This is it, folks. The last round of dispatches from my fifth and final tour through Chicago's gay bars. There won't be any more after this. I'm shutting the sucker down. You don't have to go home but you can't stay here.
SATURDAY, JULY 14
Because I had to travel far afield to see a show on Saturday night, and because the gods of public transit refuse to heed my prayers of supplication for swifter service, I didn't arrive at the first bar on the agenda until midnight (which I realize is technically Sunday, but why don't you stop being such a stickler about everything). Inasmuch as I had five places to visit that evening, the late start gave me cause for some concern. It looked to me as though the grand finale was going to be less of a crawl than a dash.
As it happened, my plans were wrecked for reasons completely unrelated to timing.
14. The Lucky Horseshoe Lounge. 3169 N. Halsted St. 11.57pm.
It always feels like there are more dancers than customers here. Young men in skimpy briefs can be found halfheartedly gyrating on the elevated platforms in each of the club's four rooms, while another contingent of young men in skimpy briefs works the crowd, waiting to be tagged in for their turn onstage. I imagine that having to compete for tips with so many others can't be easy, especially in a marketplace where supply outpaces demand, but that's capitalism for you.
I do appreciate the diversity of the goods. Whereas the go-go boys at many places are interchangeable Ken dolls, the Lucky Horseshoe employs a wide range of men, including thuggish Latinos, ultra-queeny black kids, twinks who look like they just finished working shifts at Taco Bell, and 40-year-olds starting to go soft in the middle. I like the democracy of it.
15. Wang's. 3317 N. Broadway St. 12.33am.
Earlier this year, Wang's came under investigation by the Illinois Department of Human Rights due to reports that the bar banned women after 11pm. Management denied that any such policy was in place, despite the fact that I totally saw with my own two eyes the sign reading "MEN ONLY AFTER 11PM" that used to hang by the door. I only bring it up because whatever became of that investigation? Everything cleared up in a nice, lady-friendly way?
I was there with my friend Christopher, who admired the owners for committing to a theme: Shanghai Hole-in-the-Wall. It's got the whole thing--floral wallpaper, paper lanterns, red lights, piped-in fog evocative of an opium den. All that's missing are, you know, Asians.
My boyfriend Kito met up with us here. He had been at a wedding and was three or possibly 11 sheets to the wind. Unfortunately, we had missed the happy-go-lucky stage of his drunkenness and received the full brunt of the horny-and-combative phase (it's the last one before sleep). When the bouncer at Scarlet wouldn't let him in because he was disheveled, noisy, and still clutching a champagne flute filched from Wang's, I realized I was going to have to take him home.
I couldn't believe Kito of all people was ruining the finale of the Great Gay-Bar Bar Crawl. But, as Christopher reminded me, "Isn't this how they always end? In drunken belligerence?"
I guess that's a good point, but I prefer it when I'm the drunken belligerent one.
SUNDAY, JULY 15
And so, this is the way the crawl ends: not with a bang but a whimper.
16. Sidetrack. 3349 N. Halsted St. 7.44pm.
Sidetrack wasn't on the original itinerary because I wasn't going to be there at one of the times when the veejay is playing show tunes. Unless the place is filled with gay-men's-chorus types shouting the lyrics to "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," I'm not interested. Sunday night at a quarter to eight does happen to be one of those times, however, so I got myself an over-sweetened purple slushy drink and settled onto a stool overlooking the mosh pit in the front bar.
When I first discovered show-tune night, I was delighted by all the crowd-sourced alternate lyrics ("You're doing fine, you're a homo / You're a homo--you're gay!" during the title song of Oklahoma! for example) and the quips people shouted out en masse ("Dive, Shelley, dive!" and "Eat, Shelley, eat!" during "The Morning After" from The Poseidon Adventure). But after 10 years or so, these things annoy me the most. It's not just that they're the same tired gags week in, week out. It's the red-faced vehemence with which some longtime regulars scream these lines at the screen. I mean, they're telling jokes, but their faces look like those of the townspeople shouting "CRUCIFY HIM!" during a Passion play. In the words of Cole Porter, "Settle the fuck down."
17. Scarlet. 3320 N. Halsted St. 8.43pm.
I'm no expert on these things, but I gather that Scarlet is the Boystown bar most popular with the cool kids these days. There's a cramped dance floor and a DJ playing pop-tinged electronic music for a very young clientele who drink PBR and wear baffling outfits. As I understand it, these are the components of cool, circa 2012.
Scarlet is perhaps best known for its Frat Night on Thursdays, when everybody drinks 40s and plays beer pong. I think your enjoyment of these pursuits is supposed to be draped in irony, provided irony is still hip. Honestly, I don't know how you cool people keep all of these things straight. I'd be exhausted.
18. Roscoe's. 3356 N. Halsted St. 9.02pm.
Roscoe's was the first gay bar I ever stepped foot inside of, so of course the crawl had to end here. I had an idea of dropping the curtain on a tableau of me on the dance floor, surrounded by a sea of humanity--our joyous bopping seeming to suggest, if only for this one everlasting moment, a pause in the relentless march of time.
But the dance floor was deserted on Sunday night, so I stayed in the front bar and watched pop videos.
And I drank something that tasted like a cherry Slurpee.
And a now-sober Kito was beside me.
And I thought, This is okay too.