This is part two of our report on the closing of Star Gaze bar.
In 2008, Lost & Found, the city's oldest lesbian bar, closed. Owner Ava Allen did not want a lot of attention paid to the closing, but both Lost & Found and Star Gaze had long-standing impacts on the Chicago lesbian community.
After more than 11 years, Mamie Lake closed down the last full-time lesbian bar in Chicago. When asked why, she simply stated, "This place has a lot of potential, but it needs new blood. I just got so tired of fighting." She added, "I've had two one-week vacations in 12 years. That's not enough."
Over the last decade the Andersonville neighborhood has gone through rapid gentrification. The residential and commercial populations have increased and changed. Lake expressed her exasperation with the new residents and asked perhaps the obvious, "why get an apartment next to a bar and then complain about noise?" She said, "they [ neighbors ] would complain because the softball teams would come in and they were loud and they were drinking and they would complain about this and they would complain about that, they would complain about everything. I'm tired of managing my customers."
She said, "it just got to the point where I would have to monitor and I would hear it from the girls and the neighbors. I was getting aggravated with the whole situation. Then I was having the alderman's [ Mary Ann Smith ] office calling me saying there's a lot of complaints from neighbors, same old bullshit you have to put up with in this area."
Unfortunately, bar owners on the North Side have this problem in many neighborhoods, including Lake View ( Boystown ) and Uptown. Liquor licenses are difficult to obtain and sometimes even more difficult to maintain. Residential neighbors control some aspects of liquor licenses. In addition to Star Gaze, Circuit, and Big Chicks have had wranglings with the liquor department and local residents.
As of press time, Lake still owns the business and the liquor license. She has had two potential buyers ( gay and straight ) go to the necessary chambers of commerce with their business plans, but they were unable to get the go ahead to open. Lake said "to have a bar is going to be very difficult, very difficult." She's heard residents say there are too many bars in the neighborhood. Lake suggested the space will most likely become a restaurant or retail shops.
When asked if she'd like to add something, Lake had this to say: "Tell people to forget about those straight bars. Coming from an older lesbian … we remember when we weren't wanted in those straight bars, even those straight restaurants. We remember those times. Now that the straight bars have figured out that they want the gay dollars, they have a gay night or a lesbian night. If you don't support gay bars, they aren't going to be there for you. It's like all of a sudden they 'accept us' or are 'gay friendly.'"
She said "it's not about being accepted; it's about being who you are and being proud of it. We don't need acceptance from straight people. Come on! I feel like we are going backwards. This younger generation just comes out and thinks everything is ok."
At this point, Lake recalled one of her fondest experiences at Star Gaze. She was hosting a fundraiser for an older lesbian. While she couldn't remember the woman or what her exact need was, she will always remember that day. Here's what happened: The event was being held in the "dance club" side ( referenced in part one of this story ) and other older lesbians were paying tribute and retelling stories of days gone by. Younger lesbians were on the "neighborhood bar" side and getting a little loud. They were asked to quite down and complied. What made this day magical, was that when the younger women were quiet, they could hear some of the stories being told at the mic and one by one began to drift over to better hear what was being said. Eventually, most of the customers had migrated and were listening in that room. At the end of the event, a young woman went up to Lake and said, "I never knew any of those things. I just never knew it was like that. Thank you for having them here."
Lake has been unwavering in her conviction to her values and commitment to the LGBT community. She held out selling Star Gaze for two years because she received offers from men, both gay and straight, that had plans of changing the bar. She explained, "I held out because I wanted to keep it a lesbian bar. The girls have no place to go." She reluctantly agreed she probably should have taken the deals, but adds she has no regret and will move on.
When asked what's next, Lake quickly said, "I am going to open something else up. I haven't decided what, either sports or just food, nothing with a dance club. I'm too tired for that." She added, "My bar is going to be gay. I want men and women. I want to get both. I'll always love the women, but I want it for men too. I have two investors which is nice because if I say I am going away for two weeks I can do that whereas right now I can't."
In next week's WCT, the final part to "Star Gaze: End of an era," women who were impacted by Lake and her bar speak.