Gay Chicago: A Gay Guide to What’s Hot in the WindyCity

If Chicago has been on your mind lately, there are a number of reasons why. If you are a sports fan, you know that the Chicago White Sox just won the World Series. If you follow art and architecture trends, you know that Chicago ’s award winning Millennium Park recently opened, receiving worldwide praise.

And if you’re gay, you know that this summer Chicago is hosting the Gay Games, July 15-22, 2006 . The seventh quadrennial Gay Games Sports and Cultural Festival will feature 12,000 participants from over 70 countries, competing in 30 sports. In addition, there will be a week-long arts festival, evening parties, entertainment, and more to make this an unforgettable celebration!

“Year-end campaigns designed to increase the number of registrations in team sports were wildly successful and the pace hasn’t slowed much since January 1,” said Brian McGuinness, Gay Games executive director. “Our registration rates to date are ahead of expectations and we may exceed our forecast of 12,000 participating athletes and artists in Chicago next July.”

There are several things that make Chicago an excellent host for the Games, and the perfect place to spend a week or weekend getaway. While Chicago may get a bad wrap for its winter weather, its summers more than make up for it. Chicagoans enjoy warm sunny days and gentle breezes in one of the nation’s greenest cities. Most restaurants open outdoor seating to take advantage of the fabulous natural light and fresh air that blows off Lake Michigan . The lake, with its sung-ignited aqua and turquoise hues is perhaps Chicago’s biggest attraction in the summertime.

Tracy Baim , co vice chair of the Gay Games board and publisher of Windy City Times said, “The great transportation systems, the gorgeous Lakefront, the beautiful stadiums for opening and Closing ceremonies (Soldier and Wrigley Fields), and a very friendly, hard-working, midwestern attitude all make Chicago an excellent choice for host of the Gay Games. Come for the sports, but enjoy all the great culture Chicago has to offer.”

Of course, many people would consider Chicago’s best feature to be the people who call it home. Famous for their friendliness and charm , Chicagoans love their fair city, and welcome tourists with open arms. This isn’t one of those places where locals snarl with distrusting sneers at the out-of-towners. Rather, Chicagoans desire nothing more than for visitors to love their city as m uch as they do. This attitude finds itself into gay bars and restaurants as well, where you will find little, well, attitude.

Chicago is a city that is constantly reinventing itself, and similarly, its gay scene is constantly evolving and changing.

Chicago has a thriving nightlife, located in two main areas: Boys Town and Andersonville. The most concentrated section of gay bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and gyms can be found on two parallel streets, Halsted and Broadway, between Belmont and Grace Street. No matter what you’re into, Chicago offers a little something for everyone.

One of the newest establishments in Boys Town is XO (pronounced X-O). This upscale tapas restaurant and bar has received incredible reviews by Chicago’s food critics, but the gay boys and girls mainly come here for its sexy lounge and bar. In the summertime the outdoor patio opens, which doubles the space, and XO becomes more than ever the perfect place to start a wild evening on Chicago’s gay strip, Halsted Street .

The city recently passed a no smoking ordinance which limits smoking only to bars and to restaurants that have bars. Apparently smokers have two years to quit, because at that time a widespread no smoking policy goes into effect. However, until then, those who detest smoke-filled air can find safe haven in the new trendy yet small, Minibar. Minibar draws a slightly younger crowd and is an easy place to pop in and out of during your nightlife tour. Just steps away the next stop for most on the bar-hopping circuit is Sidetrack (pronounced Sidetracks by almost everyone).

Sidetrack is Chicago’s largest gay bar, featuring fantastic music and comedy videos displayed on large TV screens throughout the club. There several large rooms, including the glass bar which is nonsmoking, and roof top terrace. Sidetrack can be a lot of fun, and it can also be a “stand and pose” bar. A visit to Chicago ’s gay scene isn’t really complete without popping into Sidetrack for bit. However, if it’s go-go boys you want, you’ll have to go next door to Cocktail. Here you’ll find a laid back atmosphere and sexy dancers on Tuesday, Thursdays, and Fridays. Like most bars of this nature, some of the guys can actually dance, which is great, and some of them can’t, which is even better.

Across the street from Cocktail, you’ll find another large and popular bar, Roscoe’s, located on the corner of Roscoe and Halsted. Roscoes features a dance floor in the back, and attracts a more eclectic clientele than other gay bars in Chicago .

If it’s a Friday and Saturday night and you are in the mood for dancing, you have several options. Hydrate, located down the street fro m Roscoe’s, is a bar and dance club that attracts incredible DJs fro m Ralphi Rosario to DJ Abel, a m ong others. The dance floor is sm all, but the music more than makes up for it. Get there by 11:30 PM to avoid long lines.

