The Jeffery Pub, LGBTQ History Still Being Made

posted by Madame Bubby

I did some family history, and I found out my great-grandmother lived in the Englewood area on the South Side of Chicago in 1940. The place where she lived is now a vacant lot. It’s now a high-crime, low-income area that desperately needs reinvestment and TLC (not synonyms for gentrification).

I, her great-grandson, live way north of Englewood in an area that is now mostly white, gentrified, affluent, and gay. And I might add, stereotypically gay, exemplifying that the public, out and powerful presence of the LGBTQ community is still the gay white male.

But there’s a place called The Jeffery Pub, located at 7041 S. Jeffery Avenue, in the South Shore neighborhood, which after five decades is still thriving, not just surviving, and it’s in a predominantly African American neighborhood. In fact, it is now the oldest LGBTQ bar in Chicago.
 

The Jeffery Pub
The Jeffery Pub
Source: https://www.domu.com/chicago/neighborhoods/south-shore/history-in-south-shore

It was, and still is, based on this article and this article, the gender-diverse, welcoming “gayborhood” for that area, not dissimilar in its social mission to the local taverns of traditional blue collar neighborhoods in Chicago.

And just think: the place was founded before Stonewall, which also reminds one that the Stonewall revolution was sparked by marginalized persons, persons even marginalized by the gay world at that time: transgender persons, persons of color.
 

The Jeffery Pub interior
The Jeffery Pub interior
Photo credit: Max Herman, from Chicago Magazine article

And this place has always been owned by African Americans. I think that is truly significant, as well as the establishment’s resilience in the wake of so many social changes, for better or worse. It’s remained vital in proximity to areas that have experienced a long-term cycle of economic hardship.

It’s really disheartening, though, that if I were to ask typical persons around North Side gayborhood to check the place out, the reactions might range from a rolled eye to even a grimace. Physical segregation (and Chicago is definitely segregated racially) is the result of longstanding attitudes. So often, those who claim to be inclusive reject said inclusivity at the most basic level: physical space.

There’s lots of LGBTQ Chicago, lots of LGBTQ community, outside of the gentrified North Side of Chicago. Neighborhoods change and adapt, but it’s the people who make (or break) them.

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1920s LGBTQ Fantasy

posted by Madame Bubby

I was staring the other day while on the internet at images of 1920s living rooms and kitchens, because I realized how many places I’ve lived in (including my current dwelling) were built in that time period. For example, builders were churning out rows and rows of the traditional Chicago brick bungalow, and, as my grandmother (born in 1900, and she would know) had told me, this was really one of the first homes with consistently “modern” conveniences such as an indoor, private bathroom with a tub and shower, a kitchen with a sink and room for an icebox/refrigerator, and up-to-date electrical wiring and outlets for the period.
 

1920s bungalow kitchen
Source: Old House Journal

Thus, I posed this question on my personal Twitter: what if you woke up and it was 1920 or thereabouts (which, next year, will be 100 years ago!); where would you be, who would you be, what would you do?

Most of the responses were frankly, more glamorous and noble, than mine, such as, according to one classical music specialist being in Vienna and/or Paris and hanging around with such luminaries as “Webern, the Mahlers, Picasso, Woolf, Freud, and Jung.” Another person chose Paris, identifying himself with The Lost Generation, “buying tickets for Koussevitzky’s concerts, Prokofiev’s recitals, and Diaghelev’s ballets.” Another person claimed she would be involved in the women’s suffrage movement.

I concocted a 1920s LGBTQ fantasy. I wonder if I should just write it as a kind of 1920s “Tales of the City,” set in Chicago.
 

Dapper young 1920s guy

I imagined myself as a “dapper young” homosexual, working as a clerk in a library, maybe the Chicago Public Library or even the more esteemed Newberry Library. I would also be trying at the same time to go to school in some humanities-related field. I would be riding the streetcar downtown to work and school from the single room occupancy hotel for men where I would be living.
 

Newberry Library, 1920
Newberry Library, 1920

At the hotel, I meet another dapper guy who is studying philosophy, and we both plan to go to the infinitely more exciting New York and experience the much more sophisticated bohemian scene there (we are both too poor to go to Paris, alas). But a muscular stevedore with a big moustache moves down the hall and distracts me, especially after I accidentally on purpose get a glimpse of his massive uncut cock as he is leaving the shared toilet area in the hotel.
 

Newberry Library, 1920
Source: Collector's Weekly

By this point, one of my Twitter buddies (who is married, of course, grr) said he was getting turned on by this whole narrative, that he would be thinking about it all day, and that he wants to hang out with me, and that, when I mentioned the stevedore, he was thinking, “I want to binge this on Netflix.” (I now know I may have missed my calling.)

