Location: 5419 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Closed: January 1, 2010
Star Gaze got off to an illustrious start, as it was voted "Best New Business of 1999" by the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Chamber.
The fact that Star Gaze posts flyers supporting women in labor unions attests to their blue-collar lesbian leanings. Not every dyke who comes to Star Gaze can route your drain or calibrate your brakes, although if you like that kind of gal, you will not be disappointed. As one of the few nearly exclusively lesbian bars in the city, Star Gaze is popular with local lesbians who want to grab a beer and a pool game in a friendly, casual environment. Friday nights feature salsa music and dancing, and the Latina butches and femmes come dressed to the nines. On Saturday nights, the DJ spins a hodgepodge of music to shake your hips too.
By August 2009, the press was reporting that Star Gaze was in trouble. Though some snobs dissed it for its supposed butches-singing-karaoke reputation, it was still recognized that Start Gaze was Chicago's "only option for lesbian-catered nightlife in a male saturated gay scene." Rumors started that it was soon to be turned into a sports bar.
And then, by the end of New Years Eve, the Star Gaze was gone. As Rex W. Huppke reported in the Chicago Tribune, times finally caught up with Chicago's last full-time lesbian bar:
Mamie Lake was away from her Andersonville bar and social hub for Chicago's lesbian community for a total of only 14 days from the day it opened in 1998 to last call in the wee hours of this new year.
"I opened the bar knowing there was a need for it," said Lake, 62. "It went big time. We had people moving into the neighborhood because of the bar. It was like a gay Mayberry."
For more than a decade, the bar — Star Gaze — had been an icon in the gay community, so much so that many gay women still can't believe it's gone. It was, by many accounts, the last full-time lesbian bar in Chicago.
The economy contributed mightily to Lake's decision to close, but so did shifts in the way gay women socialize. As public acceptance of homosexuality has grown, women feel more at ease gathering in places besides bars.
"There are lesbian book groups and other kinds of social spaces now where people can find each other," said Jennifer Brier, associate professor of history and gender and women's studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Amy Maggio, a longtime Chicago gay and lesbian activist, agreed that there are other options.
"Maybe 20 years ago, when people were not as out and about, there were a number of lesbian bars in Chicago," she said. "It was one of the only ways to gather. I think now there are so many different opportunities and so much more openness in society that the bars aren't as necessary as they once were."
Still, some feel the loss of Star Gaze will leave a significant void, particularly for women new to the city or those just embracing their sexuality.
"For a young queer woman coming out or just arriving here, someone looking for community where they feel comfortable, I don't know where that place is going to be anymore or where that one bar is," said Christina Santiago, manager of programming for the Lesbian Community Care Project at the Howard Brown Health Center in Lakeview. "This is a really big loss for Chicago's lesbian community."
For gay men, socializing has long been — and continues to be — centered on the bar scene. That's evidenced in Chicago by the numerous nightspots that line Halsted Street in the swath of Lakeview known as Boystown.
Just as the vultures come out when there's road kill, so the apologists come out after a womyn's space dies. Predictably, we must dismiss the old-fashioned lesbian bar as hideously hidebound and sing the praises of the Guerilla Girl Bar people and their bimonthly "take overs" of straight bars--for one stinking night. Like being "hobo" (homeless and poor?) is really a cool and groovy thing! (At least it's good enough for lesbians.) You just need to free your minds, girls! And don't worry your pretty heads about who's going to sponsor the women's softball team or the next Lesbian Community Cancer Project fundraiser! Not a big deal! Journalist Heather Shouse is in charge of the mandatory post-mortem this time.
Photo: The Star Gaze