Wrigleyville - Boystown swap
Sports fans and gay guys switch neighborhoods for one night.
Boystown to Wrigleyville
When we ask a pair of 21-year-old gay guys at Roscoe’s (3356 N Halsted St, 773-281-3355, roscoes.com) in Boystown if they’ll join us for a night of drinks in Wrigleyville, the fear on their faces is visible. “Please,” their big, round eyes seem to plead, “we’re too young to die.” All we want to do is treat them to several rounds of drinks on Clark Street. Just what is it about the cluster of bars around the ballpark that inspires contempt in the gay community?
Amid the flurry of gay men and lesbians stumbling in and out of Roscoe’s around 11pm on a Friday, we spot three 30ish guys leaning against the wall outside, midway through their cigarettes. When we pitch our little experiment, they glance suspiciously at one another and reluctantly take our bait.
As we journey two blocks east toward Clark, we’re feeling confident we’ve hit the jackpot with CJ, Michael and his boyfriend, Reggie. Turns out, they’re avid baseball fans and play locally in gay softball leagues. Still, it’s clear we’re dragging them away from a night of boys and booze toward seldom-visited territory. “How did this happen?” we hear CJ mutter. “We’re going to get bashed,” he says (perhaps jokingly). Reggie agrees, adding, “Let’s act all butch and stuff.”
Our first stop is the heart of what gays and lesbians (and many heteros) consider the epicenter of douche—John Barleycorn (3524 N Clark St, 773-549-6000). It’s bustling. As the chesty mixologist pours a round of drinks, Michael becomes more reflective about why he never hits up Clark Street. “I come from a small town,” he says. “Hanging out with straight people is what I grew up with. It’s just that I can have more fun in Boystown.” But when we head up to Barleycorn’s second floor—a sprawling, loftlike room for dancing—Lady Gaga is blasting over the loudspeaker and Barleycorn is suddenly looking more like Sidetrack. CJ is still skeptical. “I wouldn’t get fucked-up here,” he says cautiously. Reggie and Michael are unwilling to be affectionate with each other. “If you dance with another guy here,” Reggie says, “the crowd might be like, What?!”
But none of us can resist Pink followed by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys and soon, caution is thrown to the wind and we’re ebulliently cutting a rug. A couple of straight guys point and chuckle, but Reggie, Michael and CJ are oblivious. “This is actually pretty fun,” Reggie says. “I thought I would feel uncomfortable, but just like at a gay bar, no one really pays attention to what you’re doing.” He also estimates that 10–15 percent of the men here are gay and closeted.
After a bit more dancing at Barleycorn, we depart and make our way up the street. Because our guys claim they’re sporty, we take them to Cubby Bear (1059 W Addison St, 773-327-1662). We give them each a few bucks so they can shoot some hoops. “Now we’re in my element,” CJ says as he scores one point after another at the electronic basketball game. As “Like a Virgin” plays on the loudspeakers, Reggie and Michael are inspired to hold hands.
Back on Clark Street, we try to tempt the boys into one last beverage. We suggest Rockit, but they stare at us blankly. It’s past 2am and our gentlemen have sacrificed enough. As the saying goes, you can take the gays out of Boystown but you can’t…well, you know the rest. —Jason A. Heidemann