Gay & Lesbian venues | 2012 Student Guide
While you must be 21 years old to patronize most of the bar venues here, some establishments around town occasionally have 18-and-over nights. Call for details.
✽ Recommended or notable
Bars & clubs
✽ Berlin 954 W Belmont Ave (773-348-4975, berlinchicago.com). This freak-friendly dance destination built its reputation in the mid-’80s with a mix of German new-wave music, art installations and even transvestite shows. These days, it’s still quirky but more retro, with Madonna-tribute, disco and ’80s nostalgia nights. Gays are extra welcome, but the scene here is made up of almost everyone.
✽ Big Chicks 5024 N Sheridan Rd (773-728-5511, bigchicks.com). Not a Boystown fan? Skip the stand-and-model parade and head to this laid-back Uptown saloon, where community matriarch Michelle Fire serves up tasty victuals at her famous Sunday buffets and keeps the rest of the week happening with tons of food and drink specials (like buck burgers on Mondays), bear nights and dance parties on weekends.
✽ Charlie’s 3726 N Broadway (773-871-8887, charlieschicago.com). At the city’s sole country-western bar, you can kick up your heels with a little line dancing or two-steppin’ before grabbing a partner to swing round and round (but that’s for later when you’re at home). But this is no ordinary country hang. Come 2am, the clientele gets a lot prettier when the sounds of Vince Gill are traded for those of Ke$ha.
✽ The Closet 3325 N Broadway (773-477-8533, theclosetchicago.com). This teeny taproom is a good stone’s throw from the hustle and muscle of Halsted Street’s rowdy boy bars, and that’s just the way this clientele likes it. Plenty of ladies hang here until the midnight hour, but the boys crash the party shortly thereafter, creating one of the few truly mixed queer scenes in the city.
Crew Bar and Grill 4804 N Broadway (773-784-2739, worldsgreatestbar.com). Whether you’re hungry for baseball, football, rugby or just beer, this straight-friendly gay sports bar will work. Fourteen beers on tap (75 total), tasty (and even healthy) pub grub, lots of TVs and a rah-rah decor make this a fun place to cheer for your team, whatever team that may be.
D.S. Tequila Company 3352 N Halsted St (773-697-9127, dstequila.com). This taco bar, whose name (we’re pretty sure) refers to the sex act the Dirty Sanchez, isn’t the most subtle entry into the Boystown bar scene. The interior boasts neon, corrugated metal and douche-rock such as “Life Is a Highway,” plus a menu of boozy frozen margaritas and decent tacos and burgers. The only thing understated about the place is the outdoor patio, where twinkling colored lights give off a serene urban vibe.
Hydrate 3458 N Halsted St (773-975-9244, hydratechicago.com). Hot and sweaty boys pack themselves in like gay sardines for all-night dancing at this thumpin’ after-hours club. A rotating menu of shenanigans include the Hy-Drag Revue, lube wrestling (seeing is believing), blackout parties and more. Recent renovations have carved out a space for live theater.
Kit Kat Lounge 3700 N Halsted St (773-525-1111, kitkatchicago.com). This lively cocktail lounge is a favorite among all orientations. The straights come here on weekends for outrageous drag and female impersonation shows while the ’mos know that half-price martinis on Sunday and Tuesday are the real draw.
Lucky Horseshoe Lounge 3169 N Halsted St (773-404-3169, luckyhorseshoelounge.com). Sleaze is the word at this B-town strip club where pretty young things prance around in skimpy gear in hopes of luring a few George Washingtons from your pocket. Sure, the stares of old men tend to linger a bit too long here, but in truth the Horseshoe is a low-key and enjoyable place to pound a few beers and slip a few bucks into the occasional thong.
Mary’s Attic 5400 N Clark St (773-784-6969, hamburgermaryschicago.com). Don’t expect this upstairs bar to vaunt a granny’s attic vibe. Given that it sits above the gay-friendly Hamburger Mary’s, it’s more like a tranny’s attic what with the rampant kitsch, rowdy karaoke nights and fringe theater dominating the Attic’s tiny stage.
Parlour 6341 N Clark St (773-564-9274, parlouronclark.com). How does a Far North Side taproom open during a recession-stressed economy and become an instant success? Credit a neighborhood hungry for a low-key and friendly LGBT bar with an all-inclusive vibe, solid DJs and indie queer performances to keep things interesting.
