newbie cowboy fetishist in us all.
Most gay Chicagoans go to Charlie's (3726 N Broadway at Waveland Ave, 773-871-8887) for the Hi-NRG after-hours dance parties. But this is also the biggest and best known gay Western venue in the city, with resident rancher and DJ Michael B and DJ Micha spinning country tunes most nights of the week. Free two-steppin' and line-dancing lessons are offered on Mondays and Wednesdays, and a couple of drag-hosted events punctuate the week as well. Rest assured that even when the party boys come here to grope and fondle in the wee hours, the pair of glittering disco ball–esque cowboy boots hanging high above the dance floor remind them that at Charlie's, country rules.
Dust off your chaps for a night at Touché (6412 N Clark St at Devon Ave, 773-465-7400). Although the bar caters mostly to a leather crowd, Cowboy Fetish nights and Rodeo Riders Club Night are two of the many themed events that occasionally appear on its calendar. Chesterfield's (1800 W Pershing Rd at Wood St, 773-247-4403) is where gay Latin men from all walks of life come to party. Amid a sea of pretty boys, neighborhood regulars and gangsta queers, you'll find dudes wearing cowboy hats. If you're into early-20th-century Southern California Mexican rancher chic, you'll find it here.
The Chi-town Squares (www.iagsdc.org/chi-townsquares) is the gay square-dancing club in the city and a member of the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs. Classes take place Tuesdays and Thursdays and accommodate various levels of experience (don't worry, you can choose to either lead or follow). The group hosts various social events and dances throughout the year and even has a graduation ceremony every spring. The club also will be the featured guest when the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus (www.cgmc.org) gets countrified for its holiday show, A Cowboy Christmas, opening at the Athenaeum Theatre Friday 9 and Saturday 10. Not so subtly coinciding with Brokeback Mountain's December release, this show promises to be a hootin' and hollerin' homage to the old West.
Love cowboy chic, but got nothing to wear? Alcala's Western Wear (1733 W Chicago Ave at Hermitage Ave, 312-226-0152), Chicago's largest retailer of Western gear, is very gay-friendly. Its sprawling West Town store boasts a selection of more than 5,000 cowboy hats. Stock up on boots, buckles and those big denim coats with fleece collars that the gorgeous boys of Brokeback are wearing during most of the film. Mephisto Leathers (6410 N Clark St at Devon Ave, 773-508-0900) has a number of cowboy treasures hidden among its collection of fetish gear, coded hankies and nudie mags. Fringe-cut jackets, wide-brimmed hats and authentic leather cowboy chaps are also available. Mephisto will quintuple its retail space in 2006 and promises a large stock of cowboy gear.
Next year will be big for country Chicago. The Gay Games Chicago (www.gaygameschicago.org), which will take place July 15 to 22, will include square dancing as a medal event for the first time in its history, and in August, the annual Windy City Rodeo (www.ilgra.com/rodeo_ilgra.htm) rolls into town. The rodeo takes places in Crete and includes traditional events like bronco and bull riding, and a number of campy competitions like the best Wild Drag Costume Contest.