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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Pot Luck or Unluck?

Dumpy office potluck

In 1592 Scotland, not exactly the jolly tearoom in a time of turmoil, someone used that word potluck to refer to a meal served to a guest the host did not specifically prepare for. In other words, I didn't expect you, so it's luck of the draw what I've got in the pot. And given economic conditions in Scotland at that time, you would be lucky if you got a bit of boiled oatmeal.

Fast forward centuries later, and the word now refers to an event where everyone brings a different (one hopes!) dish. Thus, supposedly, one can enjoy a choice, but at the same time, unless the host or hostess decides to notify in advance who is bringing what (often the etiquette these days), it's the luck of the draw what is in all those pots (really, tupperware, chafing dishes, foil trays et al). Or, in the case of some office potlucks, what's in the 2-liter bottle of soda and bag of chips someone (usually a male) picked up at the downstairs convenience store at the last minute.

I was reading on an admittedly snarky LGBTQ board about an event called the lesbian potluck, and apparently such an event was and is so popular it has become a stereotype. Apparently gay men, in contrast to lesbians, tend to eat out or cook at home specific menus, or if their culinary skills are less than stellar, hire a caterer. Perhaps this set up allows more time for extra-food events such as sex upstairs (or in the slings in the basement) between most of the guests. Or more time to finesse with the crudites and the specific décor.
 

Fancy crudites

Lesbians, however, for a variety of social and cultural reasons, prefer to view these meals as community bonding rituals (I've heard winter or summer solstice ones are popular). They will eat in, but the food comes from other lesbians, lovers, and sometimes, to add drama to those events, an ex-lover or two. I must admit I've never been to one, but I've heard stories, alas. Let's just say perhaps reverting to Prohibition might be a good idea at some of these events.

Yet potlucks were often, in the days of the closet, a way for both gay men and lesbians to meet each other in a private setting free from the threat of the police. I remember visiting Kentucky as late as the early nineties, and the main events for LGBTQ persons were potlucks. They took those Southern Bible Belt church potlucks, it seems, and made them their own way of forming community. (I do hope perhaps that they offered more than baked beans and casseroles with a cream of mushroom base!)

And in the case of lesbians, the potluck often became a way for lesbians and/or early feminists to say, we are cooking for each other, not for men aka husbands and children, and not just in a kitchen in a house owned or supported by a man. And at the same time, these early lesbian potlucks were able to embrace environmentally friendly and nutritious diets, especially, macrobiotic, vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan options. Oy veh. Lentil salad, anyone? More lentil salad, anyone?
 

Lesbian potluck

To be honest, my potluck experiences have been less enjoyable than most. I remember the dictatorial hostess of one I attended criticizing my pumpkin tart (she claimed it was undercooked). Another friend went to the same event and brought a plain lettuce and cherry tomato salad, which the hostess insulted as well (that friend admitted she did not have time to do much and frankly did not want to). Still, the hostess committed a major etiquette faux-pas. (She, a straight woman, much later married a gay man. No comment.)

And then, at the Bijou office a few holiday seasons ago, there was the year of the cookie exchange that accompanied a potluck. I made a vegetable lasagna that year as well that but I should have used regular cheese (the fat free cheese does not melt), and I cut down on the spices. It was bland, but one person just sprinkled a bunch of oregano and garlic powder on it. (At least he did not insult it!)

But I digress. That infernal cookie exchange. So many rules. Let's just say participants had to bake not just say, one batch of cookies as for a potluck, but several batches because one would ultimately exchange your batch with the respective batches of the others. Thus, you would come home with several different types of cookies. But only after you baked Lord knows how many batches of your cookie. In a panic, I called my mother and a friend. They said do drop cookies. I tried a drop cookie cake mix recipe. I burnt two batches. Never again.
 

Burnt cookies

Maybe pot lucks are like life in general. Maybe one should be lucky one can fill a pot, or even own a set of pots, and not just one to piss in (and no, the watersports party is not an event with food).

So, here's to a holiday season and a coming year full of pots, luck, food, sex, and love. Not necessarily in that order.

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