David's Sexual Underground - 5/22/23

 

Chicago LGBTQ history - BijouBlog

David's Chicago Sexual Underground header

 

Greetings All,

 

It has been a rough week for me, which has put us behind schedule this week. I have been assisting a dear friend and mighty force in our greater LGBTQ+ community these past few months. When I came to Chicago in 1976, one of the first friends I made was Marge Summit, then owner of His N Hers, a popular community bar located under the L tracks on Addison.

 

Marge Summit in westernwear at His N Hers

 

Marge created a wonderful space that brought many facets of our community together to celebrate. Marge’s staff served us great drinks, prepared fabulous food including the best burger I ever enjoyed in Chicago. And Marge made a space for lots of local talent to perform, grow and succeed.

She became a dear friend and mentor to me in the service industry. Those of you who joined me for Chicago’s Original Country Dance after closing Carol’s Speakeasy should remember Marge helping us serve drinks at various spots along the way Pusch Studios, Paris Dance, Whiskey River, Bedrock to name a few.

 

Marge at the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame

 

As an icon of our community, Marge was there when AIDS first struck Chicago. Her support for many of the early organizations that came to be in response to this emergency was fantastic. Howard Brown, Chicago House, Open Hand and numerous others were causes championed at His N Hers in the 80s with the support of the talented artist that performed at the bar.

Marge did more than just host benefits; she took action when needed. One of my favorite things she did was to push peoples’ comfort zones.

 

Frank Kellas and Marge Summit in newspaper photo, cited as being named as Organizers of the Year from Gay Chicago for their commitment to the Gay Dollar Campaign

 

To stress the economic force of our community, Marge and her leather buddy Frank Kellas launched the Gay Dollar campaign. She bought rubber stamps that read Gay Dollar and stamped thousands of one dollar bills. In the 80s, that got the attention of the Feds. They visited her and threatened her if she persisted. She did persist and straight folks were forced to be embarrassed by handing over “gay money” when shopping, dining, etc.

You may not remember there was a small grocery store at the corner of Belmont & Broadway. The owners were unhappy as the neighborhood became “New Town” with gays moving into the area. Bars, stores catering to gays sprang up. With the fear of AIDS, the owners were afraid of contact with us. Marge would get friends to join her to each grab a grocery cart and fill it with all kinds of items, the smaller the better. Filling the carts, they would leave them at the checkout announcing they were gay. The fearful owners and staff would be forced to wipe off all the handled merchandise, fearing contamination of AIDS. Sound familiar?

Marge met the love of her life, Janan, in her later years and I was honored to host their wedding at my Country Dance at The Call. Sadly, we had to celebrate Janan’s passing there too. The past few months were hard for Marge, failing health and loneliness made it a vicious circle. I was fortunate to spend time with her, sharing memories, meals, helping her cope as she became weaker.

 

Marge and Janan

 

I got to sit with her one last time on Tuesday in her finally hours as she passed from this world knowing she would be reunited with her wife, Janan.

Marge was not part of our leather community, but she understood our side of the family. She was a great friend of Chuck Rodocker, Chuck Renslow and Jim Flint, all leather bar owners in the 70s and 80s. She stood with us as AIDs decimated the clubs and took the lives of so many leathermen.

This loss is not felt just by me but many others of our leather community of that era.

Thanks for allowing me to share this passing with you.

 

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David's Chicago Sexual Underground 09/21/22 & P(r)ick of the Week

Chicago LGBTQ history - BijouBlog
David's Chicago Sexual Underground header

Greetings P(r)icksters!

Been busy hosting a vaccine party every week at the bar on top of all our other parties. I keep getting thanked by guys passing through the vax line and felt I just had to explain why. So here's what I sent out to my Touché posting this week. I may have covered some this in a previous blog, but it is all part of my "
why."

We are continuing our drive to get folks vaccinated against monkeypox. We want all of you to be able to socialize, meet up and find a fuck buddy, enjoy some hot passionate sex and not end up with a case of this virus. Trust me, I have heard from many who contracted the virus, and the symptoms were PAINFUL.

