The country's third-largest city, Chicago has a totally different vibe from the big cities on either coast. Nicknamed "Paris on the Prairie" because of its wide boulevards and tree-shaded parks, Chicago has a lot in common with that European capital. It has world-class museums, a breathtaking array of restaurants and gay nightlife that rivals any of its neighbors.
This sophisticated city was home to the world's first skyscraper, (the Home Insurance Building in 1885, at just nine stories tall). Since then, the city has attracted famous architects like Louis Sullivan and Mies van der Rohe. The skyline's main feature these days is the iconic Willis Tower, the former Sears Tower completed in 1973, the tallest building in the world for nearly 25 years. Its observation deck is one of Chicago's most popular tourist destinations.
From O'Hare International Airport, take the Chicago Transit Authority's Blue Line train heading east for $5. Change at Addison for a bus over to Lakeview, or go all the way into the Loop (about 45 minutes) for downtown destinations, and connections to other lines. For information, contact Transitchicago.com. A taxi to Lakeview averages around $45; and to the Congress Plaza Hotel (host for IML) in the Loop, about $55.
Midway International Airport, on the southwest side, eight miles from the Loop, also offers air connections to cities all over North America and the Carribean -- dominated by low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines, with around 100 destinations. The CTA train fare to the Loop or Lakeview costs $2.25, a taxi will be $40-50.
Chicago, the hub of the Amtrak national rail system, has trains coming into Union Station (225 South Canal St) from all regions of North America.
Greyhound has service to 2,400 locations in North America, with several Chicago stations. Their main terminus, at 630 Harrison St, is just west of the Loop, where I290 intersects with I90/94. MegaBus has low-cost intercity express bus service between Chicago and over 80 other US cities, coast to coast, plus Toronto, Canada.
The Windy City is a breeze to get around, and a car is not only unnecessary, but often difficult to park. Bus routes 22 along Clark, and 36 on Broadway and the CTA Red Line EL will get you most anywhere in gay Chicago, and taxis are easy to find. Night services operate every 30 minutes on the Red and Blue lines, and the N22 bus along Clark, between Boystown and the Loop.
CTA full fares are $2.25 per trip. Pass cards for unlimited rides of one ($10), three ($20) or seven days ($28), may be purchased online, from station vending machines, or or at retail locations around town, including CVS and Walgreens drug stores. Visit the TransitChicago.com or RTA websites to plan your route.
With more than 170 miles of on-street protected, buffered and shared bike lanes, along with off street paths such as the 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail, Chicago is getting more bike-friendly every year. See ChicagoBikes for maps and information. Divvy Bikes is Chicago’s bike sharing system, with 3,000 bikes and 300 stations across the city. Bikes are accessible 24 hours every day with membership (sign up online) or with a 24-hour pass from any Divvy station. BikeChicago has the largest bike selection in town, and helmet, lock and a free map are included with rental. They also offer city tours.
Boystown: Chicago's biggest concentration of gays is in the high- energy neighborhood of Lakeview East, perhaps better known as Boystown or Northalsted. It's a triangle between Belmont Avenue, Broadway and Halsted Street, the site of Chicago Pride Fest in June, Northalsted Market Days in August, and the Northalsted Halloween Parade in late October.
Andersonville: The mellower Andersonville district stretches into Edgewater and includes many bars and restaurant of interest, plus one of the city's two gay bathhouses. Midsommarfest is the annual summer street festival in June, when people throng Clark Street from Foster to Catalpa for two days of music, dancing, entertainment, and food.
Small town, big backyard
In Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, the Neo-Futurists zip through 30 original plays in 60 minutes. Never the same show twice, the lightening-fast performances are hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking. Even though the show has been running for 20 years, it's sometimes hard to get a seat at the renowned theater troupe's home base, the Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N Ashland, in Andersonville.
Other theater and musical troupes in the neighborhood present everything from live-action gay soap operas to a tribute to The Carpenters. There's also a bi-monthly queer showcase called Homolatte - a twice-a-month, all-ages, queer music and spoken word series on 2nd and 4th Tuesdays each month at Big Chicks, 5024 N Sheridan.
