Monday, October 24, 2011

The Patch

Women's band performing
at the Patch
The Patch

Location: 201 155th Place, Calumet City, Illinois, USA

Opened: 1971

Closed: late 2005/January 2006

The Patch was founded by Elizabeth E. Tocci, a prominent lesbian businesswoman and activist. She was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1994. Here is a selection from the Hall of Fame write-up:

Elizabeth E. Tocci
Elizabeth E. Tocci (known as "Toc") was born on Chicago's South Side and raised in the Pullman and Roseland neighborhoods, where she spent the first 28 years of her life. She opened her first gay bar, called the 307 Club, in 1963; since 1971, Toc has owned and operated The Patch in Calumet City, one of the oldest lesbian-owned establishments in the Chicago area or the country.

During the past 31 years she has provided a welcoming space for lesbians and gay men, beginning in a time when few such places were available, particularly for lesbians. "There were straight-owned establishments where gay people would go, but before I opened up there were no gay-owned places." The Patch has always been home to a diverse clientele: "Women drove down from the North Side, from the South Side; this was the only place going." Toc has also provided a venue for gay and lesbian performers over the years; singers such as Nancy Hill and Valerie James have regularly performed to crowds of enthusiastic women.

Here's how one typical Chicago-area bar guide described the place:

The Patch is the 2nd oldest lesbian bar in the country located in the Chicago land area. It has a neighborhood bar flavor, but they occasionally have live bands, etc. on Fridays/Saturdays. Karaoke is the 2nd & 4th Friday of each month and Free Pool & Darts on Thursdays.

(The oldest, by the way, was Lost & Found--which is also featured here at Lost Womyn's Space.)

Toc represented an endangered species--the old-school lesbian bar owner who was committed to giving back to the community. Again, according to the Hall of Fame:

Toc supports numerous causes, including the Changing Woman Center, a counseling center for victims of domestic violence and rape; the Calumet City Resource Center; and Chicago House. She has provided sponsorship of women's sports, offering financial and moral support for softball, basketball, flag football, and bowling teams. During the past year she helped raise money for the Windy City Athletic Association, to assist teams participating in the Gay Games. Recently Toc helped to establish PRISM, a women's group which focuses on education, financial planning, women's self-defense, legal rights of lesbian partners, and entertainment. The PRISM Post newspaper, initiated in June 1993, provides outreach to lesbians in the south suburbs.

That isn't to say that running a lesbian bar in Calumet City was all good times and good works--especially in the old days.

While Tocci has been honored by the Calumet City Chamber of Commerce for her many years of service to the business community, she has also had to confront harassment by homophobic members of the local population. The bar windows were broken out many years ago, and Toc has noted, "It's hard to come out here." She believes the atmosphere in the 1990s is more calm: "I know gay people who manage banks; gay lawyers come into The Patch. I'm gay and I'm proud. I don't know anything else."

Toc died in December 2010 at the age of 74. Her obituary mentions that The Patch had since been closed and torn down, but doesn't provide a date.

But a little more digging reveals that The Patch was sold to Nicole "Nikki" Maskaant around 1998, who continued the bar under the same name. According to the Windy City Times,

Due to health, [Elizabeth] Tocci had to sell, or even possibly close the bar. It could have ended there, but not only did Nikki buy the bar, she infused new life into it by bringing in entertainment and a younger perspective.

She kept Tocci on as a consultant and continues to provide the community with the traditional events Tocci's customers had enjoyed over the years. It's been a struggle, yet she is still dedicated to maintaining this South Side alternative to the community.
It was inspiring to see how Nikki also continued Toc's practice of generosity and caring. As she told the Windy City Times,
I also try to do or support a lot of charity work through my bar. That's very important to me. We do fundraisers to help fight breast cancer each year, and every Christmas I try to do something for those less fortunate than us and get as many of our patrons involved as I can. Last year we collected toys and clothes for families that couldn't afford them by having a Christmas tree at the bar. Patrons could select an ornament from the tree and buy for the child listed on the ornament by age, etc. Everyone brought everything to the bar and I delivered them. It was fun.

A few years later, The Patch was sold to Danielle Chayhitz and Tracy Kanowoton. They reopened it under the name  DiChanos in January 2006. This is one of the few times that I've seen a lesbian bar replace a lesbian bar--the only other example I can think of right off-hand is Sisters replacing Hepburn's in Philadelphia. But apparently, DiChanos lasted but a relatively short time.

Photo: Patch interior from myspace

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