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Leather Bars of the Past in Chicago

 


I thought I would do an IML-related piece, the whole leather contest circuit actually began in a leather bar, the famous/infamous Gold Coast founded by the legendary Chuck Renslow. I know one person who remembers this bar; he is in his eighties (hard to believe). Much has been written on this place of LGBT history already; I’ll just add that it seems to be the granddaddy of places where like-minded men could meet others who shared their sexuality. Much of what is perhaps now the traditional dynamic of gay leather bars originated there: the leather biker look, the rough sex and BDSM, the l hypermasculinity revealed in the famous artwork of Etienne aka Dom Orejudos now displayed in the Leather Archives and Museum
 

Gold Coast flier


The Gold Coast closed in 1988 (alas, I never went there) at the 5025 North Clark location, having moved from its original location at 501 North Clark Street. Renslow later opened the Chicago Eagle in the 1990s; I remember the entrance being the inside of a truck, and the basement Pit. I actually consider this place my “coming out” bar as a leatherman. I was flogged in public down there, my first big BDSM scene. The Eagle closed in the early 2000s; the last time I went there was 2007; by that time the totally hot Pit had closed. 
 

Chicago Eagle logo


I also remember another spot, now closed, called Leatherneck. It was located literally in downtown Chicago, the Loop. The upstairs was outfitted as a dungeon, where Windy City Bondage Club held amazing parties. The operator of this building was the infamous (emphasize the “in” in that word) John Birch aka of the now defunct Metropolitan Slave magazine. I could devote a whole other blog to this individual (it might read as a particularly outrageous National Enquirer article), but strangely enough, there’s almost no online trace of him, other than a link to some papers by one Beau Lee James, winner with John Birch of the International Master and Slave contest held by Pantheon of Leather in Houston, Texas, 1994. 

Leatherneck with its distinctive mezzanine opened in 1997; I don’t remember when it closed, but I do remember it being for many people I know more of a hangout place rather than a more serious down-and-dirty place like the Eagle or Touche. 

Now, I’ll end with one more place, the AA Meat Market. It was located next to the famous original Touche (I went there for the first time in the early 1990s; a week later it burned down). In my younger sluttish days, I remember being dragged into the bathroom at the Meat Market to perform fellatio and lick boots. I remember this place always hopping; it closed in 1993, I think, because of the gentrification of that neighborhood by Lincoln and Diversey, though I did hear there was some raid that year for “public indecency.” 
 

AA Meat Market ad


Our beloved David Boyer is keeping the leather bar legacy alive at Touche. I hope that these places don’t become memories, but continue to adapt to a world that communicates via phone apps. I know I would rather lick a boot or kiss a hot guy in full gear than stare at a phone app. 

Hope you had a  blast at IML 2016! 

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So Long, Farewell ...

The Bijou Theater, the oldest consecutively running gay porn movie theater and sex club in the United States, officially closes its doors on September 30, 2015, at 9 a.m.

 

Bijou has become an icon representing that time in gay history, the 1970s, where gay men, long hidden in the shadows, emerged as both liberators and the  liberated. The nonstop mansex party had begun.

The AIDS crisis of the 1980s threatened to turn the lights out for a community still struggling with its identity, but it regrouped and continued its fight for justice,  focusing now on political and social equality and confronting directly the new Religious Rights and its allies, culminating in the historical SCOTUS ruling that  legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States.

Even though the lights will literally go out and the music turn off at the Bijou Theater next week after 45 years, remember that the sexual freedom Bijou represents ultimately transcends a physical location.

The next time you find the right guy with whom to enjoy the hottest mansex, think of the Bijou and what Dorothy said at the end of The Wizard of Oz, “But it wasn't a dream. It was a place. And you and you and you - and you were there. But you couldn't have been, could you?...No, Aunt Em, this was a real, truly live place. And I remember that some of it wasn't very nice, but most of it was beautiful.”

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What Exactly Is A "Dive" Bar?

What Exactly Is A "Dive" Bar?

 

I've seen them on television and the movies, and I've even been in them (well, when you're from Cicero, Illinois, you've got to do something), but what exactly is a dive bar? Or more specifically, a gay dive bar?

The ones I have seen on television and the movies sometimes seem like parodies of these places which in some cases are identical with what used to be called neighborhood taverns. You know, the place where working class guys like Archie Bunker and Ralph Cramden would hang out at; remember Kelsey's on All in the Family?
 

All in the Family

Or the one in Valley of the Dolls that Neely O'Hara (on a booze and pills binge in San Francisco) gets kicked out of; this scene (starting at 1:17:16) pretty much parodies the “dive;” tacky or nonexistent décor, which sometimes involves dark wood paneling; aggressive, bawling customers who begin with beer and end up doing shots; lots of smoking; and a jukebox, all as a backdrop for the inevitable fight.

In some neighborhoods of Chicago, in the early part of the last century, there were often three of these places on every block to accommodate thirsty workers from various manufacturing jobs who wanted in to delay going home to overcrowded two- and three-flats filled with screaming children and nagging wives. They weren't necessarily dives, but they weren't doing a high-class clientele, but the local “average Joe.”