More local queer theater productions can be seen at the Apollo Studio Theater, Mary's Attic, the Public House Theatre, Stage773, and others among an additional two dozen theaters and performance venues we list in our Chicago maps & listings pages.
The Magnificent Mile is a high-end shopping district on Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Oak Street. Department stores Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Saks are all here, along with the Apple Store. Up-market brands include Armani, Burberry, Bulgari, Cartier, Chanel, Gucci, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, and Ermenegildo Zegna. The 900 North Michigan Shops, The Shops at North Bridge, and Water Tower Place are local retail and dining centers.
The Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods, off North Milwaukee Avenue, are also full of boutiques, galleries, theaters, eateries and nightclubs, but with a more artsy/alternative vibe than in downtown.
Media and resources
Windy City Times is the city's gay newspaper. Boi Magazine covers gay entertainment and clubbing. Grab Magazine is Chicago's gay bi-weekly magazine, with business listings, bar events and maps, plus local color.
Pink Magazine is a GLBT lifestyle quarterly and business directory, in print and online. Chicago Events has gay and general events listings, along with many of the city's ethnic, street, food and music festivals. ChicagoGoPride, and Chicago Phoenix are two more online gay resources.
The Leather Archives and Museum documents leather/fetish community history with artifacts, photographs, exhibitions, a library, film screenings and special events - here in the home city of the International Mr Leather contest each Memorial Day Weekend.
Mr International Rubber contests take place in November, along with a Rubber Dress Code Party and events at clubs around town.
The Reeling: Chicago LGBT International Film Festival takes place in mid-September.
The Center on Halsted is one of the world's best LGBT community centers with services, activities and special events -- and its construction was financed without any government money.
Choose Chicago, the city's "official destination marketing organization," has a thousand ideas for places go and things to do. Consult them online, or at one of their visitor centers.
For a city map and website links to businesses and entertainment venues, see our gay Chicago listings tab. See events for what's happening around town, and for some photos from around town, see our gallery pages.
Acme Hotel Company (15 E Ohio; 312-894-0800), newly remodled downtown boutique hotel, hardwood floors, all modern amenities.
Ashland Arms Guest House (6408 N Clark St; 312-498-9979), North Side location, leather/fetish/sports rooms, bunks, whirlpool bath, gang shower, breakfast, guest kitchen.
Best Western Hawthorne Terrace (3434 N Broadway; 773-244-3434), Boystown location between lake and N Halsted scene, rooms/suites, fitness center, free breakfast, premium cable TV, internet access.
City Suites Hotel (933 W Belmont; 773-404-3400), art deco-style building, Boystown location at Belmont El station, gym pass, breakfast, Wi-Fi.
Chicago Getaway Hostel (616 West Arlington Pl; 773-929-5380), hostel with style, comfort and service of boutique hotel, spacious, modern common areas, gourmet kitchen, outdoor patio; inexpensive dorm beds or private rooms.
Dana Hotel (660 N State; 312-202-6000), luxury boutique hotel and spa, big windows overlooking State Street, up to 3 bedroom suites, 24-hour gym, private wine reserves.
Days Inn (644 West Diversey Pkwy; 773-525-7010), 133 rooms/suites, full-service alternative to expensive downtown hotels; WiFi/T1, satellite TV, business extras.
HI Chicago (24 E Congress Pkwy; 312-360-0300), downtown, all ages welcome, no curfew, 500 inexpensive dorm beds, free breakfast,free WiFi, shared kitchen, laundry, TV lounges.
Hilton Chicago (720 S Michigan; 312-922-4400), over 1,500 rooms, Lake Michigan/ Grant Park views, heated indoor pool, whirlpool, sauna and seasonal sundeck; hosts International Mr Leather competition.
Hotel Allegro (171 W Randolph St; 312-236-0123), 483 luxury guestrooms and suites downtown, 4-star services and amenities, 312 Chicago Restaurant, wine hour.
Hotel Burnham (1 W Washington St; 312-782-1111), Condé Nast Gold List landmark, luxury boutique hotel, Eco-friendly services and amenities, Michelin-rated Atwood Café restaurant
Hotel Indigo (1244 N Dearborn Pkwy; 312-787-4980), stylish, deluxe amenities, Gold Coast between Downtown and Boystown, Golden Bean restaurant.
