I recently unearthed the blog posts I wrote for my first tour through Chicago's gay bars, which I undertook back in the sepia-tinted days of 2004, when I was only 24 and spring was everlasting. The blog has since disappeared into the ether, but I had the crawl entries saved somewhere, presumably for posterity's sake. Rereading my work, I found the writing prudish and snarky, which I think we can agree is a pretty terrible combination.
On the subject of cruising in particular, I tended to do a lot of pearls-clutching and nose-look-downing in a tone that strikes me today as pretty damn insufferable. Inasmuch as prudery and snark are usually signs of immaturity--both of them betraying a lack of compassion that comes more easily to those who've experienced something of the world--maybe we can chalk up my snottiness to youth and hope that I've softened in the intervening years.
To be honest, I don't really know why I ever assigned myself the project in the first place. Or why I've repeated it every other year since. I'm not especially sociable, after all. But what the hell, let's do it one more time, right?
FRIDAY, JUNE 29
I set out on the first leg of my fifth and final gay bar crawl last Friday night. As in 2010, I will not be trying to visit every homo-friendly joint in the city--which was my goal in crawls #1-3. Instead, my focus is on old favorites and new arrivals.
Our story begins, as it always has, in Rogers Park.
1. Sidecar Bar. 6920 N. Glenwood Ave. 11.04pm.
Things did not get off to what I would call an auspicious start. The supposed specialty of this three-month-old establishment is classic cocktails, so I ordered a sidecar since, after all, it's the name of the place. The drink put in front of me was eye-crossingly sour yet somehow cloyingly sweet at the same time. To recreate the flavor for yourself at home, simply take a handful of Sour Patch Kids and a handful of Skittles, throw them both into your mouth, and chew.
2. Touché. 6412 N. Clark St. 11.50pm.
At leather-oriented Touché, some of the TVs were showing an episode of The Office, while the rest of them were showing a military-themed porno in which the performers kept using their government-issued flashlights and rifles in ways that I strongly doubt have been approved by the Army Field Manual.
While not everyone there was wearing leather, most of the clientele had tattoos and were dressed like Pearl Jam circa 1993. I had on a purple gingham button-up from J. Crew. On the way to the bathroom, I heard a guy ask his friend if he thought I was gay or just a slumming hipster. I wanted to be like, "How could I be a hipster? This shirt was recently dry-cleaned!"
3. Jackhammer. 6406 N. Clark St. 12.51pm.
At Jackhammer, though, the shirt came off. How's that for combating prudery? After a certain point in the evening, you have to strip to the waist in order to visit the downstairs bar--where salacious deeds allegedly take place--and I figured since it was the last crawl and all, I should go out with a bang (no pun intended).
I expected to see a lot more debauchery down there. The place was pretty much empty except for some stragglers. Everyone I talked to kept saying it was still early, even as the clock ticked past 2am. The only remotely scandalous thing I witnessed was a man in his boxer shorts making out with a woman--a woman!--whose bra he had unhooked. This isn't exactly what I had in mind.
Upstairs, representatives from TPAN were administering free HIV tests. As the guy was taking my oral swab, I said, "If this turns out positive, it's really going to put a damper on my evening."
"Do you engage in high-risk behaviors?" was his deadpan response, which I found terrifying.
[For the record, the result was negative.]