The night before, I was making dinner when I got a text from Darrin, a mid-20s Black gay guy I had met the previous week singing Karaoke:
D: How’s the dissertation?
J: Hey! It’s going pretty well. I’m just enjoying a slow night at home tonight. More work awaits in the morning. How are you doing?
D: I’m ok, traveling from out of town. So what is your thesis? I’m really intrigued by this.
J: well I’m interested in how people meet in boystown, especially issues of race in the queer community
J: Are you going to watch drag race tomorrow?
D: Not sure yet. I’m trying to plan something with a friend I haven’t seen in a while. I’ll keep you posted.
J: Sounds good!
The next day, Darrin texted me at 7:14 (chat logs are so specific):
D: Looks like I’m stayin in. Sorry bro 😦
J: No Worries! have fun with your friends!
I use too many exclamation points in my texts.
I decided that I was still going to go. The week before, I had gone to watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race at Roscoe’s, a classic gay bar at the corner of Roscoe and Halsted. But, being completely unable to get myself ready on time, I couldn’t make the 8 PM start time. Darrin told me the previous week that Spin was the official LOGO viewing party for Drag Race. They got a DVD of the episodes commercial free to show at 9 PM each week.
Spin is about a 25 minute walk from my apartment at the other end of Boystown. The first floor of a building that occupies the entire corner of Belmont and Halsted, Spin marks the beginning of the neighborhood. Although 15 years ago it was an Irish pub, now the posters behind glass that line the outside every few feet advertise a different kind of venue: Friday Shower Contest with shirtless twinks!
Walking in, a mid-20s butch Latina asked for my ID. She had on a orange button-up western shirt, with dark black pants, and a small black beret that kept her short slick hair back, except where it poked out the front in an emo bang. I had some struggles getting my ID out. I handed it to her. “I guess this what you’re looking for.”
“That’s not all you can give me, honey,” she laughed, picking up her bangs and tossing them back.
The front bar was too packed, so I went around to an empty space in the back bar. Leaning up against the bar next to the bar service mat, I had a great view of the small flat screen TV bolted up in the corner. The nearby stage was empty. There would be no midnight shower contest tonight. Lifting myself by my forearms practically on to the bar with my feet no longer touching the floor–a position that I’ve found is the only way for a shorter guy like me to get service–I looked over at the bartender and asked him if they had any specials.
The LOGO and Absolute sponsored ad came on the TV signaling the beginning of Drag Race. The bartender pointed up at the screen “those, the OUTrageous cocktail.” From the screen, Manila Luzon, contender in Season 3 of Drag Race, informed me that a OUTrageous cocktail was Absolut Citron, Absolut Mandrin, and some other stuff that she forgot. Even on special, it still cost me 5 bucks–7 after tip–and was incredibly sweet. I’m usually a gin or whiskey boy, unlike many of the vodka gays that have kept Absolute in business for 30 years.
“D: Going to Spin.” my phone buzzed. I joined him and his friend Jon up at the front bar at the next commercial. Behind the bar, a stylish skinny white bartender and a shorter Latino barback are busy with all the commotion. Drinking next to Darrin was a heavy-set Black guy. He ordered four shots, drank one and carried two over to a mid-30s Asian-American guy in a red Chicago Bulls jersey who immediately shot one back. They were too busy grinding on each other to notice Darrin drink the shot they left behind.
I looked around, briefly surprised that I’m actually here. I’d made it to Chicago to see this slice of being gay in Boystown. From the white bear sitting near the front to the two girls making out in the corner to the young Black transwoman sipping a drink talking to the man next to her, the bar wasn’t anything like the college town I’d moved from.
This was a Queer Metropolis.