Now gay bars, of course, for the greater part of the last century, had to take often extraordinary measures to just survive. The couldn't exactly be open watering holes for Mr. and Mrs. Bunker. (Well, other open holes existed there, but that's another blog.) And to survive often meant being a dive (or pay off the police or the Mafia), because that's all you could afford being, plus looking “rough,” though it could attract a less “classy” clientele, often kept away bigots.Leather Bar, 1978


Early leather bars like the Gold Coast certainly were dives physically, but in cases like that, the “dive” look was a deliberate part of their appeal: rough sex, rugged guys, bikers. The old Touche bar in Chicago on Lincoln Avenue perhaps was more strictly kink and leather (think piss trough), but the beers stacked up by the entrance and the generally seedy surroundings (I remember the floor was dirty, and it was caked in; no comment on how I would know such detail) certainly proclaimed “dive.”


Wells Street, Chicago, 1970s

The Glory Hole on Wells Street when that street was the gayborhood was perhaps more of the pure “dive:” not only the totally rough, thrown-together look, but the backroom (and bathroom) for quickies and more. Perhaps some of the bars that used to bill themselves as “leather and levi” rather than strictly leather (with a dress code) could be defined as more strictly dive, like the now-closed Rawhide in Chelsea, or still thriving, the Second Story Bar right off the Magnificent Mile (yes, it is still there!) and the Granville Anvil on the Far North Side of Chicago, somewhat distant from the trendy, touristy Boystown.

In fact, the Granville Anvil bills itself as a dive bar. From what I gather, based on their Yelp reviews and Facebook page, they've “spruced up” the décor. Did the owners take out the paneling and the plastic flowers covered with dust hanging in baskets from the ceiling, I wonder? I know, because I was there in the nineties, and yes, there was a jukebox playing Cher's song “Half-Breed,” and also, there was a fight in the bathroom. I was indirectly involved. The friend I went with was in the fight. I found out he was pissed because some guy would not leave me alone (those were the days), and then started bugging my friend as well. That night, I also won some lottery tickets as a prize for getting Bingo. I didn't win the lottery.
 

The Granville Anvil

I wonder, in these days when other “divey” places like 24-hour grills and diners have disappeared and were replaced by big box stores and chain restaurants, if the authentic dive bar can survive. Neighborhood taverns evolved into sports bars, and hipsters have set up “divey” places as part their deconstruction of retro; but what will happen to the gay dive bar? I have a feeling it's been replaced by the seedy underbelly of craigslist, minus, so sadly, the both fun and dangerous social interaction in a place where ultimately, a gay man could both hide from and enjoy himself. And share that identity struggle with others over a shot of whiskey while listening to Judy Garland singing “The Man That Got Away” on jukebox that still played vinyl.

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Where Is the Gay Ghetto Today?

 

I was looking through a 1982 book (yes, that's a while ago) by Dennis Altman called The Homosexualization of America, which discusses the birth and development of a specific “gay culture,” tying it into developments in the 1960s and 1970s such as the women's movement and the marketing of sex in popular culture.

This description of a typical gay neighborhood from that period really got me thinking, especially from a twenty-first century perspective: 

“Such areas are marked by a certain sameness: they seem at first to be populated almost entirely by men under the age of forty-five, dressed in a uniform and carefully calculated style and dedicated to a hedonistic and high-consumption lifestyle. The main streets of what are often termed the ghettos—Christopher Street and Columbus Avenue in New York, North Wells in Chicago, Castro and Polk in San Francisco, Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles—are lined with shops selling high-camp postcards, coffee pots, pillowcases, T-shirts, and even food (in the ice cream parlors and “Erotic Bakeries”), with dim noisy, and smoke-filled bars, and with the new-style gay restaurants, full of potted palms, with large front windows and health-food menus.” 

 

1970s Chicago


Now, specifically from a Chicago context, North Wells is no longer a gay area (and hasn't been for some time), and Boystown on Halsted Street, though it does conform to some of the description above, seems to be watering down its wild gay nightlife image. Both areas have been solidly gentrified (think strollers, tourists, and sports bars) for some time now. In fact, many gays, having been priced out of these areas, have moved north to less expensive areas like Rogers Park, or, in the wake of increased social approval, moved to the suburbs where many of the jobs have gone and to raise their own families. 
 

Halsted Street, Chicago

 


 

 

 

But what gets me thinking even more deeply (after laughing at the visual in the quote above of “potted palms”) is the queston of whether physical geography really does matter anymore when we are thinking of a gay neighborhood or even a gay culture.

 

After all, it's obvious that connections via the Internet and social media can easily transcend physical limitations and socioeconomic boundaries. A gay guy living on a farm in a “red state” area might of course want to visit a gay-friendly urban area in a “blue state,” but if he's got Internet connectivity, he wouldn't feel as isolated. And urban gays are at at point now, where instead of hanging out at bars or cruising bathrooms, they can hook up instantaneously via Grindr. The “hedonism” Altman observed can end up becoming “virtual” rather than real! 

It's ironic though, as members of the LGBT community are trying to jump through (and quite successfully) one of the last social hurdles in their journey toward full acceptance as equal citizens, same-sex marriage, that face-to-face interaction seems to be an option, not a necessity. As what were once gay ghettos disappear, I do wonder if the very real and nitty-gritty sense of community which gave birth to Stonewall and banded together to confront the decimation of the AIDS crisis will disappear as well. 

 

1970s Chicago
 
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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.

 

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