Continuing the literally steamy narrative, the dapper philosophy student goes to the Turkish bath. He lies to me that he “did something naughty there.” But I pretty much realize the story is a fabrication, because during that time period, one would be arrested and jailed for sodomy.

As a result, I break up with him (he goes back to live with his Irish parents on the South Side), and visit my eccentric grandma who lives in a two-story frame house in the Division/Milwaukee area, at that time a Polish area. She works full time at the famous Wieboldt’s department store in the area. She is my only family left, because both my parents had died in the 1918 influenza pandemic.
 

1920s Chicago Tribune article on Milwaukee Avenue retail district boom
Milwaukee Avenue retail district - Source: Chicago Patterns

Next door to Grandma, two German ladies live together in a “Boston marriage” (two single women, usually wealthy, living together, not necessarily lesbian, but … ). Scandalously, one of them was seen outside smoking.

While I am staying next door at my grandma’s house, enjoying her front porch on steamy summer nights, the spinster aunt of one of the lesbians next door (Aunt Heddy owns the house) is found stabbed to death with an ice pick. One of the ladies blames the African American ice man, who is convicted on circumstantial evidence (revealing the extreme bigotry of the period, right after the infamous 1919 Chicago Race Riots), but I suspect something else may be afoot.
 

1920s Women
Source: America in Class

All the while, the stevedore and I are enjoying casual kinky sex (Mr. Muscles of course is the dominant one, of course, but he does like me to give him a spanking once in a while with my belt), but his parents are setting him up to get married to an extremely boring childhood neighbor girl who works at Western Electric in Cicero.

The stevedore and I now decide to do some of our own investigating to find out who really killed Aunt Heddy. Was it her cigarette-smoking niece who was going to inherit the house she was living in with her friend?

That’s as far as I got. I think it’s got potential, both as a novel and/or as a screenplay, and also because of its rich allusions to the specific urban culture of the period.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll just write one of the steamy gay sex scenes and share it on the blog.

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Snapshots of Old Town Chicago in the 1970s

When the Bijou Theater opened its doors in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago 46 years ago, let's just say that area was pretty much the Haight-Asbury of Chicago. Think hippies. Head shops. Art house cinemas. Think, according to one nostalgic online poster, a place where one might (and it did happen) actually see a woman walking a goat down the street.

Now, some claim that by 1970s its glory hippie days were over, but the gay places, including the new Bijou Theater and a bar called Glory Hole (self-explanatory) were glorying (literally) in the newly liberated gay sexual revolution (think lines of guys waiting to get in). Old Town, always raw and raunchy and funky, was becoming the gayborhood.

This new gayborhood was still the home of what are now legendary Old Town places.

 

This article pretty much says it all:

Chances R (1528 N.; occupied today by O`Brien`s Restaurant). The old saloon and hamburger joint was said to have started the Wells Street revival when it opened back in the early `60s. Customers were encouraged to toss their peanut shells on the floor. The restaurant`s name reflected the uncertainty of the location. ``Chances are we could go broke,`` the owners reportedly said among themselves.

Ripley`s Believe It or Not Museum (1500 N.). Ripley, which opened in 1968, was part of a chain of international Ripley`s museums. The Chicago branch contained 13 galleries, including the circus room with its various freaks and mutations as well as replicas of Cleopatra`s barge, of a man who lived to be 160 years old and of a mummified monk. The museum closed in 1987 and auctioned off its exhibits.

London Royal Wax Museum (1419 N.). Another popular stop along Wells, the museum included lifelike figures of Chicagoans Ernie Banks, Hugh Hefner and Al Capone. The dungeon featured replicas of Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein while the fantasy room contained Pinocchio, Cinderella, Rip Van Winkle and Alice in Wonderland.


The Earl of Old Town (1615 N.). The fabled club that came to epitomize the Chicago folk scene and honed such home-grown talent as Steve Goodman, John Prine and Bonnie Koloc opened in 1962. Owner Earl Pionke didn`t introduce music, however, until 1966.

 

In 1951, free spirit Slim Brundage established the College of Complexes at 1651 N. Wells St. Inspired by the legendary Dill Pickle Club of the `20s, the College of Complexes was part coffeehouse, part lecture hall and part speakeasy.

During the `60s Pipers Alley (1608 N. Wells), which opened in 1965, was Chicago`s answer to London`s Carnaby Street. A giant Tiffany lamp hung outside the entrance to the maze of unusual retail shops that had names like the Bratskeller, Bustopher Jones boutique, the Peace Pipe, ``In`` Sanity, the Glass Unicorne, Jack B. Nimble Candle Shop, Volume I Book Shop and Flypped Disc Record Shop. Customers walked down a brick alley lined with antique lamps.

Now more a playground for clean-cut tourists and inhabitants of expensive dwellings around the area, Old Town succumbed to gentrification. Some might claim it came back after a decline in the eighties, but its material prosperity lacks that unique funky edge that made it what it is.

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