You like a dick down your throat, up your butt, and guess what? That's where this virus ends up. Sure, they have presented photos on the news about sores on guys' hands, chests, feet or faces. Well, what they haven't shown you are the guys with pox sores inside their dicks, up their asses or down their throats. If we hadn't started pushing guys in our community to get vaxxed, a lot more of you could have experienced this. So, we urge you to keep it in your pants and changed up our video programming and party events at the bar to help you keep yourself in check.

AIDS came to town unannounced and spread quickly and decimated our leather community. We didn't know it was here, what caused it and had no vaccine to stop it.

Today, we know monkeypox is here, how it can spread, and we have a weapon to stop it: a 2-dose vaccine shot. I wish we had this when AIDS hit; I would have a lot more friends still with me. We can stop this now from becoming an ongoing threat, but you all have to get vaxxed to make that happen.

Here's a link to the Chicago Department of Public Health's dashboard for monkeypox. It is updated on Mondays and shows the number of cases falling dramatically. It also shows the number of people vaccinated so far. It is the second dose that I focus on, because it is the second dose that allows your body to develop immunity after a couple of weeks.

9,375 is the number of Chicagoans that have received a second dose as of Monday. 9,000+ folks are fully vaxxed. Out of how many gay men that live in this city? Just think for a moment - how many gay men are there just in Chicago? All of a sudden, 9,375 seems like a good start but way short of what may be needed to keep us from a resurgence of cases.

Let's not forget the guys coming to Chicago because they live in states that haven't done jackshit about monkeypox. I checked IDs last week during our Vax Party and I can state that about 1/2 of those in the bar that came for a shot were from out of town. Florida, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Texas were just some of the IDs I saw.

If these guys feel it is so important to travel this far for a shot (hopefully they had a couple more at the bar), then I would hold that all of you that live here in Chicago would feel just as strongly and make the effort to cross town if need be and get vaccinated.

We had a Pox Vax Party last night, Tuesday, September 20th, and the upcoming one is next week on Wednesday, September 28th. As we have been doing, doors open at 5pm with shots beginning at 6 pm. We start with 100 doses but have been averaging 120 or more these past few weeks. The vax teams leave with doses unused. So don't let the early days of long lines and limited vax shots deter you. You need not line up for hours, just get here by 9pm and get a shot.

We will be adding Vax Party dates in October. Our partners at Project WISH and Rush are lining up teams to provide the shots, and once I have those dates confirmed, we will post them.

Now as to WHY?

We have been thanked repeatedly the past couple of months for hosting these Vax Parties. As guys pass through the line, they let me know how much they appreciate our effort to care for our community. There's a very simple reason why we are doing this.

We are LEATHER.

Time for a little history lesson, sorry if this gets long. I came to Chicago in the mid-70s and began working at Touché shortly after it opened. Some of my early leather mentors were already in their 60s. Which meant they had participated in WWII, and they shared their experiences with me.

Before the World Wars of the last century, travel abroad was the luxury of the wealthy. The average guy lived in his town, worked there and most likely died in that same town. The thought of going to Europe or anywhere else in the world was an unlikely dream of some, but most others just lived their life where they were. You could have urges for men, but you either had to ignore them or on the "down-low."

Heading to Europe and other places to fight in either war allowed these servicemen a chance to broaden their view beyond our American shores. In particular, during WWII, these men experienced a lot more than what their hometowns had to offer. Food, for one, drink another and lifestyles even more. Far from home and expectations they may had lived under (get a job, get married, have a family), many got a chance to explore their sexual feelings.

One of my favorite photo books is At Ease: Navy Men of WWII. These guys were out at sea for months at a time. It is not hard to imagine that physical contact between them would become common. Not just sexual; lots of the photos show guys relaxing, just laying side by side, or in some contact with each other. As humans, we feel the need to touch others.

Naturally this lead some to sexual relations with other men; after all, these guys were in their early to mid-twenties and just as horny as you guys are today. It was just there, unmentioned and tolerated as a phase. But they got over it once they returned home to their girls or wives (supposedly).

One other thing men fighting abroad may have learned was riding motorcycles. It was quick method of communications within the services. A lot of servicemen would probably never have learned to ride if it wasn't for their time in the service.

So, when guys came home from WWII, some had experienced gay sex or at least developed an affinity to being with guys. The late 40s and 50s were not a time of accepting homosexuality. These guys had to live in their closets.

