Gayz in the 'hood
Which neighborhoods roll out the rainbow welcome mat? Keep reading.
So you want to canoodle with your boy/girlfriend in public, eh? While Chicago is a queer-friendly city and a ’mo mecca, at least by Midwestern standards, it’s true that the rainbow flag is raised more proudly in some neighborhoods than in others. Every area has its charms, but if it’s a gay bookstore, queer bar or LGBT community center you seek, keep our trusty guide close at hand.
Chicago’s once-Swedish enclave is the city’s new gay paradise. Clark Street is abuzz with LGBT-owned bars, furniture stores and cafes. Check out places like Women and Children First, Kopi Cafe and Winston’s Cafe. All boast a strong queer vibe and are welcoming to underage folks. When the temps are just right, the gents flock to nearby Osterman Beach (a.k.a. Hollywood Beach) to grab some rays, and don’t forget Midsommarfest, the energetic and mostly gay street fest that happens each June. In short, welcome home.
Rainbow rating 9
Boystown is the epicenter of the Chicago gay universe. Despite the fact that the roughly two dozen queer bars and restaurants—including Sidetrack, Roscoe’s, Scarlet and Spin—cater largely to gay men, this is still home to the LGBT community center, the Center on Halsted (a stellar resource for youth) and also where the Chicago Pride Parade happens each June. Don’t miss Unabridged Bookstore or the très gay Caribou coffee shops on Halsted and Broadway. Love it or hate it, Boystown is pretty much the safest place for hundreds of miles in any direction to hold your gf/bf’s hand.
Rainbow rating 10
Considering how much these sibling neighborhoods boast diversity, it’s a shame there’s not a single queer venue in sight. But the pseudo-BoHo residents who call these ’hoods home welcome all genders and sexualities almost everywhere. Still, if it’s a gay-specific vibe you seek, alt bookstore Quimby’s is a terrific place to find queer lit, and the gay-owned Bongo Room serves out-of-this-world brunch goodies.
Rainbow rating 7
Hyde Park/South Shore
Hyde Park, the gorgeous home to the University of Chicago, doesn’t offer much fun for anyone—straight or gay—despite the neighborhood’s penchant for liberalism. However, it does boast Affinity Community Services, a nonprofit that serves black LBT women through a combination of educational and social services. Nearby South Shore, meanwhile, has become the new home to the annual Chicago Dyke March.
Rainbow rating 4
The Loop/Magnificent Mile
Downtown is a bit of a contradiction for the LGBT community. On the one hand, an out and proud student population offers plenty of visibility to downtown campuses like Columbia and Roosevelt, and it’s nearly impossible not to find a cutie queer working a makeup counter, manning the register or selling sundries along the Mag Mile. The trouble is the city wants these areas to be as family friendly as possible, and LGBT nightlife at least has all but disappeared over the years. Nevertheless, multiple institutions such as the MCA, Harris Dance Theater and Broadway in Chicago (Billy Elliot, anyone?) guarantee that LGBT visibility abounds.
Rainbow rating 5
This sprawling Far North Side ’hood is a bit scruffy, but boasts a ton of queer charm. The intersection of Clark and Devon is a mecca for the festish community, including bars Touche and Jackhammer and also retail shop Mephisto Leathers and the fascinating Leather Archives and Museum just around the corner. If you’re taking a class on queer studies, be sure and check out Gerber/Hart, the city’s gay and lesbian archives in nearby Edgewater. Gerber’s neighbor Metropolis Coffee Company is cute and cruisy.
Rainbow rating 6