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Gay History: Chicago Whispers
The Bistro Part 3: The end of the show
by Sukie de la Croix

This article shared 8094 times since Wed Jan 8, 2003
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The Bistro Part 3: The end of the show

On Aug. 31, 1980, trouble came to the Bistro again when a group of 25 to 30 people marched on the Ultra Disco to protest the bar's alleged discriminatory carding policy. The protest was organized by the Committee of Black Gay Men, though other groups were involved. The picket line was reportedly in effect from approximately midnight until 2 a.m.

The Bistro's owner, Eddie Dugan, responded to the protest with this letter to the editor published in the Sept. 18, 1980 issue of Gay Chicago.

'The Bistro apologizes for any inconvenience or annoyance caused by the appearance of pickets at our door the last two weeks. We don't know exactly why they chose the Bistro but we are so established that small groups have used us before to gain publicity and notoriety. The Bistro was never contacted beforehand but as far as we understand, they are accusing the Bistro of discriminating against Black gay men and gay women.

'The Committee of Black Gay Men is the supposed organization behind the pickets but the two times that they demonstrated only one Black male was in the picket line.

'It is also our understanding that this committee is an offspring of the R.S.L. ( Revolutionary Socialist League ) whose flag was prominently displayed in the picket line. The R.S.L. is a known Communist group.

'Our door policy has been the same for seven years. We do not want nor will we ever have an open door policy. Our I.D. policy is to protect you—our patrons—from theft and abuse while you are here to party.

'As long as sufficient I.D.'s are presented at the door anyone is welcome at the Bistro.

'Thank you.'

In October 1980, the regional contest for Mr. Blueboy International took place at the Bistro. Joseph LoPresti was the winner, with David Kiesschowski coming in 2nd, Chris Clark in 3rd and Kevin Davis 4th.

Oct. 6, 1980, the Show of Shows at the Bistro featured popular performer Joanna Caron.

On Jan. 18, 1989, Joanna Caron died from kidney failure in Ralph K. Davies Hospital in San Francisco. She was 37. Although she lived her life as Joanna Caron, her birth name was Joe Conti. Caron performed at the Baton for many years. Her claim to fame was that during the fundraising event Metamorphosis in May 1980, she became the first and only Empress of Chicago, with Steve Allman as the Emperor and Nancy Reiff as the first Ms. of Chicago.

Caron was active in the Gay Athletic Association; she was an avid bowler. She also served as an early secretary to the Tavern Guild and raised funds for Horizons.

Oct. 8, 1980, the Bistro hosted a champagne reception for artist John Reich. His exhibit ran through Oct. 20, 1980.

The Nov. 3, 1980 Show of Shows featured the Bistro Family Show, starring Ginger Grant, who currently performs at the Baton.

Other characters connected to the Bistro at this time were Alan Lozito, Flo Levine, Gabriel Geerdes, Teri Winston, Leslie Rejeanne, Deluxe, Kim, and Lady J. ( a drag queen trapped in a woman's body ) .

In the June 4, 1982, issue of GayLife, Ron Ehemann wrote about the demise of the Bistro. Here are the highlights:

'An era ends—after nine years as one of the flagships of the night, Dugan's Bistro succumbed to the wrecking ball and 'progress.'

'Whether you were a Bistro Bunnie or not, most everyoine had been through the doors. Dignitaries and celebrities, young and old—part of being in gay Chicago involved at least one night at the Bistro.

'Most eulogies tend to overlook faults. We canonize the deceased and praise rather than criticize. The Bistro had its share of complaints, its share of 'attitude' and its share of controversy. But the Bistro had something else; a mystique and atmosphere, not unlike New York's infamous Studio 54. Though some felt the door policy was too harsh, one thing that was always excluded was depression, Eddie Dugan knew how to throw a party … '

'The Bistro was Eddie Dugan '

'Contributing to the success of the Bistro were hundreds of employees over the years—dedicated people who worked while we partied. These were the people who suffered during the Bistro's recent liquor license suspension. Though each added a valuable part of themselves to the bar, much of the energy and creativity came from Tommy Noble, Lou DiVito and Ronny Veltman'

'Door policy notwithstanding, the Bistro was one of those rare places where gay and non-gay merged. Eddie dugan once told me, 'The Bistro isn't a gay bar, it's a party, and the guests don't have to be anything but fun'

'Progress and changing times may cause physical things to pass, but nothing stops us from moving onward and upward. Though the Bistro is gone, Paradise is rising from the ashes of the Phoenix.'

Eddie Dugan's next venture was the Paradise at 2848 N. Broadway. It opened in July 1982. The Paradise closed in the Spring of 1986.


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.

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