Which is where our leather community sprang from: those guys that had learned to ride while in the service and continued to ride when they got back. They met other guys that served and shared experiences. So, they would ride together, forming clubs with guys they could relate to, who shared their experiences. And sometimes, far from others, they would engage in man-on-man sex.

When I come to Chicago, we had a few gay bikers’ clubs. Others like myself that did not ride were drawn to the camaraderie, the friendship, the "family" of these clubs. Other leather clubs formed for those that did not ride but felt the kinship of leather.

You didn't just drop in, you had to be invited in. It was not that hard. These clubs hung out in bars like the old Gold Coast, The Redoubt, Snake Pit and eventually Touché. The back bar at Touché is called The Club Room and the walls are covered with the colors of the various clubs that have called Touché home or out of town clubs that we have supported over the years.

You could meet these leathermen and get to know them. If they felt you were their kind of guy, they would invite you to join them and once they felt you earned the right, they would present you with patches of their colors to wear on your leather.

As a member of one of these clubs, the other members were your brothers, your family. You take care of your family. If they needed a roof over their head, they bunked with you. If they were sick, you cared for them. Helped them find a job if needed. A lot of times it meant caring for those of other clubs, too. Being part of this community meant you would step up and take care of each other.

This is Touché’s 45th year. My 45th year as being part of Chicago’s leather community. And neither Touché nor I can stand by and do nothing when we have this threat to our community. Leather stepped up when AIDS hit in the 80s. Unfortunately, we lost a huge part of our leather community at that time. A lot of those club colors represent a whole group of 30-40 guys that were wiped out by AIDS. None of them are still with us, but we will never forget them.

Those of us that made it through AIDS were a part of the efforts to respond to AIDS. Just feeding folks brought us Open Hand. They made meals every day and delivered them to guys at home. Many early volunteers were leathermen and they still volunteer today through Open Hand's GroceryLand Pantry.

Being too sick to work and keep a roof over your head led to Chicago House. We raised money and bought a house, again led by a leatherman Thom Dombkowski. Now Chicago house provides roofs for PWAs across the city.

Figuring out what was causing this disease that was killing our community meant Howard Brown ramping up, from STD testing and treatment to research and healthcare, led by another leatherman, Harley McMillan.

The last couple of years brought us covid and we responded, urging all to take care, get tested, vaccinated and caring for those afflicted. Now we've got monkeypox. Just as we have in the past, we are doing what we can to take care of not just our family but our entire community. Because we are leather. It's not a fashion choice, it is how we define ourselves, the identity of the bar and how I see myself.

Whether you are leather or not, get the damn vaccine. Yes, case numbers have fallen, but it is still out there. If we just ignore, it will rear its ugly head again and we will be back to square one. The shots are free. We offer them every week. If you don't want to come here, can't get here, then get vaccinated wherever you are. Demand it. We did, and that is how we are able to host our Vax Parties week after week.

I want all my P(r)icksters out there to get vaccinated against monkeypox. You wouldn't be reading this unless you are a horny bastard, too. Let's keep this from going any further. While you wait for your second dose and immunity to develop, you can safely grab my P(r)ick this week and stay horny with me.

David

To order from Bijou, visit bijouworld.com, call 800-932-7111, or email bijou.orders@gmail.com

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Chain Reactions (D00437) - On DVD and Streaming

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David's Chicago Sexual Underground 9/2/22 & P(r)ick of the Week

Chicago LGBTQ history - BijouBlog
David's Chicago Sexual Underground header

Greetings P(r)icksters!

Been pretty busy at the bar, still training new staff. I have also been hosting regular vax parties for this monkeypox mess. Lots of guys have been coming round getting a shot and thanking me for doing this.

When I came to Chicago back in 1976, I checked out several bars, looking to make new friends in a new town. Then I walked into a leather bar and after a while, I found what I was looking for.

Back then, gay bars were pretty much low key. They didn’t draw attention to themselves, and they were easy targets for police raids and harassment. A gay press was just developing at the time, so finding where bars were in any town wasn’t easy, more word of mouth.

Folks could be friendly in most gay bars but when things went down, a bar raid for example, patrons would dash off and look for another bar to hang out at. The concept of a cohesive community was not quite there yet. One bar getting the spotlight and folks ran to another, being as they were just as much in a closet.

