David's Sexual Underground - 5/22/23

 

lesbian bar 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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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.

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