Hotel Monaco Chicago (225 N Wabash; 866-610-0081), downtown boutique hotel, luxurious French decor, South Water Kitchen restaurant, fitness center, business center; part of Kimpton chain.
House 5863 (5863 N Glenwood Ave; 773-944-5555), gay-friendly B&B between lake & North Clark nightlife, flex-time breakfast, garden and deck areas.
Kinzie Hotel (20 W Kinzie; 312-395-9095) in River North, contemporary luxury boutique hotel, near Magnificent Mile shops, 24-hour business and fitness centers.
Majestic Hotel (528 W Brompton; 773-404-3499), "shabby chic" alternative boutique hotel, cozy rooms, closest to the lake rooms in Lakeview; breakfast, gym access, WiFi.
Villa Toscana Guest House (3447 N Halsted; 773-404-2643), small gay-friendly Boystown central guesthouse, landscaped front yard, broadband wireless, self-serve continental breakfast.
Willows Hotel (555 West Surf St; 773-528-8400), Lincoln Park location two blocks from lake, breakfast, WiFi, gym access.
See over a dozen more Chicago lodgings suggestions on our map and listings pages.
Bars & clubs: Lakeview area
3160 (3160 N Clark) small neighborhood bar with open mic nights, local and celebrity guest drag performances, plus cabaret shows in their piano lounge.
Berlin (954 W Belmont) acclaimed multicultural alternative and queer dance club, late-night crowd, performance artists, live music, comedy, drag shows, guest DJs, dancing until 4-5am. Just-released cutting-edge nuggets mix with classics in hands of Chicago's freshest generation of DJ talent.
Bobby Love's (3729 N Halsted) tiny neighborhood bar at the top of Boystown where karaoke rules.
Cell Block (3702 N Halsted), men's cruise, video and dance bar, games, bear nights, IML and Mr. International Rubber events & special parties.
Charlie's (3726 N Broadway) rollicking country-western bar, morphs into high-energy dance club after 2am Thursdays - Sundays (tp 5am Saturdays) when other Boystown bars have closed.
Circuit (3641 N Halsted), Thursdays through Sundays, drag shows, hip-hop nights with sexy go-go dancers; Saturday male reviews and dance party in two rooms, Triple XXX parties last Saturdays; Sunday Noche Vaquera/ Latina.
Chloe's (3208 N Halsted) opened at the old Spin location in June, but was quickly replaced by Manhole and Whiskey Trust (3206 N Halsted) in September. Now, after those bars closed abruptly in December 2014 (see Hydrate), will either Chloe's or Manhole return? Rattle the doors at the corner of W Belmont and N Halsted, and let us know....
Closet (3325 N Broadway), lesbian owned, friendly to all neighborhood bar, games, free WiFi, special theme parties.
DS Tequila Co (3352 N Halsted St), tequila bar, beer and cocktails, bar food includes appetizers, burgers, and tacos.
Elixir Lounge (3452 N Halsted), specialty cocktails, prohibition-era classics, tastings, special events, next to Hydrate.
Halsted's Bar & Grill (3441 N Halsted St), casual gay bar and grill at Boystown central, comfort food burgers, mac 'n cheese, meatloaf, salads, paninis and wraps
Hydrate (3458 N Halsted) crushingly packed, cruisy dance club, young, fashionable, attractive crowd and staff, hot dancers and contests, blackout parties, drag shows, cabaret and theme nights like lube wrestling first Fridays. Monday $1 drinks. Ongoing Manhole parties moved here from the now closed Halsted at Belmont location.
Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club (3700 N Halsted St), diva martini and cocktail lounge, starters, dinner entrees, champagne brunch.
Little Jim's (3501 N Halsted) early or late-nights, after all the others have closed, men's drinking and cruising bar, cheap drinks.
Lucky Horseshoe Lounge (3169 N Halsted), Chicago's only every-night rotation of erotic male dancers, on stage, on bars, and mingling. Holidays always celebrated in style, and if porn stars in town they usually show up here.