The thing about leather bars back then was the leather clubs that called them home. I’ve talked before about how biker clubs formed up after our GIs returned from Europe and abroad from WWII. These close-knit clubs looked out for their club brothers and, when needed, brothers in other clubs. They were my mentors that brought me to this scene and taught me that we take care of each other as no one else would.

These clubs did a lot of support for members like helping them put a roof over their head or a find job to pay for it. When one got sick, their brothers would take care of them. And a lot of times, when it was serious, say a major accident that had one laid up for a spell, they all stepped up to help. Early fundraisers were just for this, paying someone’s rent or car payment.

As our community grew, so did the leather circle, and our financial support went towards early community efforts. One of my favorite memories from that era was a Toys For Tots Show the various clubs came together and put on. Image a bunch of bearded bikers singing, dancing, some in drag, while raising thousands of dollars for a worthy cause. (Unfortunately, the Salvation Army returned our donation because it came from gay men; why I never put a nickel in one of their kennels)

Most people these days are familiar with Howard Brown Health Center here in Chicago. A huge operation, with clinics across the city providing medical care for LGBTQ+ folks from the northside to the southside and west. But back in 1976, Howard Brown’s focus was on STDs in the gay community. You got a drippy dick, you went to Howard Brown for a swap and a shot. They operated in the basement of a church, one a day a week. There was no charge, just a place to receive care that gay people were fearful to ask for from their doctor or city health clinics. After all, we were just a bunch of queers and because we had sex with other men, we deserved what we caught.

We would host tag nights at the bar where we’d ask for a buck at the door so Howard Brown could get the medical supplies and penicillin to treat us. We did that for Howard Brown and other small groups trying to serve the gay community as it grew.

When HIV/AIDS struck in the 80s, Howard Brown grew from a doctor and nurse in a church to one of the leading efforts to figure out what was causing this unknown disease that was killing gay men. Early on, the leather community put a lot of effort towards support for Howard Brown’s work to help us survive.

Covid came around a couple of years ago and we stepped up to educate and take care of those stricken with this disease. Even during shutdowns, we would check up on each other, get friends to doctors when needed, make soup, shop for others and encourage others to pitch in and get vaccinated.

Now it is monkeypox. Just like HIV/AIDS, this one hit gay people first. It started spreading around before we knew it was here. But, we are leathermen and we take care of our own. That’s why the only gay bars in town hosting vaccination events are the leather bars. Not one other gay bar here has done so.

It is what I have been taught and shown, and as a leatherman we will continue to take care of our own. Even those that have never stepped inside the bar before. Of course, I am making sure they understand Touché is the only bar hosting weekly vax parties, suggesting maybe they should check out what we are all about. More than just hot kinky sex.

So for all my horny bastards out there reading this blog, get a pox vax. It’s two shots, four weeks apart. Once you do that, in another two weeks your body will develop the immunity you need to avoid getting monkeypox. Six weeks and we can put this mess to rest and end the spread.

While you are waiting out those six weeks, grab my P(r)ick and keep it hot.

David

To order from Bijou, visit bijouworld.com, call 800-932-7111, or email bijou.orders@gmail.com

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Pictures from the Black Dance (DK0047) - On DVD and Streaming

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Mr. Chicago Leather Contest 1988 (D00568) - On DVD and Streaming

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P(r)ick of the Week - 5/20/20

David's Chicago Sexual Underground header

 

Greetings P(r)icksters!

Really in a weird space this week. We should be gearing up for 6 big crazy nights for the coming Memorial Day weekend. But we are still shuttered here in Chicago.

For the past 40 years, the International Mr Leather Contest took over our Memorial Day weekend bringing 1,000s of visitors to town. Which made us very busy at Touché with parties night after night and several afternoon functions, too.

We would begin with a welcome party on the Wednesday before the weekend as all the IML contestants, most vendors and others arrived early to prepare for the weekend. Then it was Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights going strong. By Memorial Day many would be departing Chicago, but we still had great crowds that afternoon for our big cookout and even into the night on Memorial Day.

I will miss many friends this year, the guys from Off Ramp Leathers, friends from other bars that have contestants at IML and many others won’t be visiting Chicago this week. For the first time in years, I’ll have Memorial Day off.

In the beginning IML was not this weekend. The first couple of years it was held over Mother's Day Weekend. IML began as a bar event. Chuck Renslow, owner of the Gold Coast, came up with the idea of a Mister contest for Leathermen.

