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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Bijou marks 40 years of controversy, entertainment
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2011-07-27

This article shared 9175 times since Wed Jul 27, 2011
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The Bijou Theatre has been a constant in Chicago's LGBT community, now ready to celebrate a merry milestone: 40 years.

The multi-story facility in Old Town is celebrating an anniversary that few in the LGBT community can boast—and it is even more rewarding considering the Bijou's early years, which were filled with protests, police raids, the AIDS epidemic and more.

"I feel honored that people are still coming to the Bijou," said Steven Toushin, 64, the Bijou's president. "A sex place open 40 years, I feel that it is quite an accomplishment [to still be open]. I feel proud that we have given pleasure to so many men over the years and still do. I feel proud that [the] Bijou has been part of Chicago's gay community and sexual underground. In no other city could a Bijou have survived this long, [with] the police, the politics, the changing neighborhood, AIDS, etc., Chicago is quite unique. Chicago's gay community is unique. There isn't any other city like it in the country."

Toushin, 64, who also lives in Old Town, is now divorced (from a woman) and living with a female partner. He has two children, a son and a married daughter. His daughter lives down the street from him with her husband and child—and Toushin's grandson spends three or four days per week in his office. There is even a small nursery for the youngster at the Toushin's office, located a few doors away from the actual theatre.

"I have never thought about promoting a birthday, let alone an anniversary," for the Bijou, Toushin said. "We're going to have some sexual street theater; strippers; we're making a short film history of the Bijou; blow up a few newspaper articles; bring in Bruno, hopefully, [who was] a 1970s porn icon; have food and drink; serve a large cock cake that will have an orgasmic erupt; have giveaways, etc."

Of course, nothing is mild when talking about the Bijou, a magnet for controversy since, well, the day it opened.

"I worked [the Bijou] like it was going to be around forever, or until I didn't exist," Toushin said. "In truth, I had no idea [how long it would survive]. It all depended on my being around, which was very questionable at times. But the Bijou is still here, all because people keep coming through our doors.

"In those [early] years it was drugs, sex, rock and roll, and more sex. Police raids, local obscenity arrests, federal obscenity arrests, more courts, lawyers and more trials. Then there was harassment from the building department, [and] a few bomb threats. I would have to say life was fairly interesting."

The Bijou remains a theatre, with seating for about 50—and, naturally, gay porn showing 24 hours a day.

"I also enjoyed dealing with many wonderful, crazy filmmakers back [in the day]. Those men were very proud of the films they made," Toushin said. "In those [early] years, gay films [appearing in] theaters were an event. Widely popular with international known stars, most of the films had story lines, and the few studios that existed along with filmmakers also enjoyed international notoriety. Those early years produced strong positive gay images, sexual images that were presented on the movie screens. The gay men that were out in those years created the radical gay community that fought for equality which was reflected in film."

Truly, gay life in Chicago has changed dramatically since the Bijou's doors first opened.

In the 1970s, for instance, films presented at the Bijou were an event, which brought with it cruising for sex.

Near the end of the 1970s, the Bijou expanded its sexual areas to accommodate the demand by adding a second floor.

In the 1980s, a third floor was added, though it has since closed.

The disco bar Carol's Speakeasy was located next door, while The Gloryhole bar with its stripper boys was next door. There also were two adult bookstores, and the office for Gay Chicago was down the street at the time.

"When Carols let out at 4 a.m., the Bijou had new sexual energy till about 9 a.m.," Toushin said.

Also during the 1980s, the Bijou had parties in conjunction with Touche, where people would be travel by bus from the bar to the Bijou. And there always was a keg of cold beer on the bus.

"I have no idea how people got home when they left the Bijou [and] there always was leather and toys left behind from the Touche crowd, as well as shirts, jockstraps and jeans from the Carols crowd."

Toushin started selling videos in 1978 and, by 1980, he was selling videos to customers across the United States.

In the 1990s, the Bijou added strippers, mainly the men who were in the movies produced with Toby Ross, Michael Donner, etc. The stripper shows were presented four days a week, in the afternoons and evenings.

Also, in 1991, the Bijou had its last obscenity bust—and that was the same year convicted murderer Jeffery Dahmer killed one of the Bijou's employees, Jeremy Weinberger.

The Bijou had its last police raid in 1996, and six patrons were arrested, Toushin said.

In 2000, Bijou's Erotic Cabaret was launched—a sexual theater made up of sexual themed vignettes with original music, but that ended several years later as business slowed.

In 2008, strippers returned once a month, and Toushin installed new seats, sound system, computerized projection system, and more.

"The 1970s was the decade that followed Stonewall, [so] everything was an experiment, pushing boundaries, challenging society, new freedoms were demanded, nothing was given, everything was fought for," Toushin said. "The 1980s was the decade that you demanded rights, and demanded answers; the gay community wanted results. The 1980s was the era of life and death; you can't get anymore dramatic than that.

