Monday, September 19, 2011

Paris Dance

Ad for Paris Dance
Paris Dance

Location: 1122 West Montrose Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Opened: 1987

Closed: November 15, 1997

So why did this lesbian space die? Former Paris Dance owner Linda Rogers identified two main reasons:

1) Lack of discretionary income in the lesbian community. But also, as it's pointed out here, greater expenses. The cost of raising children. And the cost of transportation. (I have long felt that the transportation has been ignored as a feminist issue. I suspect that if women have the resources, they will avoid public transportation because of the sexual harassment/personal safety issues. Plus, women tend to have more errands to run compared to men: dropping off the kids at daycare, doing the family grocery shopping, second job, etc., so that makes public transportation far more inconvenient for them.)

2) "Younger lesbians" no longer have the will to create or sustain their own spaces. They are more than happy to join the party at the gay men's clubs, and pour their limited incomes into the pockets of the men who own/manage those places. And the men in these places, for the most part, are happy to syphon off their money as well. Hence, all the "themed nights" catering to women. (But just for one night, mind you.)

Notice that since the article below was published in August 1997, that Girlbar and Lost and Found have both died as well.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Take a quick peek at Paris Dance, the city's quintessential lesbian night club.

There, on the dance floor, two creamy-skinned young Latinas -- both with tiny pearl earrings, a dab of lipstick -- expertly twist to the merengue mix. The one in the tight white dress holds her partner by the hand, spinning her like a top with just a touch of her fingers. They kick and slide, hips grinding.

At the bar, a row of middle-aged women of all colors -- veterans of too many softball games and insular romances -- talk strategies and domestic life, laughing it up as if they were sitting on somebody's front stoop.

After 13 years in the bar business, Linda Rodgers finally got the bar she'd hoped for: racially diverse, culturally fascinating, with a wide range of ages and professions represented throughout the large Uptown complex.

But come fall, Rodgers, who has owned Paris since it opened in 1987, will be closing shop. The property was on the market for just eight days before Rodgers and her business partner made a nice little profit. She's in love, she says, with no idea what she'll do next, but sure it's going to be with the new woman in her life and in her home state of Florida.

In the meantime, the shuttering of Paris leaves Chicago with a darkened cityscape. Although most queer papers list more than 100 gay and gay-friendly bars in Chicago, only two others besides Paris cater to lesbians: the brand new Girlbar in Lincoln Park, and the Lost and Found, the city's oldest sapphic gathering space.

While each has its charms, neither has the space nor the over-the-top urban Amazon decor of Paris, and neither has played such a consistently vital role in shaping local lesbian culture or the role of lesbians in city politics.

"I don't think there will be another bar like this, this large, for lesbians again, not for a long time," predicts Rodgers.

The reason? Economics.

"Women makes less money than men, whether they're surgeons or street sweepers, and that's just consistently true," she says. "As a business, we're profitable, but we would have been far more profitable if we'd catered to gay men. Men have more expendable income -- that's a fact. They drink more, tip more, visit bars more often."

And, says Rodgers, lesbians have expenses gay men don't necessarily incur.

"Most lesbians own cars as a necessity, not as a luxury, but to feel safe -- and that brings on the cost of insurance, parking, all that," she says. "And lesbians, as women, still get stuck far more often than gay men with the cost of raising children, which is enormous."

But she's quick to add that there have been changes in the use of women's spaces because of women's own choices.

"Younger lesbians just don't have as much of a need for their own space," explains Rodgers. "They're interested in queer-friendly spaces, but not necessarily (whether) they're gay, lesbian, bi or mixed."

She points out that male-owned bars, such as Berlin, and mixed bars, such as Crobar, have been luring lesbians with themed nights and parties for years now.

"As an activist" -- Rodgers was a founding member of Harold Washington's Committee on Gay and Lesbian Issues, among other civil rights activities -- "it's what I've been working to have happen," she says. "But it's a development that's come on the backs of gay- and lesbian-owned businesses. Are we really making a change for the better if we integrate? In a few years, will we be like the black community, lamenting the loss of the black cultural community on the South Side after downtown businesses opened up to them?"

For Rodgers, opening Paris was never just about money. She'd worked in a mixed bar -- The Closet -- and knew that, in the gay community, the dollars were on the boy side of the street. For Rodgers, Paris was a statement.

"I wanted to show a lesbian bar didn't need to be a tiny, dirty room with some guy at the door acting like he was doing you a favor by letting you in," she says. "Our walls and windows were never black or covered, we have mirrors, we had women bouncers at the door, lighted walkways. That's all standard now, but it sure wasn't then."

Her favorite moments in the last 13 years? There were two. "Gay Pride Sundays were always amazing because we got about 5,000 people partying in the parking lot and there was no way anybody driving by couldn't know we were all queer," she says, laughing. "The other was when Luis Gutierrez had a fundraiser here in 1987 -- that's common now but it wasn't then. He'd brought his daughter, who was really young then and he stood in the middle of the room and said he wanted her to meet gay people, so she'd get to know us and not be prejudiced. When he got done, there wasn't a dry eye in the house."

Come Nov. 15, when the lights go out at Paris one last time, there won't be one, either.

The space is now occupied by a condominium development.

Ad for Paris Dance

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