CHICAGO.

Gay Times Magazine - - TRAVEL - Words Stephen Un­win

“Please ig­nore that,”’ says Joe, all avun­cu­lar with his mid-length beard, cud­dly vow­els and slow-blink­ing eyes as he points to the ‘TRUMP’ sign at­tached to a build­ing that’s pierc­ing Chicago’s milky night sky. “He doesn’t speak for us, the bas­tard.”

Joe is driv­ing us down­town from O’Hare, and in be­tween ex­ple­tives he’s hum­ming along to a chan­nel that plays songs on the mel­low spec­trum and is pre­sented by some­one who used to be in Ka­ja­goo­goo. I tell him to take con­so­la­tion in the peo­ple on our side; the Rus­sell Group of uni­ver­si­ties, peo­ple with good hair, Cher. Trump has peo­ple who use the word ‘iron­i­cal’.

We’re dropped at Lon­don House with a hand­shake – warm, sur­pris­ingly soft – and mine’s a cor­ner suite com­plete with views that in­cite memes. Lon­don House is a stal­wart of the Chicago ho­tel scene that does the sort of glam­our that wouldn’t scare your Aunty Jean, and em­ploys a straw­berry blond on the front desk who comes with a twin­kle in his eye. Break­fast’s on the street-side diner watch­ing joƒers in go-faster Ly­cra whizz past car­ry­ing ruck­sacks loaded with their work gear. A woman and her daugh­ter join the next ta­ble, the lat­ter made up for In­sta­gram rather than pan­cakes with syrup. She looks like she’s dipped her head in all of Lit­tle Mix’s makeup range and set it with El­nett, and some­how it’s ap­pro­pri­ate with that TRUMP sign the size of Ger­many leer­ing over her. The mother, knuckle deep in Eƒs Bene­dict, clearly has MAC-in­duced PTSD. Our wait­ress catches the ac­cents and asks if we’re go­ing to do The Ar­chi­tec­ture Tour, which is cap­i­tal­ized for a rea­son.

Be­cause you re­ally have to do The Ar­chi­tec­ture Tour, which takes place on a boat, lasts about two hours, and glides gen­tly along the Chicago River past the great­est hits of the world’s first skyscraper city as you kick back and feel eru­dite. Be­cause build­ings are as im­por­tant as telly – and be­cause Ju­lia Roberts and Der­mot Mul­roney did it in My Best Friend’s Wed­ding and there’s a bar that’s open at 9am. Among the un­du­lat­ing grandeur of Chicago’s sky­line – from fin de siè­cle gems in pi­o­neer­ing steel to hand­some pre-war ware­houses hur­riedly be­ing turned into cowork­ing spa­ces via Mies van der Rohe mas­ter­pieces – Trump’s is just, like, plonked, like an ob­nox­ious re­minder of Amer­ica’s on­go­ing night­mare. But still, lots of photo op­por­tu­ni­ties in­volv­ing the mid­dle fin­ger. A friend told me he did the tour three days in a row high on pills and liquor, which is a whole other story.

Ar­chi­tec­ture re­ally is a big deal in Chicago, and fans of Frank Lloyd Wright will be friƒin’ off to all the booty in this town. From his first fam­ily home and stu­dio in Oak Park – then coun­try, now sub­urb – to his newly re­stored Unity Tem­ple where a nice el­derly gay gen­tle­men will show you around and cry when he talks about how far gay rights have come in the States. You’ll prob­a­bly cry too.

You’ll also prob­a­bly cry do­ing The Legacy Walk over in Boys­town, the lat­ter be­ing what it says on the tin. The for­mer be­ing ‘the only out­door LGBTQ mu­seum and ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram in the world’, a mile-or-so of of­ten star­tling, al­ways mov­ing bronze py­lons along North Hal­sted Street, each ded­i­cated to a pi­o­neer of gay rights. There are the ones you’ve heard of – Wilde, Milk, Tur­ing – and those you prob­a­bly haven’t but should have, es­pe­cially the African Amer­i­cans who were fight­ing prej­u­dice from all an­gles, namely David Kato, Au­dre Lorde, Alvin Ai­ley, Lor­raine

Hans­berry. An on­go­ing project and decades in the mak­ing, they’re also handy props against which drag queens who look like Patti Boulaye and boys in low-slung hot pants fresh out of the Lucky Horse­shoe can en­joy a fag while learn­ing things.

Boys­town is the old­est gay district in Amer­ica and is still your go-to for the gayest of Chicago times. North Hal­sted is your main strip, where the night’s itin­er­ary is pretty much dic­tated by length of queue. Sidetrack – bars on top of bars via dance­floors and ter­races and top­less bar­men rock­ing kicky braces and, what are we call­ing this, art? and mas­sive video screens that only play show­tunes of a Mon­day – boasts the long­est, so we hang out at The Closet, waitin’, an­tic­i­patin’, drinkin’. Then at Progress, ditto. I think we swing by that (very) Lucky Horse­shoe we men­tioned, a strip joint of the high­est or­der, but who’s to say.

From town (take Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate AKA ‘The Bean’ in Mil­len­nium Park as your cen­tre of Chicago grav­ity) Boys­town is twenty min­utes in a

cab, though the metro is easy to nav­i­gate and penny price­wise (es­pe­cially to the air­port) and not very scary at all.

Mil­le­nium Park is ar­guably the best of the world’s mil­len­nial parks, with said fancy bean, a rather beau­ti­ful pav­il­ion by Frank Gehry, a mu­seum of art (The Art In­sti­tute of Chicago) that’s a for­tune to get into un­less you’re clever and get a very clever Chicago City Pass or are sleep­ing with Ch­erysh-with-a-y on coat check who’s sav­ing for a trip to Lake Geneva (Wis­con­sin), and swathes of wild­flow­ers and or­na­men­tal grasses that rus­tle in the wind and get at­tended by peo­ple in full Felic­ity Ken­dal-in-The-Good-Life garb. There’s also a restau­rant, Park Grill, that does half price on Wed­nes­days (in­clud­ing booze!) that your mum will love.

So let’s say Boys­town is Main Gay Street; in which case, An­der­son­ville, near enough to walk to from North Hal­sted on a balmy evening, is Edgy Gay Street. Ei­ther way, there’s way more plaid and pulled jack­fruit, and Clark Street – where you’ll find the (in)fa­mous Ham­burger Mary’s and its drag queens who give the best back-chat this side of San­dra Bern­hard – is the cen­tre of the ac­tion with its buzzy cafes and book­shops run by women who nar­row their eyes when you talk to them. It’s all a bit more recher­ché than ye olde Boys­town. Some of the street signs are even in Swedish.

From An­der­son­ville, Hol­ly­wood Beach is even hand­ier. Here you can bob for boyfriends in Lake Michi­gan, which does a good job of pre­tend­ing it’s an ocean and works a Bondi vibe with its scrappy-cum-glam­orous mid-rises peer­ing over a stretch of sand giddy with good looks and booze hid­den in Chilly’s bot­tles. As Chicago’s of­fi­cial gay beach, this is your go-to on sul­try days – though that no-drink­ing pol­icy re­ally ought to be a mat­ter for the po­lice.

“Did you do The Ar­chi­tec­ture Tour?” asks a nice man in Speedos as he bobs in Lake Michi­gan while clutch­ing a Chilly’s bot­tle. Newish model, onyx you might say, vodka by the tastes of it. “I love a good build­ing,” he con­tin­ues. “Though I am quite dom­i­nant in bed.” Which might just be my favourite segue of all time.

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