Just down the street fro m Hydrate is Circuit, which has a large dance floor and has a large Latino following. Go-go boys dance in cages alongside the dance floor, and celebrity DJs include Lady Miss Kier (formally of Dee Lite) and Circuit Mom .

Just beyond the North outskirts of Boys Town, you will find Charlie’s, one of the most unique dance clubs in the city. Before 2:00 AM, the atmosphere is that of a country western bar, or at least a scene from Brokeback Mountain. At exactly 2:00 AM, the country music changes to your favorite old school techno and modern dance hits, and dancing cowboys are instantly replaced on the dance floor with club boys. Get there by 1:30 AM to avoid huge lines, and so you don’t miss the changeover.

On Select Sundays, Crobar opens its doors to a gay audience. Crobar certainly features one of the finest dance spaces in the city (certainly the Sunday of the Gay Games this will be the case). This, coupled with great m usic, relatively cheap drinks, and cute boys make this the perfect way to end a wild weekend. The club really gets going by midnight .

If none of these bars or clubs have what your looking for, Chicago doesn’t disappoint. The best girl bar is located in Boys Town, and is called The Closet. Gay male friends are also welcome, and you will find a good mix of men and women sharing drinks and laughs at the bar.

The best place to see the hottest go-go boys is Madrigal’s, located in Andersonville. Madrigal’s gets very packed on Fridays and Saturdays and make no mistake, it’s all about the boys on stage.

If you’re looking for the best place to hear your favorite show tunes sung by a talented pianist, Gentry is your place. There are two locations: one in Boys Town and one downtown.

Crew Bar and Grill, located just north of Boys Town will be especially popular this summer. This gay sports bar features huge flat screen TVs playing all the important games, plus great food and a wide selection of beers and other drinks.

Lastly, Chicago’s premier gay sauna, Steamworks has been providing men 18 years & older with a clean, comfortable and stylish place to meet other men, relax, workout and play 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 30 years.

Chicago’s gay nightlife is outstanding, but it is not a city that never sleeps. Especially in the summertime, Chicagoans wouldn’t want to risk sleeping away the best part of the day. Whether they’re window shopping, dining in outdoor cafes, or exercising along Chicago ’s lake shore, Chicagoans know how to make the most of a beautiful day.

If you’re gay, this definitely includes a visit to Hollywood Beach. Located off Lakeshore Drive to the North of the city at Hollywood Avenue, Chicago’s gay community swarms here in the summertime to escape the mild humidity and to gaze at turquoise waters and the man candy that abounds on the beach. Most people arrive here by bike, but you can also drive, or even take a cab. The beach has a private feel, and there is a concession stand at the top of the beach where one can buy ice cream, burgers, nachos, etc.

However, you will not want to spoil your appetite, because at 4:00 PM the beach begins to clear, and the gay boys walk or bike to Big Chicks bar for vodka lemonade and free grilled burgers, salads, hot dogs and more. You would think that since the food is free, it couldn’t be very good, and you’d be wrong—it’s delicious, and well worth the long line that amasses as the day goes on. This is the perfect post beach hang out!

If the beach isn’t your scene, there is much shopping to be done right in Boys Town, and you can still always head to Buck’s Saloon in Boys Town to enjoy their backyard courtyard, more free burgers, and cheap drinks.

In addition to life in the gay scene, Chicago has so much to offer to help you round out your stay: some of the world’s best museums, riverboat architectural tours, world class theatre, outdoor recreation, and more abound.

One of Chicago ’s most highly acclaimed attractions is Millennium Park . Chicago’s newest park has impressed even the most scrutinizing of Chicagoans. This award-winning center for art, m usic, architecture and landscape design features the work of world-renowned architects, planners, artists and designers on 24.5 beautiful acres in down town Chicago.

Just down Michigan Avenue from Millennium Park, you’ll find one of the city’s treasures, the Art Institute of Chicago. The Art Institute is one of the world’s most famous art museums, particularly known for its collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings by artists like Monet, Renoir, Seurat and Caillebotte. It’s permanent collection is magnificent, and traveling exhibits keep the museum’s atmosphere fresh and exciting.

As you continue less than a mile South on Michigan Avenue, you will arrive at the Field Museum. Part of Chicago’s Museum Campus, the Field Museum’s most famous resident is Sue, the world’s largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur skeleton. The Field Museum also delights visitors by bringing in exhibits about nature and culture, prehistoric to present.