Back in the mid 1970s before IML started, Chicago bars hosted Mister contests as a way to attract a crowd. The old Gay Chicago Magazine helped develop this promotion of Mister contests by hosting the Mr Windy City Contest each spring. During the winter months, various bars would host a contest to select their Mr, who would then go on to compete for the title of Mr Windy City. During my tenure as manager of the old Carol’s Speakeasy in the 80’s (that was next door to the Bijou Theater), I had 2 Mr Carol’s that won the Mr Windy City title.

Seeing the success of this program, Renslow took that idea and morphed it into a leather titleholder contest. Since you only had 3 or 4 leather bars in Chicago, he made it an international competition to allow for more contestants.

In 1979, Touché was also part of Chicago’s leather bar scene, so Chuck Renslow approached Chuck Rodocker, owner of Touché, to team up and sponsor the contest. Basically the contest was held on one night with bar parties at both places Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Back then, Touché only had a 2 am license while the Gold Coast had a 4 am license. Things started at one bar and then continued at the other.

Being 1979, gay events out in public were still rare; not many places were comfortable having a bunch of queers in their place of business, it would scare off the straights. So there was no host hotel, no big dances in ballrooms, no big display of leather gear and sex toys in convention halls. The early weekend was basically cocktail parties at the bars and fuck parties at the baths (Chuck Renslow also owned Man’s Country).

But as a big advocate of his hometown, my boss Chuck Rodocker (no opportunity to shorten reference to either man, they were both Chuck R, both owners of a leather bar, people still get confused between the two of them) had the staff of Touché host some daytime excursions to add to the weekend activities. We did bus tours around town (have you ever tried to mix drinks on a moving vehicle?).

The logic back then was that Touché closed at 2 am (3 am on Saturday) while the Gold Coast was open till 4 or 5 am. The Touché staff had time for more rest to get back out and going early the next day. The problem with this was that while we may have closed earlier, that didn’t mean we would not wind up at the Gold Coast to enjoy the party there and end up closing that bar, too.

So hungover or still up after fucking some of the visiting leathermen, we would be out there herding folks onto a bus or serving up bloody marys while a local leather club or group of clubs prepared a breakfast buffet of some kind. It was a more intimate weekend than it has become.

As I stated, IML was first held on Mother's Day weekend. Again, you have to visualize Chicago in 1979. White flight had left the city pretty vacant around what we call River North today. The Gold Coast and many other gay bars were in the area, the rest old warehouses, business places that were deserted nights and weekends.

Except...... across the street from the Gold Coast was a renowned restaurant, Gordan’s, that hosted a big Mother's Day brunch every year. Folks would line up outside for the opportunity to treat dear old Mom to a nice brunch. And there we’d be in full leather gear piling guys onto buses, drinks in hand. It was quite a show and I loved being part of it.

And once the IML weekend was over, we still had Memorial Day weekend to kick off summer, just not as crazy as it has been these past few years. I’m going to have to figure out what to do with a long weekend of nothing. Kind of hard, as we have already gone over two months without something, anything. Just hoping I don’t get too comfortable with this, hope to be “back in the saddle” again next May.

So while I ponder my Memorial Day weekend plans, grab my P(r)ick this week with a nod to the men in uniforms - soldiers, sailors and marines - and wave your flags.

My first P(r)ick is A Few Good Men directed by Steve Scott. Released in 1983, this is definitely one of the best grunts fuck films of all time. The Philadelphia Gay News raved about the film on its release, "this gay sex film wins the prize for best treatment of two common gay porn themes: the repressed sexuality of an all-male military setting [including authentic costumes and underwear] and the thin line between fantasy and reality. Scott's style is at its most poetic, in both image and sound."

For a second helping check out Seamen directed by Matt Sterling for Brentwood Studios. Its four pre-condom episodes play with the theme of sailors on leave. There's a good deal of spanking, armpit and foot licking and hearty oral and anal sex. The actors' eager performances ought to get you drop-dead horny.

Before I go this week, I do want to assure you that I do get your comments about my writings for Bijou Video, even if it makes you feel some guy from a porn site is smarter than you. I’m not that smart, just curious to learn more. Thanks for the many compliments, responses to my thoughts and letting me know that you enjoy reading these blogs. I get a kick out of writing them and hearing what you have to say..

