Lesbian nightlife in Chicago is alive and well—just harder to find.
By Trish Bendix|
The music and men are at Spin any night of the week, but there isn’t much girl gazing to be done at Star Gaze. And while the music’s a little better at T’s, without a dance floor to bump and grind on, meeting a mate there can be a little bit of a, well, tease. Lesbiancentric Andersonville has always been more about pool and cheap beer than hot and sweaty women; that’s why a handful of promoters have decided to create weekly and monthly parties to accommodate them.
When the lesbian club Girl Bar closed in 2001, gay women were left with no place to drink and dance. Later that year, Kathleen Ulm, marketing-promotions director at Windy City Times, started up her own production company, Chix Mix Productions, and hosted the city’s first circuit party for women. “We thought, Why aren’t there any women’s parties?” Ulm says. The first Black Bra Party was a success, with more than 1,000 women showing up—and ending up half-naked by the end of the night. In its eighth year, Chix Mix hosts its annual Black Bra Party February 15 .
Yet its monthly residencies at Circuit are less of a destination for women who aren’t into large parties with cover charges. “Sometimes it’s dead, sometimes it’s not, and their cover charge is too crazy high to not know what to expect,” says local J.C. Trocio.
For younger women and arty types, Jenae Williams says her weekly Dirty Girl Thursdays at Lakeview Broadcasting Company are a perfect fit. “We wanted to do something different, something new, more intimate, sexier and smaller,” Williams says of Dirty Girl. She prides herself on the fact that the intimate, loungey LBC boasts a reputation of exclusivity. “At midnight, you have to wait in line or you’re not going to get in,” she says.
But for some, that’s a turnoff. “The Dirty Girl thing is not really my scene,” says partygoer Emily Hartl. “It’s not a good date spot; you will get hit on there.” It may be why Dirty Girl has branched out of its Thursday nights in Boystown and begun throwing parties at venues like Evil Olive and Hogs and Honeys every other Sunday.
Getting out of Boystown was also the motivation for Dana Lloyd and Erin Blake, two promoters behind Social Flare Productions, which formed last year; an industry veteran, Lloyd worked with Los Angeles–based Club Skirts for ten years. Social Flare held its first event in December at River North venue Tizi Melloul.
“We’re taking advantage of what the city has to offer instead of staying in one place,” Lloyd says. “Social Flare parties are a little more for socializing [than other girl parties]. At big parties, people feel intimidated to start dancing or talk to each other.” She adds that Social Flare brings in DJs from Club Skirts who spin house, mainstream, hip-hop and “a little bit of Latin.” Lloyd describes Social Flare’s scene as “[very] L.A., with amazing-looking women,” while attendee Mia Horberg says that it’s “kind of the martini crowd as opposed to the Miller Lite and appletinis at Chix Mix.”
Another new option for gay women is Soaked Sundays at Hydrate, created by Jessica Brooks, a former Temptations employee. But Brooks doesn’t work alone—she’s created a “lesbian army” she refers to as the Lez B. Friends Network. For the lesbian night at Hydrate, she invited promoters like Chix Mix, Femistry, Estrojam and the L Word Online to bring in their clientele. Like the Dirty Girl night at Hogs and Honeys, Soaked Sundays holds The L Word viewing parties to entice women out of their homes. Trivia contests and the Dirty Girl’s “butch pull-up competition” help lure women south of Halsted Street.
“I remember being young and not having anywhere to go,” Brooks says. “Girl Bar shut down and the whole scene disappeared. I thought, Where are these young girls going? To a straight club and not be sure who is and who isn’t gay?”
As Lloyd puts it: “We just really want to give the women another option, and to help unite the scene.”