Many Chicago queers are so Lakeview- and Andersonville-centric that even a visit to Wicker Park is considered a day trip. But just beyond the Illinois border lies a fabled land of smokestacks, sky-high dunes and, yes, gay bars. It’s called Northwest Indiana, and like Clearasil on a porn star’s ass, it deserves some overdue recognition. On a recent Friday night, lured by visions of a red-state hookup, some friends and I pumped my Nissan full of gas and burned rubber for Hoosier country.
About 50 minutes east of the Loop, we felt a tingle of excitement as Gary’s glittery lights and intoxicating fumes let us know we were nearing our first destination: Encompass Nightclub (2415 Rush St, Lake Station; 219-962-4640), sandwiched between a police station and City Hall. Arriving shortly after 11pm, we were greeted by a friendly lez who charged us a mere 4 bucks for Friday’s cover. She handed us rainbow-colored bracelets to wear as proof we’d paid and assured us they could double as cock rings. How sweet.
Encompass wasn’t very crowded. An unspectacular laser show lit a large dance floor on one side of the room, while a respectable sound system belted out yesterday’s club classics. We sidled up to the bar and ordered a round of drinks while accepting Jell-O shots from a passing server. After 15 minutes, a gaggle of lesbians stampeded into the club, an encouraging sign.
It turns out there’s a lounge located within Encompass called the Blue Orchid—where the real activity awaited. The Blue Orchid resembles an ’80s hotel bar (in a good way), complete with a fireplace and a half-dozen plush chairs. It’s not nearly as fragrant as its name suggests (more like menthol), but with patrons too shy to boogie on Encompass’s dance floor, Blue Orchid had a definite, albeit minor, buzz.
We glommed on to a group of young dandies who informed us that Encompass is a mecca for ’mos living in nearby communities such as Valparaiso, Merrillville, Crown Point and Schererville. On Saturday nights, apparently, the place packs ’em in. These guys forewarned us that our next destination, Dick’s R U Crazee (1221 E 150th St, Hammond; 219-852-0222), was a rough-and-tumble place where dirty old men with STDs snorted mountains of cocaine off each other’s asses. We couldn’t wait.
While our Encompass friends were clearly in exaggeration mode (the only coke we saw came in a glass), Dick’s—where you have to get buzzed in—does possess an air of intrigue. (Locking your car door is a smart idea.)
But we fell hard for Dick’s. The kind of joint that would make John Waters tear up, it resembles an old roadhouse reimagined for the LGBT crowd: The wood-paneled bar reeks of cheap beer on tap; faded Chippendale photos adorn the walls; and a “game room” holds Atari classics like Galaga (plus a kitchen sink and ice machine). We missed the cabaret show but arrived early enough to catch some mighty fierce (if a tad rickety) drag queens exiting the stage. The crowd was a beautiful mix of middle-aged black, white and Latino men and women (and, to be sure, some horndogs). When a young tank-topped cowboy got all up in the grill of a Latino dude, a fight seemed certain to break out, but we were too busy breaking the high score on Ms. Pac-Man to care.
Later, as we pulled out of the parking lot, we spotted a couple humping in the back seat of a sedan—proof in our minds that you can find love, at least for a few minutes, in Northwest Indiana.