Sure, you probably know International Mr. Leather takes place in Chicago every May. You might even know that Mr. International Rubber takes place in Chicago in November. But how much do you really know about gay Chicago? Most of the action at IML takes place in central Chicago at the Congress Hotel. But you have to go further north to find Chicago’s gay center of gravity. It’s actually been shifting north over the past several decades.
In the Roaring ‘20s, homos starting congregating in the bohemian spots of Tower Town, now known as the Magnificent Mile. Just a bit further up Lake Michigan, American’s first gay rights organization, the Society for Human Rights, was founded in Old Town in 1925. By the Swinging ‘60s, Old Town was the place to be for gay men. The place was flooded with gay bars where horny guys could meet. All those places are closed now. It’s the same old story. As rents go up, the gays flee for more affordable neighborhoods. In the case of Chicago, it was further up the lake to Lincoln Park area, where you can still find fun at the Manhandler Saloon.
Eventually, the gay boys planted their freak flag further north in the neighborhood now known as Boystown. Boystown was the first officially recognized “gay village” in the States. These days, Boystown is where you’re likely to find twinks and circuit kweenz. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find gear freaks there too. The Cell Block is Boystown’s fetish bar. A strict dress code is enforced for CODE night first Saturdays. After some hardcore cruising, head down Halsted a few blocks to Steamworks, Boystown’s bathhouse.
Into the 21st century, the rents keep going up and the boys keep heading further north. Chicago’s bears have migrated up to Andersonville. You can get your fur trimmed by the beard experts at Father & Son Barber Shop in nearby Magnolia Glen.
Between Boystown and Andersonville, the SoFo Tap in Uptown is a fetish-friendly neighborhood bar. You might find geared guys there on weekend evenings, before they head out to cruisier spots. Another place you’ll want to check out in Uptown is Full Kit Gear. Provincetown’s shop for serious fetish men has opened a branch there.
Many of Chicago’s manliest men have moved up the lake to Rogers Park. It’s the furthest north you can go and still be in Chicago. Sometimes you have to go to extremes to find what you’re looking for. Start your hunt at the Jackhammer Complex, where fetish guys and bears go to dance and cruise. Pick up some gear at LEATHER64TEN, the adjoining gear and sex shop. Then when you’re ready to get serious, descend into the Hole. Located downstairs from the Jackhammer, the Hole is a pig pen with very dark corners and a dress code enforced on the weekends. For a change of venue, Touché, Chicago’s classic leather bar since 1977, is located next door. Touché has monthly theme nights, including just for starters, Bear Night on first Saturdays, Dungeon Master Night on second Saturdays, Gear Night with BLUF on third Saturdays, and Ripe on fourth Saturdays. You can head to Jackhammer and Touché on Saturday nights and party till 5 the next morning.
The one place you won’t want to miss in Rogers Park is the Leather Archives & Museum. This is mecca for leathermen and all sorts of kinksters – a place to celebrate our heritage and culture as gear-loving perverts!
Little brother Cleveland
Chicago is the undisputed unofficial capital of the American Midwest. But making its mark in the worldwide fetish scene is Cleveland. Each April, Cleveland hosts the wildly successful CLAW—Cleveland Leather Annual Weekend. Instead of a contest, CLAW has BDSM workshops throughout the day, with topics like rope play, mummification, fire play, and more. Like IML, it has a giant vendor mart. It’s great for shopping or just socializing. Of course, there are all sorts of parties at night.
But there’s more to Cleveland than CLAW. It’s a lot smaller than Chicago, and it doesn’t have quite the gay or leather heritage that Chicago does. And unfortunately, like just about anywhere, a lot of the longstanding gay bars in Cleveland have closed. But you can still have a good time if you find yourself in Cleveland any time of year. The best place to find masculine men is at the Leather Stallion Saloon, Cleveland’s leather since 1970. You can find someone to fuck at Flex, the local outpost of the national chain of bathhouses. If you’re more interested in BDSM play, see what’s on at the Academy of Fetish Arts, Cleveland’s play space for kinky alternative lifestyles. Pick up some fetish wear at the Dean Rufus House of Fun or Kilted Bros. No, Cleveland is not Chicago, and it’s not a major destination, but why not have some fun if you’re there!
For more information or where to find fetish fun in Chicago and Cleveland and other cities in North American and Europe, check out my website Leathermen Travel at www.leathermentravel.com. •