“This is like faggotpalooza!” That’s not a phrase often heard at Grace O’Malley’s, a South Loop Irish bar where a mostly straight clientele comes to wash down bangers and mash with a pint of Guinness. For the 200 gay men crammed into the saloon on February 13, however, the sentiment, uttered amid the jubilant chaos, couldn’t have been more fitting. The event was the second installment of Guerrilla Gay Bar–South Loop, a free monthly bar night in which gays gather at a traditionally straight watering hole.
In 2000, the original Guerrilla Gay Bar (a.k.a. Guerrilla Queer Bar) began in San Francisco as a means of imbibing while making a political statement. Gaggles of Bay Area queers, who thrust themselves upon a taproom in gay-wary ’hoods such as the Marina District, essentially said, “We’re here, we’re queer, now give us a beer.” The event has spawned siblings in L.A., Milwaukee and other cities.
While the original incarnation was political in nature, according to GGB-SL founders and South Loop residents Scott Feldman, 27, and Andy Czysz, 23 (both UIC med students who met years ago in their native Florida), the Chicago version is all about bringing the queer scene to their ‘hood. “We have everything here. What’s missing is a gay bar,” says Printers Row resident Feldman. Both lament that Boystowners consider their ’hood foreign land. “When I tell people I live in the South Loop, they’re like, ‘Oh, you live all the way down there’—like I live in the suburbs,” Czysz says. “It makes it a little harder to get a date.”
Aware of Guerrilla Gay Bar and its name recognition, the friends launched a Chicago version via Facebook. For their first venue, they picked Wabash Tap for its proximity to the Roosevelt El stop and because they’d noticed the bar flew a Pride Flag during the 2006 Gay Games. The inaugural event attracted about 30 queers, a robust number considering its wintertime debut on January 9.
The bar staff, it turned out, was thrilled. “Someone put ‘Dancing Queen’ on the jukebox, and the server realized we were a bunch of gay guys,” Czysz says. “She was clearly gay friendly, and around the time she was giving us a free pitcher and shots, someone overheard the manager telling her, ‘I don’t know what you did to get all the gays here, but we’ve never been this busy on a Friday night. Keep them coming back.’_”
Word of GGB-SL spread quickly thanks in part to a free ad Feldman and Czysz placed on Facebook directed at gays and lesbians. To the two men’s surprise, the February event at O’Malley’s was packed by 11pm. “You make a Facebook event and 150 people click yes and 100 people click maybe. You have no idea whether 20 people are going to show up or 300,” says Feldman. It was closer to the latter, a number that clearly pleased the bar management, which found out about the event a couple of hours prior. “We’re sister bars to the Wabash Tap, and we found out that they had it,” says manager Keith Carlson. “We were pretty glad they were coming.”
While no one reported any outright homophobia, an exodus of straights gradually occurred, and some newcomers walked in, turned around and walked right back out. Carlson noticed only a single incident of vandalism: the phrase gays rule! scrawled on the bar wall. “I’m sure they’re really happy we’re going to show up and spend money,” Feldman says of the bar owners approached thus far, “regardless of any hang-ups they might have, if any, about sexual orientation.”
The next GGB-SL takes place Friday 13 at Villains Bar and Grill (649 S Clark St, 312-356-9992). Judging from Facebook responses, it looks to be another hit. “Boystown is very exclusive. Some people just feel like they don’t fit in,” Czysz says. “With Guerrilla Gay Bar, it’s come as you are. That’s what the gay community is all about.”
Feldman and Czysz say they wouldn’t mind seeing GGB-SL branch out into other neighborhoods. Indeed, it’s true: The gays are recruiting.
Guerrilla Gay Bar–South Loop raids Villains on Friday 13.