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend and stay safe, my friends.


David

To order from Bijou, visit bijouworld.com, call 800-932-7111, or email bijou.orders@gmail.com

 

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Seamen (D00228) - On DVD and Streaming
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I Know I'll Have Many Other Homes, But Never a Place Like This: A Brief-ish History of Bijou Theater Parties

posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster

 

Bijou exterior and upstairs map
Bijou Theater exterior and upstairs map

I first went to the Bijou Theater in 2008. It was a snowy day that March. I was in my last month of being 21 – quite an eventful year. It was weeks after I met my first real girlfriend, who I would wind up being with five and a half years. At the beginning of my 21st year, I had my first kiss. (I was a very late bloomer.) Months later, I first had sex (in the bathroom of the longstanding goth club, Neo, another Chicago landmark that closed mere months before the Bijou Theater in 2015). Shortly afterwards, I began going to S/M events and getting curious about the sexual spaces in the city.

The snowy March evening in question, I attended one of Bijou's Wayward Sisters parties with a group of friends. These parties were a blast. They generally got good turn outs and lively crowds – mostly younger art students and predominantly women, though a big mix of folks were present, including Bijou regulars. (There were intentionally never any gender restrictions at the Bijou, unlike many other gay adult businesses. Bijou owner Steven Toushin welcomed all adults and his attitude was always, “No one should be left out; it shouldn't be an exclusive space.”)

At these parties, David Boyer from Chicago's leather bar, Touche, would hand out beers in the back garden and spank the recipients. People DJed in the theater area and danced on the stage and, upstairs, explored the space, cruised, had sex, talked to each other through glory holes. That night, I wound up in the sling in the dungeon, making out with two of the girls I'd shown up with, while some Bijou regulars stood around in the dark and jacked off, a few of our other friends peeping at this display through a window. I later went outside and saw my dude friends and some other guys standing in a circle on the balcony with their dicks whipped out, comparing them while deep in conversation.

Bijou exterior and upstairs map
Bijou's upstairs

About six months after attending this party, I wound up answering a Craigslist ad seeking an editor for a gay porn company; an ad so brief it was almost cryptic. When I went in for the interview, it was a very pleasant surprise to realize it was for Bijou and that, in addition to the theater, Bijou was also a vintage gay porn company. I was a filmmaker with a particular interest in '60s sexploitation films and LGBTQ film history and a burgeoning interest in '70s porn, so this was extremely up my alley. I very much wanted the job, even more after Steven discussed the company and its history and philosophy, so I was thrilled when I picked up the call confirming that I got it.

The Wayward Sisters events were still running when I got hired at the Bijou office and, in total, operated for around a year and a half. Steven recalls once showing up at a Wayward Sisters party with his partner and doing a flogging and fisting scene in the dungeon. As they played, party-goers wandered by and started gathering, their conversations soon growing silent as they watched intently. Afterwards, a group of young women came over to talk to his partner and pay compliments about the scene. I went to one or two more of these parties before they wound up being discontinued not long after the person who originally ran them moved to Europe.

But let's back up much further, well before my time.

Wells Street in 1976 and 1970s Bijou Theater ad
Wells Street, 1976, and '70s Bijou Theater ad

The Bijou Theater opened in 1970 in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood on Wells Street, where it was in the proximity of several other gay and sexual businesses. The first film that played there was Richard Nixon's Checkers Speech, named after the Nixon dog. The next was a gay porn film. In 1980, it expanded to a second floor, with a maze of glory hole booths and a dungeon room. By then, it was open 24/7 and people partied there late into the night. Touche and other gay bars would bus folks over and the crowd from Carol's Speakeasy, located next door, regularly spilled into Bijou (sometimes for free through its back door) after hours. During these decades, the theater endured numerous police raids, obscenity busts, bomb threats, and more, but it kept running. In addition to porn films on Bijou's screen, these first few decades saw live performances on stage by many of the films' major stars, including Al Parker, Richard Locke, Lee Ryder, Peter Berlin, Jim Cassidy, and Casey Donovan (and Colt stars later on in the 2000s).