Manhandler (1948 N Halsted) men's cruise bar halfway from Boystown to Downtown, very active patio and backroom, especially in the later hours.
Metro (3730 N Clark) concert and party venue, special gay events and performances; cocktail lounge.
Minibar (3341 N Halsted) long narrow lounge and cafe for style-conscious metrosexuals.
North End (3733 N Halsted) Chicago's original gay sports bar, neighborhood tavern, ports video and TV games, pool tables, dart boards, athletic crowd. Bar-sponsored football, water polo, darts, bowling, softball, and volleyball teams, porn stars headline special events.
Patron's Hacienda (316 West Erie St), Near North Mexican restaurant, video sports bar, weekend Latin dance club.
Progress Bar (3359 N Halsted), new concept design lounge, nightly themes, guest DJs, mixed crowd, craft beers/ales, impressive liquor/cocktails selection; great window on Halsted. Former Cocktail site.
Replay (3439 N Halsted), arcade bar with retro video games and pinball machines, 25-tap local draft and craft beers. Was Bucks.
Roscoe's (3356 N Halsted) popular bar complex at Boystown center, compact, intensely active dance area, lounge and pub, plus patio and sidewalk restaurant. Constant stream of events include Wet Boxer Shorts, weekly drag, and Male Call game nights.
Scarlet (3320 N Halsted) rich decor, small, pleasant escape from Boystown crush. Rotating events include local artists, independent film, top name DJs, comedy and theme parties.
Sidetrack (3349 N Halsted) spacious video bar compex, many rooms and ambiences, inside and out. Central big-screen video bar, laughing and singing crowd, queer and eclectic fare from amazing archives. Show tunes Sunday, Monday favorites, Thursdayscomedy. Special events, biggest, most diverse crowd in Chicago. Valet parking too.
Smart Bar (3730 N Clark St), small mixed late-hour weekend dance club, at concert venue Metro.
Spin (800 W Belmont) - CLOSED Memorial Day 2014 - young crowd, dance club and lounge; karaoke, drag contests and bingo nights; Friday night amateur strip shower contests, Saturday dance parties.
Bars & clubs: Northside to Andersonville & Westside
Atmosphere (5355 N Clark) dance bar, strippers Thursday to Sunday.
Big Chicks (5024 N Sheridan) local bar and restaurant for all, patio, Sunday BBQ buffet. Bear Den at Big Chicks every Thursday night.
The Call (1547 W Bryn Mawr) video, dance and party bar until 2am every night, pop and retro music, home-inspired entertainment. Easy to reach at Bryn Mawr Red Line station.
Crew Bar and Grill (4804 N Broadway) popular music and sports video bar, cute and trendy crowd. Good basic food, 68 kinds of beer inside, or at sidewalk cafe, daily until midnight; weekend brunch 11am - 3pm.
Davenport's Piano Bar (1383 N Milwaukee, Wicker Park) mostly straight but gay-friendly piano and cabaret bar with student discounts.
Granville Anvil (1137 W Granville) men's dive bar, opens early at 9am for the dedicated regulars.
Hopleaf (5148 N. Clark St) bar with kitchen, known for their Belgian ale selection.
In Fine Spirits (5420 N. Clark St), wine bar, mostly straight but diverse and gay-friendly crowd.
Jackhammer (6406 N Clark) diverse crowd upper bar for gay men and women, dance floor, patio. Downstairs basement Levi-leather/fetish and sex-charged Hole. Bear events, strippers, theme parties. Open to 4am nightly, 5am Saturdays.
Joie De Vine (1744 Balmoral) wine bar, arts crowd, mostly women.
Marty's (1511 W Balmoral Ave) often crowded chic gay martini bar, back patio relieves the crush. Martinis include: Pineapple-Upside-Down, Strawberry, Pomegranate, and Chocolate Mint.
Off Chances at Danny’s (1959 W. Dickens Ave), 2nd Tuesdays "cheap drinks, good music, free stuff, and queer people" dance party and collective. Also nights at The Subterranean and The Hideout (see website).
