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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Chicago Whispers
by Sukie de la Croix

This article shared 1909 times since Wed Jul 18, 2001
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Interview with a 76-year-old woman

using the name Rossee ...

When did you first become aware of gay life in Chicago?

"I was 18 years old. Have you ever heard the expression 'jam'? It means you're accepted by the gay crowd, but you're not gay. Well, I was jam. The first bar I went to was the Shoreline 7 ... maybe. It was a toilet, but I loved it.

"Back in those days the boys couldn't dance with each other, so I was very popular. It was hysterical. They didn't have nice bars back then. The john at the Shoreline 7 ... of course, they didn't have a women's ... well, the boards were just soaked in urine. When anything would happen, like a board would come loose, all they would do is fix it up and pound something on top of it. It stunk to high heaven, but it was a popular bar.

"That was in the '50s sometime. There was a guy named Ralph and there were two brothers who ran that bar. In those days almost every gay bar was syndicate owned. They all had to pay off. There was a guy called Walt and he had a brother, but I wasn't privy to the behind the scenes ... neither one of them was gay, though."

Volley Charles ...

"Drag started with a guy called Volley Charles. Volley came up from Florida and the Florida drag queens in those days worked in a leotard and make-up, they didn't work in full drag. He met my girlfriend and started using her clothes. He really opened drag in Chicago. He was the only one that I know of that far back. I don't know what happened to Volley, he left Chicago years ago. I don't even know his real name."

Annex ...

"I was the coat check girl at the Annex. That was the first Annex. That one was definitely syndicate owned. Nick D. was the owner. He was a typical Italian. I had this coat check thing going there and it was really good, you know how guys are so generous. I had to have a little ladder to go up and take the coats. I paid $50 a week for that concession. Then he took it away from me because he thought I was making too much money, and he gave it to one of his nephews or whatever it was. But nobody made the money I made there. I still got umbrellas from there, where guys would go out of town and leave their umbrellas."

Other bars ...

"The Chesterfield was high class compared to the Shoreline 7 and the Annex. Then there was Kitty Sheon's. She didn't like me one bit. She was such a pain in the ass with a friend of mine; I don't know what he did but she kicked him out, so he stuffed up her toilet with toilet paper.

"I used to go to Louis Gages and that was after hours. They would take me out there, get lucky, and then Louis would pay for my cab fare back to Chicago. They had kids that were 14 out there, they had drags out there, they had dealers out there, it was just very eclectic. It was a crazy, crazy bar.

"Louis died. He moved to Oak Park with a guy named Kenny Wagner. When Louis died, Ken moved and I ended up with Louis Gage's freezer. In fact, Louis' freezer died a couple of years ago. Now they raided that place, but I wasn't there.

"I was in one raid at a bar called the Trip. They raided it but they didn't arrest me. My friend was caught hiding in a dumb waiter. They nailed him. I never let him forget it. I got him out of jail."

Ruthie's ...

"The Orange Cockatoo, that was not a gay bar. Then it changed to Ruthie's and that was. I don't know what happened to Ruth. He kept in contact with me a long time, but then I lost contact with him. He's out in California now.

"Ruthie's was my home bar, and sometimes you'd see several seats empty in there, and we'd be walking down the alley to get high. That was wild."

Lesbian bars ...

"They were real toilets. I remember one, and you took your life in your hands to go there, but I loved to go to the girls' bars. They were great dancers."

South Side ...

"Robert's Show Lounge was on the South Side and it was a large nightclub with drag shows. The audience wasn't necessarily gay, it was like pre-Baton.

"They had big drag balls on the South Side, and one year they dressed me up as the fairy godfather."

The '70s ...

"Punchinello's was on the Near North Side. It wasn't all gay but it might as well have been. All the showbiz kids hung out there.

"I've been to Man's Country. I was with ( Mother ) Carol. That was when they had entertainment and all the guys had towels on. It was some lesbian entertainer that did off-color material. So that was the only time I got to the Baths."

"I was in the first Gay Pride Parade with Carol. We had a convertible cadillac, and it was fun because it was unpolitical; before they got all these screwy political things. It was just a ha! ha! at that time. Everybody was into a lot of dope too."

Bad times for gays ...

"They got busted, they got shook down, they got beat up, it was terrible. It was not good for gay people. When they raided Louis Gages, there were a lot of school teachers out there and they lost their jobs. They published their names. The bars were fun, but they could shake down some gay guy, or raid the bar, and they had to pay off every week. I don't know what they do now, I have no idea, but at the time it was not good. They couldn't touch each other, or dance together. It was a big deal when gays got to dance together.

"Gay life was good for me. I don't know what they said behind my back, but I got my sense of humor from gay life. I was accepted. My fondest memories are of traveling to gay bars in Florida, and all over."

Memory check: Does anyone have memories of Lenny Olsen, a bartender at Bistro.

Future historians take note: The memory section in this column contains just that...memories...and are only to be used as a starting point for your research. Send your stories to Sukie de la Croix at Windy City Times. You can leave a message on his voicemail at 773-871-7610. He interviews over the phone, in person, or via e-mail

This article shared 1909 times since Wed Jul 18, 2001
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