Face-lift us up where we belong
Downturn be damned, gay bars found a way to reinvent themselves in '09.
In a room where Far North Siders once shot pool after hours in a smoky haze, folks now sip lattes and plug away on their laptops. In a “gay treasure” where dudes once peed on one another, they now dance to electronica until dawn. And in a former restaurant that used to serve crème brûlée in a martini glass, ’mos and heteros alike now sip homemade brews and watch the game. Whether by choice or necessity, a slew of LGBT-oriented venues went under the knife this year. For the most part, we applaud their ’mo tox.
Barely a decade old, Spin Nightclub had begun to look a little worn. Its painted black windows reminded us of gay bars of yore, and Wednesday’s dollar drinks seemed the only time worth paying a visit (especially after Spin retired its popular Ear-rotic party on Saturdays). But in February, it unveiled its new space, a subterranean dance club with vaulted ceilings and a second-story lounge overlooking all the action, and it’s since added a ton of new programming, like the scandalous “I Love Porn,” the TG-friendly “Trannypalooza,” a monthly shower contest for women and more. Spin has reemerged as a club that, unlike some B-town bars we know, actively courts the entire spectrum of the queer community.
In February, Sidetrack opened a slim new space attached at the southern side of its bustling glass bar. The shoebox-shaped saloon boasts a communal table and yet another bar, but its best feature is that it leads to Sidetrack’s old front patio, now a semi-indoor space with tables and a hatchback roof for those brief but wonderful warm summer nights.
Golden showers turned to May flowers when the Ram Bookstore, “a gay treasure,” transformed its back room into a new late-night dance club just in time for IML weekend. General manager Jeff Shand said he wanted to update the Ram for the post-Stonewall generation and did so by replacing the old video-booth TVs with flat-screen monitors and replacing the back room with a dance floor complete with DJ booth, fog machine and high-tech lighting system. (In case you’re wondering, mischief still prevails.) Also in May, Cattle Call opened with a country & western bent and two cramped bars on the edges of a large dance floor. It’s since repositioned itself as a neighborhood bar with a new name, the Call.
Minibar surprised everyone in mid-June by knocking down its eastern wall and adding a new back bar, additional seating, fancy new lighting, a DJ booth and basement lounge. The additional elbow room is much appreciated: Minibar is still a mecca for pretentious gays, but now there’s enough space to avoid them.
In July, Ashley and Brandon Wright, owners of Hamburger Mary’s and Mary’s Attic, unveiled their latest venture, Mary’s Rec Room, a sporty microbrewery that replaced the former Tomboy restaurant. Maintaining both queer-positive and hetero-friendly vibes, the brothers Wright serve up homemade brews such as Shandy Dandy and Mary Hoppins in their latest space while patrons nosh on fried mac-and-cheese balls and watch the game on eight flat-screen TVs.
A fire in February left Scarlet Bar in ruins, but it may have been a blessing in disguise: The new space is a hands-down improvement. The venue is structurally bigger and includes a 13-foot reupholstered vintage sofa that fills the back bar, additional seating and much- improved lighting.
But the strangest transformation of all happened in November, when after-hours hangout Clark’s on Clark reemerged not as the new Chicago Eagle, as intended, but as Winston’s Cafe, a late-night coffeehouse and Internet café. Owner Jim Stephens, a longtime bartender at the old Chicago Eagle, was determined to keep it going after it closed in 2008. But when Stephens purchased Clark’s on Clark, he faced a number of problems obtaining a liquor license, so he reopened the old Clark’s as Winston’s. Stephens hopes to get that liquor license yet, but for now, he’s serving up lattes instead of leather.