A Whirlwind of Fun Awaits in Chicago
Chicago offers all of the excitement of a bustling American city with unique neighborhoods, great art and culture and nightlife, a vibrant LGBT and leather community, and a big Midwestern heart.
The Windy City is historic and legendary in its own right. Chicago became a city in 1837. Historically, Chicago might be best known as the home of 1920s mob boss Al Capone; for being the founding city of social work with Hull House, established by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr to help the needy with food, education, employment; and being the starting point of Route 66 that heads west to California.
Today, Chicago, which sprawls 237 square miles into its surrounding suburbs, is known for being President Barack Obama’s hometown and is on the forefront of marriage equality as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former mayor Richard M. Daley support the move for same-sex marriage under way in the Illinois Legislature.
Beyond politics, Chicagoland, another one of its more than 20 nicknames, is known for its architecture, deep dish pizza and hot dogs, shopping on the Magnificent Mile, hanging out in Millennium Park, and its professional sports teams, including the Cubs, the White Sox, the Bears, the Bulls, and more.
Then there are Chicago’s 2.6 million residents who radiate that friendly Midwestern attitude and style.
Nearly 40 million people visit Chicago annually, taking in museums, theaters, and other cultural institutions. It was hard to believe for this San Franciscan, until I experienced it, but Chicago’s food scene is nipping closely at the heels of New York and San Francisco’s, with thousands of restaurants.
Chicago truly offers something for any visitor. It’s no wonder the Windy City was selected as this year’s host for the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association’s 30th convention.
"I know Chicago very well," said John Tanzella, executive director of IGLTA. "They have a wonderful gay village called Boystown with lots of great restaurants and cafes and things to do there. The city has tremendous architecture, shopping, dining, culture, and arts. There’s so much for folks to see and do there."
"There’s definitely something for everyone here," agreed Christina Wiesmore, co-founder and co-producer of BackLot Bash, the all-women party event that takes place during Chicago Pride. "That’s what makes it special."
Who’s your daddy?
Aside from its LGBT community, Chicago also has a large leather community. The International Mr. Leather competition and American Brotherhood Weekend both call the Windy City home.
"We have a really solid leather community," said Dean Ogren, a 55-year-old gay man who is the owner and executive producer of ABW.
The city’s leather community is unique in the fact that it has a leather bed and breakfast, the Ashland Arms Guest House, and the Leather Archives and Museum.
The leather neighborhood, Eddgewater, borders Andersonville, the lesbihood, in the northern part of Chicago. Ashland Arms Guest House resides on the top floor of an apartment building over 64 Ten Leather Shop, and leather bars Jackhammer and Touche. The leather archive is located about 12 blocks from the guesthouse.
In 2008, inspired by their own B&B experiences traveling around the world, Eric Kugelman, 48, and Michael Syrjanen, 66, who have been together for 16 years, decided to open the BDSM guest house. They also own the 64 Ten Leather Shop downstairs. Syrjanen, a designer, created an exhibition of original kink artwork throughout the guesthouse and designed the five themed rooms, such as the Bunk Room, that overlooks the district’s police station. The B&B also sports a shared shower, cuffs and swings, a kitchen, and snacks, among other amenities. Kugelman runs the day-to-day operations of the immaculate, chic and kinky B&B.
The guesthouse is already booked for IML, which takes place over Memorial Day weekend.
Dykes and transgender individuals looking for a play party during IML will enjoy going to Vespertine, an all-women and transgender-friendly play party, on May 26.
"There’s a lot more things going on for women now than there used to be," said Amy Bloom, a lesbian native Chicagoan who owns Amy Bloom Inc., an event planning company.
Bloom, 40, is very active in Chicago’s lesbian community co-organizing socials, such as the springtime Chicago Curve Annual Sunday Social (http://www.chicagocurve.com). The event, happening April 7, attracts more than 100 women for an afternoon of food, drinks and live music.
Chicago has one lesbian bar, Parlour, and three other bars that are popular among lesbians: Joie de Vine, T’s Bar and Restaurant, and Rosco’s, which hosts a ladies night on Thursdays.
This year’s BackLot Bash, the all-women’s weekend party, is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
"We always knew we had a busy, vibrant Chicago LGBT community," said Amie Klujian, 44-year-old Chicago native, who co-founded and co-produces BLB along with Wiesmore, 37.
A decade ago the two lesbian friends simply wanted to "create an event geared toward women," said Klujian.
"Honestly, we sometimes forget that we live in an open and accepting community in our city," said Klujian, about queer women who live outside of Chicago in parts of the Midwest that aren’t as accepting and open.
It’s true, my girlfriend and I were surprised that no matter where we went in Chicago no one gave us a second look if we were holding hands or sharing each other’s food. It felt pleasantly like we were back at home.
Boys, boys, boys
Gay men can be found in Boystown, where a concentration of the gay bars, gay-centric shops and the Center on Halsted, Chicago’s LGBT community center, is located.
Boystown is also the home of Steamworks Chicago, the men’s gym and sauna, which provides one of the few alcohol- and drug-free spaces for gay men to hang out. It’s operated by the same folks who run the bathhouse in Berkeley.
"It’s a great community space to hang out," said Nirmalpal Sachtev, general manager of Steamworks Chicago. Sachtev, 39, a San Francisco Bay Area transplant, said that the Windy City’s LGBT community is "blossoming."
Once the snow melts after the harsh winters, Chicagoans, including the LGBT community, come out to play.
"It’s such a beautiful city in the summer," said Michael Snell, who owns http://www.BestGayChicago.com with his business and life partner Derrick Sorles. "[It’s] such a lively city [with] so much going on [with] the nightlife and the events. On any given night there is always something going on."
The unofficial gay beach, Hollywood Beach, often attracts upward of 600 sunbathers and volleyball players, said Snell.
Lesbian locals pointed out that Chicago has the largest women’s softball league in the nation.