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Gay History: Chicago Whispers
Memories of gay bars' openings
by Sukie de la Croix
2003-05-14

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The opening of a gay bar is always a grand occasion and to bring back memories for you, here are a few from my files. Let me know if you've attended the opening of a gay bar: your memories bring back memories for others.

On Oct. 13, 1978, the Mother of all drag queens, Mother Carol (Richard Farnham), opened Carol's Speakeasy at 1355 N. Wells St. Ira Jones in his Gay Life column wrote: 'A new rumor floating about that Mother Carol Farnham is buying into the now closed Den One in Old Town. I wonder if Carol's sponsor this time is Flo's 'sister'?'

Sadly, Mother Carol died almost a year later. The bar, however, stayed open until 1992.

The Mineshaft opened at 8437 Ogden Ave. (Lyons) July 10, 1982. It was a men's dance bar and the owner was Dennis Kovac. If anyone has any info about this bar please contact me.

Although owned by women, Lucy and Rose, Mama Lion's at 3600 N. Pulaski was also popular with men; there were occasional drag shows. It opened in January 1976, and in Chicago GayLife, columnist Christopher wrote: 'My very good friend Lucy is one of the owners, joining Rose in operating Mama Lion's. They have three female and two male bartenders. Lucy assured me that everyone is welcome. Her bowling league was there (all of them) last Sunday, and they all had a ball. They'll be doing fun things, like a bowling tourney (where else ... on their pool table). And they'll give a trophy to the high score winners. Sounds like Mama Lion's is going to liven up an otherwise staid area of Chicago.'

On Aug. 15, 1980 a 'western-style bar' opened at 1948 N. Halsted. It was called the Manhandler and is still a popular men's bar. It was described in Gay Chicago: 'The warm paneled room with fireplace is enhanced by one of the most comfortable beer gardens/patios in town with plenty of foliage, a three-tiered fountain and cushioned lounge chairs.' The bar hasn't changed much since. The fountain was installed by the manager Paul Wirts and the bartender opening night was Jay Wells.

Another bar that very little is known about is the Matchmaker at 740 W. Madison—across from the Holiday Inn in Greek Town—a Disco that opened Dec. 17, 1976 and promised a fabulous all-male burlesque show every night.

Molly's Follies at 2568 N. Clark St. opened Aug. 18, 1980. In his GayLife column, the Polish Princess wrote: 'The joint was jumping as the new camp bar Molly's Follies held its grand opening. Seen enjoying the colorful balloons and sipping champagne were Marge of His 'n Hers, and her delightful new bartender Hazel, Scotty of the Carnival, Chicago's only non-alcoholic bar, Wes & Bob of Checkmate II, and Charlie of the Flight.'

Another bar that's a mystery is the Odyssey Bar, which opened at 3231 N. Clark St. in late-November 1973. That's two years before that neighborhood started to look gay.

Medusa and Nunzio opened the Orbit Room at 3708 N. Broadway in April 1986. A photo of the opening night appears in Windy City Times May 1, 1986.

The Grand Opening of the Other Side at 3153 N. Broadway was Sept. 28, 1980. The entertainment was Leslie Rajeanne 'Miss Gay Chicago,' Harriet and The Hairlips. The show was MC'd by Deluxe. The plans for the bar were of a bowling alley with a gay bar in the middle. Robbie Crystal was the manager. People keep telling me that Robbie is still around and has a store in Andersonville. Which one?

Quenchyurs at 4636 N. Broadway had its Grand Opening Oct. 19, 1980. The owner was Mel King and the manager was Owen.

Sidetrack opened at 3349 N. Halsted St. on April 23, 1982, and the bar had a new concept, video monitors. Pepin Pena was the VJ. On the first night, visitors were invited to 'check out that patio,' and try the hot hors d'oeuvres by Ivan Kellogg and Bill Seeback. Dan Di Leo took pictures of the event for Gay Chicago, and guests on the opening night included Kelley Kekelik, manager of the Ram, and Michael McGuire, manager of the Second Story Emporium. The bar was then owned by Rocco Dinverno, who died soon after the opening on June 30 in Key West.

Stage 618 at 618 N. Clark St. had its Grand Opening on Jan. 2, 1976. The bar featured go-go-boys, Bobby, Jimmy, Joey, and Greg and was advertised as being 'completely gay-staffed.' A guy I interviewed who built the bar told me it was 'syndicate' owned.

Club Victoria at 3153 N. Broadway opened March 28, 1983 with a champagne buffet and music by DJ Mickey. This was formerly the location of Crystal's Blinkers, and also the Other Side (see above).

The Crimson Closet at 3136 N. Narragansett opened Sept. 19, 1980. The owner was Russ Moryl, bar boy was Fred Mar. The Polish Princess wrote in his column: 'Popular bartender Paul (Flo) Dobson, of Blinkers and Charlie's Angels, is now serving your favorite beverage Fridays and Saturdays at the Crimson Closet.' Membership to the Crimson Closet was $25 a year.

E-mail sukiedelacroix@ozhasspoken.com


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