Review: Gay Old Times, Last Call Chicago, by Rick Karlin and St. Sukie de la Croix

Last Call Chicago is not a narrative book. Rather it is an extensive listing with brief descriptions of 1,001 LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly bars and such. But it is also a labor of love.

Enjoyable, informative, and historic.

The introduction reminds readers that prior to the existence of LGBT groups and organizations, gay bars were frequently raided by police. The Stonewall Inn may be the most famous raid in American history but plenty of other lesser-known "Stonewalls" happening around the country.

The best way to approach Last Call Chicago is to rummage through its pages, stopping at places of interest along the way and to be on the lookout for any personal favorites. Another part of the interest in the book is to see how many historic places are now gone. Whenever possible, the editors include a brief history of these bars.

Author St. Sukie de la Croix

One of the most popular of the places mentioned is the Baton Show Lounge. The
Baton was at two Clark Street locations—430 and then 436 N. Clark Street––from
1968 to 2019, before moving to Uptown. It featured popular female impersonators such as
Chili Pepper and Ginger Grant. Karlin and de la Croix add that owner Jim Flint was an
openly gay community activist as well as, at one point, a candidate for Cook County
Commissioner in the early 1970s.

Last Call Chicago also offers historic venues as the Dill Pickle Club near the Newberry Library
and Club DeLisa on South State Street, a black and tan club; that is, a club that catered to white, mixed race, and black patrons. It was also gay-friendly during an era when that
was uncommon.

The 1920s-era Green Mask Tearoom on Grand Avenue was owned by Agnes “Bunny” Weiner, a former burlesque queen, chorus girl, and snake charmer, and her lover Beryl Boughton, a silent movie actress. Both were friends of the famous anarchist Emma Goldman. The poet Kenneth Rexroth was a regular, as were female impersonators. In the summer of 1922, the police raided the Green Mask and Weiner was charged with keeping “a disorderly house.” Karlin and de la Croix include an accompanying vintage newspaper clipping, which notes that, “Numerous complaints of neighbors that the bohemian atmosphere was too noisy for sleeping in the vicinity caused the raids.”

Similarly, another 1920s venue, the short-lived Wind Blew Inn was a café and bohemian gathering place run by a circus performer Lillian Collier and her “friend” Virginia Harrison. It was also often raided by police.

Author Rick Karlin

Other places are of more recent vintage: Hamburger Mary’s/Mary’s Attic, His ‘n’ Hers, La Mere Vipere, Neo, and the like. Others are still open such as Big Chicks and the Jeffrey Pub, while others are new: Nobody’s Darling, the acclaimed lesbian cocktail bar in Andersonville, opened in 2021.

Scattered throughout are memories of the places that people share with the authors. The resident DJ of the members-only after hours club the Warehouse was Frankie Knuckles. Knuckles, who died in 2014, helped develop and popularize house music in Chicago. A dancer by the name of James told the authors, “The Warehouse was a trip. It was hi-energy and it was just about the music...“ He even compared it to a church. “In fact,” he said, “we used to call it church. We’d go there about three or four in the morning, and everybody would be in make-up and outfits, then you’d roll out of the place at noon on Sunday, as everyone was going to church downtown.”

The book is also full of wonderful black and white advertisements, which adds to the fun. For some readers, it will be a bittersweet walk down memory lane; for others, it will be an entirely new experience.

Last Call Chicago: A History of 1001 LGBTQ-Friendly Taverns, Haunts & Hangouts, by
Rick Karlin and St Sukie de la Croix is available from the publisher, Rattling Good Yarns and at bookstores.

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Picture of the author
June Sawyers

June Sawyers has published more than 25 books. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, New City, San Francisco Chronicle, and Stagebill. She teaches at the Newberry Library and is the founder of the arts group, the Phantom Collective.