Little David Shows Us What Was "So Gay" in Chicago in the 1970s

Little David Shows Us What Was "So Gay" in Chicago in the 1970s

Little David, a small regional magazine, served as a kind of gay news-magazine/travel guide (and including some nudies too) for the burgeoning, newly open gay community in Florida outside of Key West in the 1970s. These new worlds offered activities and places where gay men could vacation and joy themselves were now openly advertising, where one gets a sense of richness, diversity and just plain fun in that color-crazy disco fever party time after Stonewall and before AIDS.

 

Places like Fort Lauderdale and Provincetown quickly became gay meccas, and magazines like Little David offered detailed coverage in its feature like "Looking Around" (the title hinting at 1970s gay cruising activities perhaps?) that reported on practically every gay activity going on cross-country as well as in there neck of the woods.

 

Most gays at that time socialized in bars, gay discotheques, bookstores, porn theaters and bathhouses in gay "ghetto" sections of large cities, and one notes a plethora of drag contests (perhaps throwbacks to the days in the closet?), cabaret acts, buffets, tea dances, as well as, on a smaller scale, meetings by what were then new gay activist groups.

 

One of the overall impressions that era presented was a very open, let it all hang out (literally, you couldn't keep a good cock down, many were hanging out or bulging out of one's short shorts or tight Levis). Yes, this was a fun time, the gay world was dancing, and in hindsight, the dance was tragically cut short. 

Vol. 1, No. 5 of Little David, the May/June 1974 reveals a snapshot of Chicago's gay world during this period. Dugan's Bistro and Carol's Coming Out Pub were only one year old at the time, and they both celebrated their birthdays with food and live entertainment.

At Dugan's, then a major "mixed" discotheque, the "Bearded Lady" provided "her usual hilarious antics," while Frannie "made the words and music dance" in the air with torchy classics like "I Didn't Get Enough of You" and "Dead Eye Dan." She also appeared at Man's Country bathhouse, then located on Clark Street, when bathhouses offered a variety of social activities in addition to the "naughty stuff" occurring in the rooms.

 

The bathhouse Gay Broadway was at that time in its heyday, and this issue notes its groovy d├ęcor and close circuit television. Gay Broadway even presented a Women's Night that was advertised in this issue, and according to the former owner of this establishment, Steven Toushin, Womens' Night sank "like a lead balloon." 

Chicago's fifth annual gay pride parade (it's hard to believe there's been so many gay pride parades since then) did not go down like that proverbial lead balloon, according to the report in Vol. 1, No. 6 of Little David, the parade was fabulous. I'm going to list a few of the bars and community organizations that were represented in that parade: M's Lounge (a lesbian bar); Broadway Sams; Dugan's Bistro; Gay Broadway; The Snake Pit; Club Baths; Man's Country; Beckman House; G.P.U.; Gay Horizons Unity; Mattachine; and Good Shepherd Parish. What a variety of organizations! 

These were the days when Old Town, yes Old Town, before expensive gentrification, before Cobbler Square Apartments and the spoiled frat boys and young socialite cheerleaders texting away and the nosy tourists invaded, was the gay bar district, in fact, a veritable gay colony.

 

Bob Hugel, owner of Glory Hole (the report claims he brought gayness back to Old Town; I would argue he more like maintained in that part of town), opened The Wild Onion. Our Den was another gay bar in the area that just opened during this time period, and the Bijou Theater with its "fucktabulous" summer backyard.

 

Sounds like what is going on these days in Andersonville, Uptown, and Rogers Park: gay colonization. What happened to the neighborhood? What will happen in many neighborhoods gays colonize? 

What did happen in those wild carefree days was a pot-luck dinner and Ann Landers look-a-like contest at Liberty Hall, 2440 Lincoln Avenue. One can just imagine ... 

But could anyone in the gay culture of cybersex and Grinder really pull off an event like that today, where face to face encounters like many gay men enjoyed in the bathhouses aren't necessarily a component of social encounters?

 

In the 1970s, face to face interaction was essential, mostly because for the first time, many gay guys could experience it more openly, at least in gay-friendly spots, without a constant fear of arrest and subsequent public humiliation, which could include job loss. It's funny, now, when gays don't have to hide, they end up hiding behind a technology of social media that is supposed to expand their socialization possibilities. 

On a parting note, by reading about the events Little David reports, one can also remember a time when camp wasn't over analyzed as a "byproduct of patriarchal heterosexual oppression," and gay men and their friends danced. All night. With each other.

 

Because they finally could!

 

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