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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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A Glimpse Into Early Gay Leather Contests

A Glimpse Into Early Gay Leather Contests

 

Mr. Gold coast contest winners

It started in Chicago, as long ago as 1972 (only a few years after the Stonewall revolutionary event), on a pool table at the Gold Coast Bar. The first leather contest. The winner was John Lunning.

Chuck Renslow, now a legendary figure, was the driving force in the development of the whole gay leather culture. After this event, he soon discovered that one way to put a public face on what was going in the backrooms and other shadowy places was by founding what some claim was (and still is) a “leather beauty contest.” Think: kind of a Mr. America take-off but add bdsm-related gear and activities; anything to grab the audience's attention (and cocks). In fact, one anecdotal source claims that at the first contest “slaves” were dragged onto the stage.

Soon the contest became so popular that it outgrew the bar, and in 1979 the first official International Mr. Leather contest occurred at a local hotel.

A dozen candidates in full leather and swimwear (changed to jockstraps in later years), paraded before an audience of about 300 men.

David Kloss, an oil rig worker (now that's once macho occupation!) representing The Brig bar in San Francisco, won the first title.

According to Jack Fritscher in the September 1979 issue of Drummer Magazine:

“The other men, daring to put their pecs and ass on the world’s toughest Chorus Line, were: Terry Hunter, Carol’s Speakeasy, Chicago; Reg Simpson, RR, Miami; Donald Rahn, Foxhole, Denver; Stan Masterson, Landmark, Daytona Beach, FL; Daan [sic] Jefferson, Gold Coast, Chicago; Jim Kazlik, Wreckroom, Milwaukee; Harry Shattuck, South Town Lumber Co., Denver; Bill Maggio, Harder Than Hell Productions, Chicago; Jesse Capello [second IML Runner-up], Café LaFitte in Exile/Coral Bar, New Orleans; Durk Dehner [first IML Runner-up who was a Drummer model from Lou Thomas’ Target Studio, and future founder of Tom of Finland Foundation], American Uniform Association, L. A.; Bruce Wachholder, Touche, Chicago; David Kloss, the Brig, San Francisco. The judges were Chuck Gockenmeyer, General Manager of Leatherman Inc, New York; Robert Dunn, Advertising Director, Drummer magazine; Dom Orejudos (Etienne); Tom Gora, In Touch magazine; and Lou Thomas, Target Studio, New York.”

The list above seems a roll call of both men and organizations who have now become iconic in the leather community.

The contestants, Jack Fritscher wrote in the September 1979 Drummer Magazine, typified “the new homomasculinity.”vintage Gold Coast ad


The seventies were indeed the era of “gay macho,” popularized (and perhaps even satirized in the Village People phenomenon). But rather than just thinking of it as an era of “guys gone wild,” one also needs to understand that also during this time guys into leather/bdsm were establishing their own communities. The seventies saw the foundation of the Chicago Hellfire Club (its first Inferno event took place in September 1976 to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Club). Other organizations that began in this period was M.A.F.I.A. (a club for guys into fisting) and Rodeo Riders, a social group for guys who enjoy sex, gear, and each other in a variety of social settings. These three clubs are still going strong now!

Chicago, with is unique mix of Midwestern communal values and gritty individualism, apparently was the ideal place for this movement to take shape.

Thanks to jackfritscher.com and the Leather Archives & Museum for much of the material in this blog.

If you're in or traveling to Chicago for this year's IML, don't miss Men's Room at the Bijou, presented by the Leather Archives, on Saturday May 23!

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Streaking Anyone? Robert Opel at the Academy Awards

 

I remember when I was growing up in the seventies talk of streaking; and given the penchant of pubescent boys of lying about physical (and sexual) exploits, several of my classmates claimed to have streaked. I'm pretty sure their only streaking may have been running wet and dripping from the shower to their bedrooms. 

But given my sheltered upbringing, I knew nothing of the legendary Robert Opel Academy Awards streaking incident, not that the Academy Awards was forbidden television viewing in a household which banned Maude because the character had an abortion. 

(Little did the Catholic household I grew up in know that streaking occurs in the Bible See Mark 14:50-52 for the famous naked youth in the Garden of Gethsemane; also go here for more information. Of course, the blog urges one to run from temptation. I would rather run toward it.) 

