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Wednesday, June 20

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Detour

They're still sweeping up the glitter from Sunday's Pride parade in Boystown, and Market Days is waiting in the wings. In addition to those perennials, the summer of 2006 has given us four nights of Madonna at the United Center, and we're ready to welcome the Gay Games. In short, this looks to be the gayest season Chicago has ever seen.

That makes it perfect timing for The Field Guide to Gay and Lesbian Chicago, published last week by Lake Claremont Press. Authors Kathie Bergquist and Robert McDonald have designed their book as an insiders' travel guide. The authors have worked for years as booksellers at the GLBT-friendly independents Unabridged Books and Women and Children First, and they say they've been fielding visitors' questions about neighborhoods, bars, transit, bars, shopping and bars the whole time.

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The Field Guide feels like the answers they've honed over the years — chatty and anecdotal, with a sense that Bergquist and McDonald have mined the opinions of their friends and friends of friends. Indeed, some of Chicago's notable gays make guest appearances: musician Dylan Rice, Bailiwick actor John Cardone and all-grrrl band Stewed Tomatoes pipe up, along with countless first-name-only friends of the authors. Much of the book's information is imparted via personal stories or plain old hearsay. Rest assured this is not your average bone-dry travel guide — Fodor's doesn't have a chapter on hooking up.

The authors cover the first-timer basics up front: neighborhoods, transportation and a concise explanation of the grid system (although some maps would have been a nice touch). They even provide an intro chapter on Chicago's queer history, covering everything from Jane Addams (the mother of modern social work was a lesbian) and Henry Gerber (the Chicago postal worker who founded the country's first official gay organization in 1924) to the 2005 Illinois Human Rights Ordinance.

From there it's on to the meat and potatoes of the travel guide: accommodations, sightseeing and nightlife. The Field Guide gives the listings a decidedly queer bent, though; the hotels chapter reminds us that "it's no secret that the hospitality industry in general is teeming with homos," and informs us that the Hotel Allegro's bath products are all Aveda. The sightseeing section includes "the former homes of Chicago's illustrious homosexuals," and Robert and Kathie take us on a gay-tinged tour of the Art Institute.

Dining and nightlife, naturally, focus on the "gayborhoods," though there are excursions into other neighborhoods. For instance, the authors give a rundown of nearly every sit-down restaurant in Boystown and Andersonville, but they also have sections on vegetarian fare around the city, the most important brunch spots, and a sidebar with "brief descriptions of Chicago restaurants we can't afford." If you can afford Alinea, Moto or Trotter's, at least you'll have directions.

There's only so much a book can do to cover irregular events like music and theatre, but the Field Guide does its best, listing things to look out for (like Scott Free's Homolatte music and reading series) and the basics of the GLBT-skewing theatre scene; for current details, the authors spend a lot of time directing readers to local resources like the Reader, Time Out Chicago and the DykeDiva website (Gapers Block even gets a nod).

The heart of the guidebook, and its fattest chapter, is the one that most tourists who'd buy a gay travel guide are probably after: the bars. The authors give us the rundown on the 42 gay and lesbian bars within the city limits (they don't venture into the suburbs), telling us what the crowd's like, when to go, and how to get there. Bergquist and McDonald are to be commended for sharing the details on — and in most cases, personally visiting — every bar and club that caters to a gay or lesbian clientele, including those on the far South Side or West Side that never make it into the city's gay press. Longtime residents might not even know about clubs like InnExile (on west 65th near Midway) or the Chesterfield Club (a primarily Latino bar in McKinley Park).

Unfortunately, the far-flung gay bars are the only thing that gets Robert and Kathie off the beaten gay path. They do include a short list of worthy non-gay bars "for those queers who don't want to limit themselves to queer-only environments," but beyond that it's all gay, all the time. The Field Guide is a mostly accurate, fun guide for a weekend visit; those who consider themselves "gay tourists" will find all the gay they can handle. If you're here for more than a few days, though, it's going to start to feel awfully limiting.

The Field Guide to Gay and Lesbian Chicago is available at many local bookstores — including, of course, Unabridged Books and Women and Children First — and on Amazon.com.

 

About the Author(s)

Kristofer Vire is a transplanted Southerner who enjoys trivia, the Cubs, alt-country and beer. A sometime actor, writer, waiter, and temp, he lives in Lake View, because someone has to. Kris records his exploits and outrage at Angst-ident Prone, and is a member of the Gapers Block staff.

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