Ad for live appearances by Peter Berlin at the Bijou Theater
Ad for live appearances by Peter Berlin at the Bijou Theater, April 1980

From 2000 to 2002, Miss Tiger and her Erotic Cabaret, featuring the Bijou Boys, took to the Bijou's stage. Drag performer Miss Tiger's events were elaborately staged erotic revues featuring theatrical pieces, humor, musical numbers, strip shows, live sex acts, and more. One notable show incorporated a Gregorian chant playing as a man came out dressed as a priest and with four men dressed as choir boys. They all read from Bibles, then the choir boys took turns sucking the priest's dick on stage.

Ad for live appearances by Peter Berlin at the Bijou Theater
Ads for Miss Tiger's Erotic Cabaret

Not long after I began working at the office, a fellow employee asked me if I wanted to help out with one of the theater's strip shows. I wound up running lights and music for these each month. Another co-worker, Bryan, took over as host for a long while and he incorporated stand up comedy into the Nude Revues. We often made elaborate videos to feature during the intros and during intermission. Finally, Michael, who worked in the box office, took over hosting. He had a great rapport with the customers, which made for a comfortable flow. (At the final Nude Revue before the theater's closing in 2015, he ended the show by singing a poignant song, which brought tears to many an eye in the crowd.)

Bjiou Boys Nude Revue posters
Bijou Boys Nude Revue posters

Bijou held a big 40th anniversary party in the first months of 2011. This was hosted by David Boyer, and the packed audience took in live music performances of classic gay porn theme songs accompanied by dancers (one of whom poured orange juice all over her naked body to a very noisy cover of the theme to Arthur Bressan Jr.'s 1984 film, Juice), videos about gay porn history and Bijou's history (both viewable at the bottom of the Bijou Theater page on our website), words from Steven Toushin, a two foot tall ejaculating dick cake (made by my girlfriend), and a strip show.

Dancers, bands, and dick cake from the Bjiou's 40th anniversary

Bijou Theater 40th anniversary party photos


During the 2000s, more people were approaching Steven with interest in doing events at the theater, as the dynamic at the bars was changing. The first huge event to be staged there by organizers from outside the theater during my era in the 2010s was the release party for the vintage gay porn soundtracks of Patrick Cowley by Dark Entries Records on Valentine's Day of 2014. DJs played in the dungeon (which got crowded, hot, and sweaty) and others played downstairs on the stage while clips from the movies Cowley scored were shown on screen. This event illuminated some new possibilities for hosting parties in the space that were influential during the theater's final two years, during which we worked with many different organizers and artists.

Later that month, a friend of mine staged reading of an erotic play he'd co-written about Abraham's Lincoln alleged gay relationship. This event segued into a year or so when a friend in the same circle proposed doing monthly variety shows at the theater. I helped him run these and they were chaotic, sometimes thrilling, and often messy installments called Upstairs/Downstairs, featuring performance art, video art, experimental film, punk bands, noise musicians, installations, DJs, and stand up comedy. Some highlights: a performance featuring a corn cob strap-on covered in I Can't Believe It's Not Butter; legendary Chicago bands and performance artists taking to the stage and finding creative ways to utilize the space; a night when I had to mop milk, piss, and cum off the floor of the dungeon after the show; and a fake human sacrifice and haunted house.

Dancers, bands, and dick cake from the Bjiou's 40th anniversary

Upstairs/Downstairs poster; performance by Chicago legends Ono and a "human sacrifce"


With these and following events, inspired by the broadly mixed crowd and dynamic use of the building seen in the Wayward Sisters and Patrick Cowley parties, we tried to find more opportunities for newcomers - across a range of ages and genders - to feel welcome in the theater, while also hopefully being an interesting change of pace for the customers who had called it home for decades. Finding this balance was tough and sometimes tense, but a worthwhile endeavor. Steven was interested in people trying new and different things at the theater and he gave them pretty much free reign in what they planned (basically unheard of), though he often suggested to organizers that one successful approach to the uniqueness of the Bijou was allowing things to unfold throughout the entire venue. The staff of the theater went above and beyond during the events in these final years, which often required a huge amount of extra work.

During this span of time, S+S Project hosted an exciting show highlighting the work of many talented local artists, including installations of artwork, video art screening in the theater, and performances on stage and upstairs (featuring nudity, lard, and balloons). Afterwards, we hung around late into the night in the dungeon while DJs kept playing.