Scot's (1829 W Montrose) neighborhood bar in Ravenswood area, near Montrose (Brown) CTA stop, busiest after 5pm, mostly gay, welcomes all.
Sofo Tap (4923 N Clark). neighborhood gay bar, pool table, DILF Nights for older guys and those who like them, bears, large dog-friendly patio.
Touche (6412 N Clark) leather/rubber/fetish men's bar with cheap beer, bear nights, fun contests and porn star events, dress-code and very active cruisy back rooms.
Bars & clubs: Downtown & Southside
Baton Show Lounge (436 N Clark) first-rate drag shows for a mostly straight crowd.
Club Escape (1530 E 75th St) Southside, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, "Chicago's number one black alternative nightclub," low-price drinks.
Dick's R U Crazy (1221 E 150th St, Hammond IN), neighborhood gay and lesbian party bar, bingo, pool, free hot dogs Sundays.
Downtown (440 N State St), gay/lesbian video and karaoke lounge at old Gentry address, afterwork drinks and relaxation; masquerade and underwear parties alternating Fridays.
Evergreen 9 Vodka Lounge (809 W Evergreen), Friday/Saturday African-American/Latin gay and mixed dance club, cocktail lounge.
Funky Buddha Lounge (728 W Grand Ave), wide-ranging gay-friendly cross-section of people dance club.
InnExile (5758 W 65th) sociable neighborhood video bar in the Southwest, near Midway Airport, with free parking and Chicago Beef dancers on Fridays.
Second Story Bar (157 E Ohio) long-time downtown gay bar in area convenient to Magnificent Mile shoppers.
Bars & clubs: Suburbs
Club Krave (13126 Western Ave, Blue Island) mostly gay crowd in southern suburbs with male dancers, plus karaoke, bingo, pool games, bear nights, monthly drag shows, and other parties.
Forest View Lounge (4519 S Harlem Ave, Forest View), bar and grill with cozy North Woods tavern vibe, hot sandwiches, comfort foods, beer garden, games, women's sports teams.
Hideaway Nightclub (7301 W Roosevelt Rd, Forest Park) - CLOSED - karaoke, weekend dancing upstairs, male erotic dancers, free pool game nights.
Maneuvers (118 E Jefferson St, Joliet), LGBT/ everyone welcome neighborhood bar for 33 years, weekend DJs, Latin nights, chili cook-offs. (Off our map).
Saunas & sex spaces
Banana Video (4923 N Clark) adult gay video store with screening rooms and accessories.
Bijiou Theater (1349 Wells) multi- level porn heaven with large screens and action-filled garden.
Man's Country (5017 N Clark) grand old-style bathhouse with all the steamy amenities and lots of male interaction. Famous for Friday and Saturday midnight nude stripper and guest porn star shows.
Ram Bookstore (3511 N Halsted) adult magazines and DVDs, cruise maze, video booths with 'ventilation' -also with late night dance and play floor, with music DJs and light show.
Steamworks (3246 N Halsted) ultra modern gay gym and sauna with all the bathhouse, video, internet and playspace facilities and then some, including live DJs. Monthly CumUnion sex parties, each second Monday.
For a more complete list see our restaurant listings section.
Ann Sather Restaurant (909 W Belmont) grand Swedish diner serving superb breakfast varieties of Eggs Benedicts, omelettes, wraps, pancakes and waffles; also lunch and justly famous cinnamon rolls. Additional locations in Andersonville, Granville, and on Broadway (see website).
Chicago Diner (3411 N Halsted) award-winning, mostly vegan meat-free meals, brunch, bakery, organic wines and beer, juice bar, margaritas and shakes.
Halsted's Bar & Grill (3441 N Halsted) gay crowd for brunch, dinner, beer and cocktails, large outdoor beer garden, music video jukebox.
Jack's on Halsted (3201 N Halsted), American contemporary bistro, burgers, gourmet pizzas, open seven nights for dinner, Saturday and Sunday brunch with Mimosas and Bloody Mary specials.
Melrose Restaurant (3233 N Broadway) casual vibe, big menu, always open, all-American diner with breakfast all the time.