Roscoe’s Tavern 3356 N Halsted St (773-281-3355, roscoes.com). On its busiest nights, this corner saloon is like a horny, Gen-Y romper room. Enjoy the beautiful main bar, a dance floor, two back bars, an outdoor patio and all the Gaga you desire.
✽ Scarlet Bar 3320 N Halsted St (773-348-1053, scarletbarchicago.com). This happening hangout is adorned with vintage furnishings and pictures that recall our city’s fabled past. There’s nothing old about the crowd; twentysomethings pack the joint for Frat House Thursdays, a night of beer pong and cheap beer.
✽ Sidetrack 3349 N Halsted St (773-477-9189, sidetrackchicago.com). If size matters, there’s no better bar in Boystown than this glassy video bar. Six big rooms—we like the bustling Glass Bar—are all packed with cute, frisky boys distracting themselves with the same three things: the ubiquitous TV screens, the drink in their hand and the ass in your jeans.
✽ Spin 800 W Belmont Ave (773-327-7711, spin-nightclub.com). Since expanding in early ’09, Spin has become a megawatt dance club featuring events for both young guys and girls including dollar-drink night and weekend events that often include castoffs from RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Steamworks 3246 N Halsted St (773-929-6080; steamworksonline.com). This age 18 and over “private men’s gym, sauna and bathhouse,” is the kind of place gay guys swear they never go (but trust us, they do), which means they’re missing out on three levels of private rooms, gang showers, whirlpool, play areas, workout facilities, sauna, steam room and more. Play safely.
✽ T’s 5025 N Clark St (773-784-6000, tsbarchicago.com). Don’t call T’s a lesbian bar, but do expect to see gay girl energy just about any night of the week. This sapphic-friendly tavern attracts the ladies in droves, but welcomes folks of all stripes who come here to unwind with a beer and kick back with better than average pub grub.
Victor Hotel 311 N Sangamon St (312-733-6900, victorhotelchicago.com). Nights geared toward the 18+ crowd are about as common as the sight of a drag queen at a Cubs game (see “Aged to Perfection,” page 82), but this swanky bar has one every Thursday called Upscale Pride. It’s a bit out of the way so be prepared for a long bus ride.
FREE Gerber/Hart Library and Archives 6500 N Clark St (773-381-8030; gerberhart.org). Imagine spending time at a library created exclusively for the LGBT community. With more than 14,000 volumes documenting queer life, Gerber/Hart is the largest circulating gay and lesbian library in the Midwest. It offers a range of provocative programming, including regular author events, monthly book discussion groups for men and women, and awesome semiannual sales.
✽ Unabridged Bookstore 3251 N Broadway (773-883-9119, unabridgedbookstore.com). This indie-owned neighborhood shop is Boystown’s unofficial gay bookstore and contains a huge selection of LGBT titles. It also has a terrific sales rack for anyone seeking bargain-basement queer literature.
✽ Women and Children First 5233 N Clark St (773-769-9299, womenandchildrenfirst.com). This Andersonville shop is a neighborhood staple. We love it for its feminist slant and huge selection of LGBT titles, although any and all can find something here.
Broadway United Methodist Church 3344 N Broadway (773-348-2679, brdwyumc.org). We think that God’s love extends to gay people, and so do the folks at this LGBT-affirming house of worship.
The Brown Elephant 3651 N Halsted St (773-549-5943, howardbrown.org). This resale shop is a great place to find used CDs, home furnishings and vintage clothing. The best part is that your money benefits Howard Brown, the largest provider of health services to the LGBT community.
✽ FREE Center on Halsted 3656 N Halsted St (773-472-6469, centeronhalsted.org). This shiny home for the LGBT community opened in 2007 as a LEEDS-certified ecofriendly delight (and check out the gargantuan Whole Foods attached to it!). The Hoover-Leppen Theater stages LGBT-themed productions while the Billie Jean King Recreation Hall beckons to sports enthusiasts, but it’s the wide array of social services that lures LGBT seniors, minorities and youth from the South and West Sides. Hint: Don’t miss the sparkling rooftop with its stunning neighborhood views.
Chicago Filmmakers 5243 N Clark St (773-293-1447, chicagofilmmakers.org). This decades-old media arts organization is a cinephile’s delight that includes frequent film screenings and discussions including Dyke Delicious, a monthly lesbian movie night. It’s also the home for Reeling: The Chicago International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, which happens annually in November (although it’s taking this year off) and is always in search of dedicated volunteers and interns (who get to watch the films for free!).