"As far as the Bijou, this was the period that, if you wanted to meet someone, you went out to cruise, it was all about face, what you saw was what you got. The Bijou was never for kids. The Bijou was serious sexual business. Chicago was the sexual mecca of the Midwest and the Bijou was its jewel."

But not without controversy. Plenty of police problems.

"It got tiresome being arrested for [running] a house of prostitution, or indecent exposure," Toushin said. "It is when a man goes to the bathroom to take a piss he could be arrested for taking his dick out of his pants to piss, according to the police he was exposing himself. Yet they never caught the zillions of men having sex in the bathrooms only the ones pissing in the urinals. Then there was being charged with resisting arrest, or interfering in a police investigation, the list goes on and on and on. It's good that those days are long gone."

The Bijou also endured the early years of HIV/AIDS—and, no doubt, contributed to its spread, as many had unprotected sex at the Bijou.

Today, there are safe-sex posters inside the Bijou, along with safe-sex movie trailers.

"I made a few safe-sex trailers for the [Howard] Brown Clinic years ago that ran on MTV for a few years. I'm going to digitize and run them at the Bijou," Toushin said. "I [now] only present current films that have condom use. The only films that I show that condoms are not used are the classic films from the pre-condom era. I make a distinction about this issue in my bareback policy."

So what's the biggest misconception about the Bijou?

That's easy to answer, Toushin said.

"To the younger generation, if they heard of the Bijou, which many have not, the Bijou is a porn theater and nothing else," he said.

The biggest constant over 40 years is "people having sex at the Bijou, morning noon and night," Toushin said.

Toushin estimated that 5.5 million people have been serviced at the Bijou over 40 years.

And for many, especially in the early years, the Bijou was their coming out—or where they found their first loves or the loves of their lifes.

"Bijou had a great 35-year run, [yet] the last five years life at the Bijou has changed," said Toushin, who knows his business has been negatively affected by the Internet, the economy and even the reduced number of major, national conventions now being held in Chicago, among other factors.

"The party is still here … it's just a little quieter," he said.

Toushin added, "The Bijou customer, since the first day I opened the theater, has never been young, the 18-to-25 year-old crowd. The Bijou is too intimidating; young men have to get to know themselves better. We're always getting in new people from Chicago who have heard of us, [or] seen our ads. People are still coming out at the Bijou, we have a lot of return customers, regulars, married men, tourists who come to the big city to experience what they would never do back home, people who want to see porn in a sexual environment with other men, people what want anonymous sex.

"There is nothing in the world like the Bijou. It is what sex was in the 1970s and '80s. The Bijou has never been pretty; it has always been deliciously nasty and I'll keep it that way till I done, then I'll turn off the lights and go home."

More Bijou:

—The name: Toushin said, "Bijou means little jewel in French. Many of the movie theaters in the early part of the century were named Bijou, so somewhere along the line the name Bijou was used to reference a movie theater."

—Busiest day of the year: "I have no idea, but the busiest seasons are spring through fall," Toushin said. "Winter business is regulated by weather and depressing gray sky."

—Most popular part/aspect of the Bijou: Toushin said, "That depends on your sexual fantasies, fetish, and desires. Once you pass through the theater door, you can do anything [and go anywhere] your sexual fantasies take you."

—Top 5 porn stars who have visited the Bijou: Al Parker, Peter Berlin, Casey Donovan, Jim Cassidy and Richard Lock

—Most popular porn movies that have been shown at the Bijou: Centurians of Rome, Night at the Adonis, The Gage Brothers Trilogy (El Paso Wrecking Company, L.A. Tool and Die, Kansas City Trucking Company), Wanted and The Idol

—Award-winning: Toushin was in prison in 1989 when he was awarded the Reuben Sturman Award, honoring him for legal battles on behalf of the adult film industry. In 2007, at the GayVN award show in San Francisco, Toushin was awarded the "Life Time Achievement Award" from the Gay Adult Industry, and was the third person to ever receive the honor. In 2008, AVN (Adult Video News) acknowledged Toushin as one of the 25 pioneers who developed the gay/bi adult film industry. And in 2009, at the AVN award show in Las Vegas, Toushin was inducted into the prestigious Founders Branch.

"The only reason why I won awards is, because from day one, nobody was foolish enough to do the things I've done," according to Toushin. "I have always been proud of my business; it was never part-time; sex to me is full-time. I have never been in it just for the money, though I enjoy presenting the place for people to sexually party."

—The future: Expand the Bijou's gay classic film line, and creating a website containing all the early film reviews, plus current reviews, and continued writing on gay sexual history. "I have five years worth of writings interspersed with photos created by Bijou researchers ready to go on Bijou's sexual history website," Toushin said. "In this life, what is old can become new again, you just have to adapt, work at it. So, what I see is a new sexual experience to a new generation of gay men in future years."

—A straight man founded, and still runs, the Bijou: "Personally I don't find it strange at all," Toushin said. "I like the world I created sexuality; you just have to leave your fears and hang-ups at the door and party."


This article shared 9175 times since Wed Jul 27, 2011
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