From May. 26, 2006 to Jan. 1, 2007, visitors will enjoy the Tutankha men and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibit, in which you may view 50 ancient artifacts excavated from the tomb of Egypt’s “boy king,” plus 70 artifacts from other royal graves.

If you are in the mood for a little more culture, Chicago’s Theatre and dance scene is not to be missed, and it includes so much more than the improve at Second City, made famous by Saturday Night Live. It is said that you can see a different show every day for a year in Chicago, and still not see everything! Currently, the show getting most attention is “Wicked”, and theater-goers have been enjoying sold out performances for months.

Not far from the theatre district is Chicago’s most famous street, Michigan Avenue. Commonly referred to as The Magnificent Mile, this tree-lined street (and it’s side streets) has abundant shopping at your favorite stores. You’ll find Barney’s, Hugo Boss, Kenneth Cole, Louis Vuitton, Diesel, Puma and much more. To break up a busy day of shopping, check out the fabulous RL restaurant next to Ralph Lauren for lunch, but be sure to make reservations.

Speaking of restaurants, when in Chicago you will not suffer from a lack of delicious food. Old favorites like MK continue to please patrons with consistently mouth-watering American Cuisine. Tru continues its reign as the trendiest upscale eatery, while Japonais gives it a run for its money, with sumptuous sushi creations.

If you’re looking for something in the gay-borhood, XO or Ping Pong are you best bets. Ping Pong is very small, and in the summer its sidewalk patio more than double its size. This BYOB restaurant is a great place to see and be seen, while dining on delicious, inexpensive pan Asian cuisine. However, whatever time the host tells you your table will be ready, double or triple it, and you will have a more accurate wait time.

Of course, if you want something quick and easy, you can go where the Chicago boys often go for a post workout bite: Chipotle. At the Belmont and Broadway location, you can grab a seat at the table facing the window, and people watch while you enjoy your healthy lunch.

For something quick, less healthy, and totally satisfying, you can’t leave Chicago without trying its famous deep dish pizza. It’s hard to get a bad piece of pizza in this city, and two of the best pizzerias are Gino’s East and Pizzeria Uno. Founder Ike Sewell, now deceased, introduced Chicago to deep-dish pizza when he opened Pizzeria Uno in 1943.

If all this eating has left you feeling like a fatty-patty, Chicago has a number of great gyms where you can get your workout on. In Boys Town, Quads is your choice for a serious, no thrills workout experience. Quads is industrial and a bit dark with a lot of equipment, including some things you may not have seen before. Multiplex is your Boys Town Alternative and is perhaps a little more upscale, and a bit less serious. Multiplex has a large gay following.

Cheetah Gym in Andersonville offers a beautiful environment, and great equipment, and is a popular gay gym for both men and women. Xsport gym offers several locations and the two with the most gay clientele are the one at North Avenue and the one at Ashland and Bellmont. Chicago’s newest gym is the hip and cool, David Barton Gym, located downtown. It features the latest equipment, great classes, and stunning locker rooms with fine bath products and huge, elegant steam rooms. It is a true spa experience to end a great workout.

Few cities offer gay travelers such a modern, well-rounded experience, and there is no better time to be in Chicago than the summertime. With the Gay Games coming up July 15-22, and Boys Town’s weekend festival, the Halsted Street Fair taking place August 6th and 7th, make sure your summer vacation plans include Chicago.

Zoom Vacations®, an international gay tour provider, known for personalized service and for creating lavish, chic international events can design the perfect Chicago Vacation to accompany the Gay Games. Contact Zoom Vacations® at 773 935-1728 or visit them on the web at Zoom Vacations® is a Chicago based, gay owned and operated.

Getting there

Flying into O’Hare InternationalAirport

Every day, more than 200,000 travelers pass through the nearly 7,700-acre, 172-gate airport, which claims to offer more flights to more cities, more often than any other in the world. In 1999, more than 813,000 flights (representing more than 62 million passengers) passed through O’Hare.

The CTA’s Blue Line, located at the lowest level of the m ain parking garage, may be the best option for getting downtown, especially if you are arriving during rush hour. Trains depart every 10 minutes. Traveling on the Blue Line will take you 45 minutes to get downtown. Cabs are also accessible, but be prepared for a possible wait, depending on the time you arrive, and will take about 25 minutes to reach the city.

Flying into MidwayInternationalAirport

If you are having trouble finding the flight you want in or out of O’Hare, you should check out Chicago’s second busiest airport, Midway. The CTA’s Orange Line will take you were you want to go, including downtown in only about 25 minutes. Driving without traffic delays will take about 15 minutes.

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