My focus on the second weekend of this fifth and final tour through Chicago's gay bars was the area south of Boystown, which encompasses the majority of the city. This stretch is relatively barren of gay bars, however. And you thought food deserts were a problem.
Initially, I planned to visit one bar in Lincoln Park, two downtown, and La Cueva, a nightclub out at 26th and Pulaski that's reportedly popular with Latino transfolk. I nixed La Cueva at the last minute, though, because it looked like getting out there in the middle of the night via public transportation was going to be a headache. Plus, Kito kept assuring me I was going to get shot.
So that leaves just three bars spread out over two nights. I believe that's what the Italians call molto lame-o. I'll try to make up for it next week, when it's time to tackle Boystown.
FRIDAY, JULY 6
7. Downtown. 440 N. State St. 10.55pm.
Downtown occupies the space once belonging to Gentry on State, a piano bar whose decorative motif was strictly Airport-Lounge Provincial. The new tenant looks a lot better than its predecessor. It has a blue-and-gray color palette and hardwood floors instead of the old mauve carpeting. The drinks on the menu all looked like they were going to taste Jolly Rancher-esque, so I went with a Stella draft.
The thing I found most remarkable about the place was the row of seven or so fortysomething men seated along the length of one side of the bar in the front room. All of them were drinking by themselves and all of them were wearing nearly identical black t-shirts. I thought, "This is the dullest flash mob ever."
8. Manhandler Saloon. 1948 N. Halsted St. 12.18pm.
I've got to hand it to the men of the Manhandler. Last Friday it was so hot in Chicago you'd think God was trying to bring Lake Michigan to a boil, yet the bar's outdoor cruising area in the back was just as busy as ever. To me, that shows an impressive level of dedication to the art of manhandling. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night and so on.
Most of the back patio is taken up by a covered wooden enclosure that I've dubbed the "blowjob gazebo" for what goes on inside. I had two encounters there, but neither was sexual. One guy asked me if I was wearing "Lands' End shoes," and when I said I was not, he said, "Good, I was about to chastise you."
Another man--doughy with graying hair and sad eyes--told me that he saw something of himself in me, which under these circumstances could've been taken a number of ways ("I see something of myself in you--or if not, I'd like to put something of myself in you"). In talking to him a little more, I gathered that he had mistaken my discomfort for innocence and consequently I reminded him of his unsullied, pre-blowjob-gazebo days. "Let me give you a piece of advice," he said. "Leave this place and never come back."
You heard the man. Let's get out of here.
SATURDAY, JULY 7
9. Second Story Bar. 157 E. Ohio St. 10.28pm.
Owing to its location off Michigan Avenue (the Gap is within spitting distance), this tiny, red-walled bar draws an eclectic mix of regulars, out-of-towners, and randos. On Saturday, the crowd was made up of tourists, old guys in untucked dress shirts, southern-accented businessmen, a mother-son duo, Chicago Reader theater critic Justin Hayford, three flight attendants from the UK, a man wearing a cardigan with no shirt, an extraordinarily attractive young Latino, and a smattering of drunk straight girls.
The bartender was kind of a twat, but he had excellent, wide-ranging taste in music videos, which ran the gamut from Latin pop to old-school R&B.
My review of Rasaka Theatre Company's Gruesome Playground Injuries is in this week's Time Out Chicago.