A couple of large queer dance parties were thrown by Chances Dances – one for Halloween and one for Valentine's Day. These included DJs, performers, vintage lesbian porn, and more.

The Men's Room parties also came to the Bijou during this time and hosted several events. These quickly turned massive, culminating in a sprawlingly large and debaucherous one during the IML weekend of the theater's final year. These nights featured music on both levels and erotic performance art (once incorporating fireplay and once featuring piercing play; in the latter scenario, a disco ball was strung up to the performer's cock and balls and when the needles pierced into his chest were tugged out, blood spilled down his body and onto the disco ball).

Chances Dances and Men's Room poster
Chances Dances and Men's Room posters

In the same era, we held an intimate memorial service in the theater, hosted by the folks I went to my initial Wayward Sisters party with, for their friend Wiley, a long-time Bijou regular who loved the place and had recently died. His friends shared memories and screened videos they'd made with Wiley in the theater to a small gathering that also included theater attendees and employees who'd known him.

In the fall of 2015, we got the terrible news that the Bijou was being forced to close, as the result of a legal battle with its landlord. We quickly scheduled a series of events for its final week, David Boyer running several great Touche parties and classic porn films playing 24/7 on the screen. We set up one last party on the theater's final night in operation, and I welcomed anyone who was interested in participating to contact me. We had an overwhelming response.

The night saw wild performance art in the dungeon, live music, beautiful dance performances on stage, DJs doing disco sets in the dungeon, classic porn clips in the theater, erotic videos by local artists screening upstairs, a photobooth and roaming photos by GlitterGuts (all of which you can see here), and I even, in one gorgeous moment, walked by to see a person sawing out a section of the glory hole booths while fucking someone. (Several panels were removed for posterity, Steven keeping some and the person who removed them continuing to this day to install pieces of the Bijou in art shows and other spaces around the country.)

Glitter Guts final party photos
Forced Into Feminity and more from the final party by GlitterGuts

Many friends and strangers talked and fucked. Intergenerational conversations were happening throughout the night, as many people from all different points in the theater's history (and newcomers) showed up. I finally managed to have sex in the theater (in one of the booths, with my then-girlfriend). People were so appreciative of the space, each other, and the history, and being able to be free to do whatever they wanted there, engaging enthusiastically in the way I'd always hoped for. A few asked if they could keep the faded vintage porn film posters on the wall and we took these down and gave them out. One DJ (who'd been involved in putting on several previous events) played an entire new score to the Frank Ross classic Made in the Shade in the theater, which thoughtfully included a sample of the lead performer's final line: “I know I'll have many other homes, but never a place like this.”

Final scene from Made in the Shade
Final scene from Made in the Shade (1985)

This party ran until the next morning. As the remaining stragglers lingered, I found myself alone in the dungeon as Donna Summers' Last Dance came on the playlist, and I danced and cried.

Party remnants
Party remnants

The rest of that day is a blur. I may have napped in the office or not slept at all. A few of us, including Steven, David, Bijou's custodian Shrodney, and I, had to take down the screen and clear out any remaining equipment by the end of the night before the property was turned over to its new owners. We climbed ladders to disconnect lights from lighting rigs, cleared out the projection booth, and packed everything up. Shrodney and I made a final pass through the upstairs, which was a wreck from the party (we didn't have to clean up after it for once), and removed lightbulbs and signage and took photos of the graffiti on the remaining glory hole booths. We headed down the spiral staircase for the last time and shut the door to that room, placing a peacock feather we found, left over from one of the previous night's performers, on top of the door frame.

Screen removal, peacock feather, graffiti: final photos taken in the Bijou
Screen removal, peacock feather, graffiti: final photos taken in the Bijou

We all finished our work and headed out, locking the front door for the first time in 35 years. Steven had to install a lock for this, because the front door didn't even have a functioning one – the theater had been open every day all those years, even through fires and bomb threats, since it became a 24/7 establishment in 1980.

Weeks later, a large group of my friends, moved by their experiences there, held a beautiful memorial service for the Bijou Theater in their own space, which was deeply in the spirit of the venue. I've seen its spirit continue on in gatherings of friends, sexual spaces, and porn screenings since, and hope to continue to catch glimpses of it as the years pass.

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