Congregation Or Chadash 5959 N Sheridan Rd (773-271-2148, orchadash.org). Come and worship with this reform congregation for LGBT Jews.
Equality Illinois 3318 N Halsted St (773-477-7173, equalityillinois.org). This Chicago-based gay civil-rights org seeks to defend, protect and secure equality for the LGBT folks who inhabit the Land of Lincoln. A smorgasbord of mixers and galas aim to get you on board. If you really want to make a difference, there are even opportunities to go door-to-door or get on the bus for various rallies happening at the state capital (that’s Springfield, in case you weren’t aware).
✽ Howard Brown Health Center 4025 N Sheridan Rd (773-388-1600, howardbrown.org). This LGBT health center has been serving the needs of the queer community for decades, including an emphasis on trans issues. For many a young queer in need of free HIV testing and without a primary-care physician, Howard Brown has been a best friend. It also operates the Broadway Youth Center, which offers programs aimed at queer and questioning youth.
✽ LCCP 4025 N Sheridan Rd (773-388-1600, howardbrown.org). The Lesbian Community Care Project, an offshoot of Howard Brown (see above), focuses on wellness for Chicago’s LBT communities through support and recovery groups, counseling, testing, screenings and more.
Leather Archives and Museum 6418 N Greenview Ave (773-761-9200, leatherarchives.org). Housed in a former synagogue and theater and set on a quiet residential street, this museum is purportedly the only one in the country devoted to the leather lifestyle. Paintings of men with bulging biceps and perfect “packages” adorn the walls of the worship hall. Downstairs, visitors can thumb through around 10,000 underground sex magazines and peruse exhibits featuring a 19th-century chastity belt for men and common kitchen tools used for sex play.
Chicago’s queer community boasts an impressive range of print publications and websites geared toward keeping you in the know. The Windy City Times offers local and national coverage of LGBT-related news while also tracking the nightlife scene, while Nightspots is there for your drinking and dancing needs. Both are free and widely available in bookstores, bars and cafés all over town. For online information, check out chicagopride.com. It features a slew of LGBT bloggers and has an extensive nightlife calendar.
Restaurants & cafés
Ann Sather 909 W Belmont Ave (773-348-2378, annsather.com). Tasty cinnamon rolls abound at this legendary (and gay-popular) Swedish diner.
Caribou Coffee 3300 N Broadway (773-477-3695, cariboucoffee.com). This Midwest coffee chain has two Boystown locations, but word to the wise: It’s hard to write a term paper when you’re busy checking out all the cute guys. The coffee is just okay, but does it really matter?
✽ Cheesie’s Pub & Grub 958 W Belmont Ave (773-388-1574, cheesieschicago.com). Got a hankering for grilled goodies? This hangout satisfies your post-club craving with yummy (and cheap) sandwiches.
Hamburger Mary’s 5400 N Clark St (773-784-6969, hamburgermaryschicago.com). Could anything be more fabulous than a gay hamburger chain? Not if you’re into fried food and burgers so over-the-top that they border on obnoxious. Sandwiches here are less about the meat and more about the toppings: the “Barbara-Q Bacon Cheeseburger” has so much on it (onion rings, barbecue sauce, bacon) it can hardly be held.
Kopi Cafe 5317 N Clark St (773-989-5674). Gay girls can’t resist this indie coffeehouse in the heart of Andersonville (a.k.a. Girlstown) and its selection of yummy pastries and veggie treats served with delicious coffee.
Halsted’s Bar & Grill 3441 N Halsted St (773-348-9696, halstedschicago.com). This Boystown hangout rocks a bar vibe while accommodating all ages. Multiple video screens blast either the ballgame or the newest Kylie video while the menu runs the bar-food gamut.
The Melrose 3233 N Broadway (773-327-2060). Everything is delightfully greasy at this 24/7 Boystown diner. If you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful place to nab a meal at 4am, this is it.
✽ Metropolis Coffee Company 1039 W Granville Ave (773-764-0400, metropoliscoffee.net). We love this coffee roastery and hangout for locals and Loyola students. In addition to serving up a mean cup of java, MCC also offers premium-grade teas and a small, but tasty, café menu.
✽ About Face Theatre 1222 W Wilson Ave (773-784-8565, aboutfacetheatre.com). Kudos to About Face for committing itself to enhancing the dialogue around sexual orientation and sexual identity through engaging theater.