According to Leigh Rutledge in The Gay Decades

“April 2, 1974 Having inexplicably fascinated the nation for roughly six months, the fad of “streaking” reaches its apogee with gay photographer and former advertising executive Robert Opel, thirty-eight, plunges naked across the stage during a live broadcast of the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. Opel's “streak,” almost certainly the most witnessed stunt of its kind, occurs during the most popular part of the telecast, the announcement of the award for Best Picture, thus guaranteeing him an estimated audience of more than one billion television viewers worldwide.” 

 

Robert Opel streaking


Yes, this really happened; here's a link to the true story

But there's more, and it's even more shocking. 

Robert Opel was murdered by an intruder at his art gallery who demanded drugs and money in 1979. Opel was famous for publicizing the works of gay artists Robert Mapplethorpe and Tom of Finland. 

Opel was a well-known leatherman as well. 

 

Portrait of Robert Opel by Jack Fritscher, 1979


His nephew -- Robert Oppel -- created a documentary aiming to find out exactly what happened. 

The film, Uncle Bob (now on DVD), is an innovative fantasia filled with vintage clips, interviews, and segments with the young Oppel playing at being his uncle while re-creating his filmmaking, his TV appearances, and even his bloody death. 

Streaking, leather, nude young men in the Bible, the Oscars: what a gay combination! 

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A Fun Visit to the Leather Archives & Museum

 

A couple of months ago, I took one of my dearest friends to the Leather Archives & Museum. She is unabashedly heterosexual (and not kinky, I'm pretty sure). She initiated the visit. And it wasn't because of puerile curiosity (my friend is much, much more sophisticated than that). She read about the museum in a mainstream website Chicagoist. She wanted to go with an expert (c'est moi). It also helped (I emphasized this fact in our conversations) that I know the wonderful couple who run the place. 

 

Leather Archives & Museum exterior

Housed in what used to a synagogue in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, and for a nonprofit, in an enviable position (they own their own building and their board is incredibly generous), the museum showcases the history and imagery of two previously taboo subcultures that are now in the vanguard of discovering and also interpreting what used to be their secret, hidden history: LGBT leather and BDSM (both gay and straight). 


The museum regularly exhibits recent work featuring BDSM/fetish-related themes by current artists, but its claim to fame, at least I think, is its stunning collection of original homoerotic art by the legendary artist Etienne, including the murals which once graced the walls of the Gold Coast leather bar. My friend, with her art history background, immediately saw these works as art, and worthy of deep analysis. 
 

Two Etienne murals on display in the museum

 


One can also learn about the history of and view artifacts from leather motorcycle, commonly known as “patch” clubs, some of which involved into the gay sex/BDSM clubs of today, and also study the diverse contributions of women and transgender persons to this subculture. There's even a room with dungeon equipment (I must admit, my friend was somewhat shocked at the violet wands on display and some of the more fierce-looking whips). 
Leather Archives & Museum dungeon display


What both of us found really enjoyable was the comfortable room where one can watch documentaries on gay and sexual history. I didn't get the title of what we were watching, as we got there in the middle of it, but the documentary seems to be about the sexual revolution of the 1960s and its influence on the stellar growth of the straight and gay porn industries in the 1970s. The documentary showed scenes from and analyzed that controversial film Censorship in Denmark, by Alex de Renzy. It was an explicit documentary that mixed footage of Copenhagen tourist attractions with on-the-street interviews and hardcore scenes from the city's live sex clubs and movies, one of the first of its type to be shown at an art house and reviewed in the mainstream press. 

So much of the way we live, especially our personal relationship dynamics (both healthy and unhealthy, I might add), depends on what happened in the 1960s and the 1970s. But this time of liberation sprung from a rich, hidden history of courageous people living in the shadows but also fighting for basic personal freedoms; the Leather Archives & Museum is now bringing this history to light. 

We didn't get a chance to visit the library, a formidable archive that includes vintage leather/BDSM magazines like Drummer and interviews with notable figures in the various kink cultures, but there's time for that. 

As Lisa White in the Chicagoist article says, “This isn’t the place to take Grandma when she comes up to visit (unless you have the most badass liberal Grandma around). But it is a wonderful look into two vibrant communities and a great resource. “ 

After we concluded our visit, my liberal badass friend and I topped off our visit with lunch in the Mariano's cafe, where I said the word “sex” quite loudly there (gasp!), shocking a tweenish boy who was emptying his tray into the garbage. Hey, after that visit, of course, the topic was on our minds. 

Check out the Leather Archives & Museum website for more information, and of course check out bijouworld's extensive fetish/BDSM product line of DVDs, books, magazines, and sexcessories. 

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