The Legacy of Forest View Lounge

posted by Madame Bubby

Last week I wrote a blog on The Jeffery Pub, the oldest LGBTQ bar in Chicago, notable not just for its longevity, but because it is owned and operated by African Americans in a neighborhood far removed from the trendy white gayborhoods to the North.

In the course of my research, I discovered another piece of Chicago LGBTQ history. This place was (alas, I have to use the past tense here) located not far from where I grew up and went to college, and, in fact, my brother currently resides not far from it.

The Forest View Lounge was a lesbian bar located in the near southwestern suburb of Forest View, a sliver of a village between Stickney, Lyons, and Berwyn. These suburbs were originally bastions of white European ethnic communities (primarily Czech) that worked blue-collar jobs.
 

Forest View Lounge exterior
Forest View Lounge
Source: https://chicago.gaycities.com/bars/1389-forest-view-lounge

Thus, I was really surprised when I found out about the place, which according to previous reviews on Yelp, was truly a gem of community spirit, not just a bar that apparently served awesome comfort food (especially a legendary volcano burger, stuffed with cheese and very spicy) but a friendly, welcoming place in an area not known in the past for welcoming minorities of any kind.

The bar's owners, Donalou Hendon and Marge Bellisario, were products of that area, making the best of its resources and community. Donalou was also born in Berwyn and grew up in a far Western suburb, while Marge spend most of her life in Berwyn, attending the local community college, Morton College. Donalou also went to Morton College to take courses to obtain her restaurant and sanitation license.
 

Marge Bellisario
Marge Bellisario
Source: http://voyagechicago.com/interview/meet-marge-bellisario-forest-view-lounge-fondly-known-view-forest-view-suburb-chicago/

Interestingly, Forest View Lounge survived a massive flood in the area in 2013. Marge was amazed the place was pretty much untouched, a veritable island in a temporary sea, which in some ways is a metaphor of for LGBTQ-safe spaces.

Now the bar is closed. Donalou died in 2015, and Marge, after a long battle, died of ovarian cancer in January of 2019.

According to Marge's obituary, "Thank you, Marge for accepting and welcoming me every time I came to your bar, even when I felt that I was not welcomed from others," said patron and acquaintance Kim Overby. "You and Donna always did your best to make customers feel like family or good friends. I will miss your laugh and the warmth of your acceptance. Be at peace now and hold your love once again. You are missed by many and we will all hold you and Donna in our hearts and memories."

I find it admirable that both women apparently didn't feel the need to “escape,” like I did. They weren't after corporate or academic glory in the “big city”; they were able to live authentically in their own backyard as life-partners, business partners, and friends to all humans and animals.

Rate this blog entry:
884 Hits
0 Comments

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.

Rate this blog entry:
1157 Hits
0 Comments

Contact Us | 800-932-7111 | Join our email list

Go to top