Gay for play
For a queer night out on the town, head to the straight bar nearest you.
Increasingly, we’ve been wondering, are straight bars the best places to meet gay people in Chicago? On most Mondays, you can hit the rock club Subterranean for good gay vibes. The next day, you can beat your sapphic slump by kicking it at Trickster Tuesdays at the Rockhouse—in Lincoln Park, no less. A low-key queer crowd hits the Continental in Humboldt Park on Thursdays. And the weekend offers any number of options, including Doll House at Wicker Well, Boys Room at Plan B and Diva Brunch at the Spot.
LGBT nightlife is thriving in the unlikeliest of places. Jenny Shah, the founder of mizzchicago.com, which publicizes queer nights for gay women in Chicago, recently put together a post–Market Days party for women at Wrigleyville’s Underground Lounge; she also cohosts Trickster Tuesdays. Shah targets straight venues partly because, “to be quite honest, there’s very few lesbian bars,” she says, and partly to create a chill nightlife experience not found in hookup-heavy Boystown. “I like people to get out of their zones,” she says.
For their part, clubs and taprooms seem to be driven more by profit than goodwill. “Bar owners want to fill their venue if they know it’s going to be a slower night,” Shah says. “It has to do with the recession, for sure.”
Tamara Allen, cofounder of B.Blyss Productions, a group that markets nightlife for women, shares Shah’s agenda. For five years, Allen and business partner Sandra Urquiaga have been the driving forces behind Femistry Fridays, an evening of music and fashion that attracts around 200 women a month to venues like Wicker Park’s Jün Bar, as well as Ascend, a literary arts and jazz series at the West Loop’s Red Kiva. “We don’t have a problem with supporting LGBTQ businesses,” Allen says, “but we haven’t hosted an event [at one] because we wanted to take events outside of that norm. The reality of the world is that we exist outside of [LGBT] places.”
True enough, but another reality is that homophobia can still rear its head at straight spots. “We have had incidents where we’ve been treated wrongly,” says Allen, who declines to give specifics. “We let our people know what happened so they’re not patronizing that space anymore.”
Andy Czysz, cofounder of the insanely popular Guerrilla Gay Bar (GGB), a monthly homo takeover of a straight establishment, says that, although most bars have been enthusiastic (especially after tallying the night’s receipts), “the situation that does bother me are bars that discriminate against gender.” Recently, Czysz tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade a hotel to host a GGB event on its chic rooftop bar. “If you’re preferentially letting in women, a wave of mostly gay men will have trouble visiting a bar. It’s a bit of a gray area to call this homophobia, but it certainly is a shade of heterosexism.”
An even trickier problem involves trying to attract a diverse cross section of the LGBT community. While many promoters use straight bars as neutral spaces where gay men, women and trans people of all races ideally can hang together, it doesn’t always end up that way. “When people see a flyer handed out by an African-American or someone of Latina descent, they think, This is who they want to speak to,” Allen says. “We do want to have a more inclusive environment.” So does Czysz, who wishes more women would join GGB for a night on the town.
But mostly, it’s a win-win for all. Bars benefit from the pink dollar while LGBT visitors get fresh options. “Chicago has a lot to offer outside of the wonderful Boystown community,” Czysz says. “Many people are interested in more than being in that bubble.”
Trickster Tuesdays happens Tuesday 25 at Rockhouse.