Nookies Tree (3334 N Halsted) casual American no-nonsense wholesome food Boystown restaurant, open 7am to midnight, 24 hours on weekends. Before or after-bar meeting place, quiet afternoon meal, or hearty Sunday brunch. Also Nookies Too, (2114 N Halsted).
Orange (3231 N Clark) inventive breakfast, brunch & sandwich fare until 3pm every day. Orange flavored infused coffee a specialty here.
Pie Hole (3477 N Broadway) convenient and tasty late-night slices after the nearby Boystown bars close (moved from Roscoe).
Stella's Diner (3042 N Broadway) good American no-frills diner food includes soup, salads, sandwiches, milk shakes and plenty more from a big menu, 7am to 10pm.
Taverna 750 (750 W Cornelia Ave), Italian traditional food, small plates, dinner, Saturday and Sunday brunch, bar with craft drinks, patio; at old Cornelia's location.
Whole Foods (3640 N Halsted) freshly prepared takeout and self-serve salads at Center on Halsted.
Crew Bar and Grill (4804 N Broadway) gay sports bar and grill with fabulous weekend brunches, inexpensive all-American fare until 10pm inside or out on the sidewalk cafe. All You Can Eat Thursday pasta specials, Fish Taco Fridays, half-price appetizers from 10pm to 1am on Fridays and Saturdays, and many daily drinks specials.
Hamburger Mary's (5400 N Clark) gay diner, 11-11 weekdays, with weekend brunch 10:30am to 3pm. Sports on TV, trivia games, gong shows, karaoke, cabaret and live soaps keep things always interesting.
Indie Cafe (5951 N Broadway), a stellar restaurant and bar serving spice authentic Thai cuisine and sushi from their large menu.
M Henry (5707 N Clark) new American-style restaurant and bakery with healthy cuisine for breakfast from 7am, (8 on weekends) and lunch. Famous for blackberry bliss cakes.
Tweet (5020 N Sheridan) breakfast and Saturday/Sunday brunch until 3pm; dining in the salon six nights a week (closed Tuesdays) from the grill menu plus Friday night specials. Free wi-fi.
Pizzeria Uno (29 E Ohio) Chicago's famed deep-dish pizza, since 1943. A classic, pleasantly different from the multitude it spawned. Pizzaria Due (619 N Wabash Ave) is just around the corner.
Shopping & services:
Boystown Tee's and Collectibles (3459 N Halsted), rainbow gifts, cards, jewelry, t-shirts, calendars, music, comic book action figures and fun toys. Was Gay Mart.
Brown Elephant Resale (3645 N Halsted) the Howard Brown Health Center second-hand shop with clothing, books, household goods, music; benefits gay and AIDS groups.
Chicago Male (3418 N Halsted) salon and spa has been called "one of the best" in Chicago by Tabatha Coffey of Bravo TV.
The Chicago Tattooing and Piercing Company LTD (1017 W Belmont) does safe branding and piercing with a gay-friendly outfit.
Dude Undies (1754 N Latrobe Ave), designer brand men's underwear, thongs, boxers, singlets, jocks, swimwear, thermal undies, long and short sleeve T-shirts, tank tops, hoodies, and socks.
Leather 6410 (6410 N Clark), uptown leather and fetish boutique for men and women.
Shel-don Custom Leather (3920 N Broadway) custom leather creations and alterations from a Chicago leather legend. With Sheldon's retirement in 2013, store hours are Friday/Saturday noon-7pm, with bargains while they last.
Unabridged Books (3251 N Broadway) has focused on gay and lesbian titles since 1980 with good general public selections too. From the latest issues of gay magazines to Children's classics they cover the spectrum.
Women and Children First (5233 N Clark St), feminist/LGBT indie bookstore, knowledgeable staff.
Cheetah Gym (5248 N Clark), Andersonville's gay choice for workouts, strength and cardio, steamroom, internet café.
Fitness Formula Club (3228 N Halsted) gayest outpost in Lakeview with personal trainers, Bootcamp programs, aquatics, massage services, facials, martial arts, yoga and more.
Quads (3727 N Broadway), cheapest gay-friendly gym in Lakeview, cardio, strength and fitness, personal trainers.