With a rich history of LGBT activism and a flourishing community, Chicago offers one of the best gay nightlife scenes in the country, particularly in Boystown. Although its formal name is Lakeview, Boystown is the more commonly used named for this famous gay neighborhood.
Located on the north side of Chicago, this historic neighborhood has been the center of the city's LGBT community since the 1960s. It's here where you'll find the highest concentration of gay-friendly bars and clubs, where everyone is welcome to be themselves and take pride in who they are and who they love. There's always something new and exciting happening, but for the classic night out in Boystown, stick to the tried-and-trusted watering holes.
In Boystown, gay bars abound on and in between the main thoroughfares of Halsted and Broadway. If you're not yet in a dancing mood, there are many bars that offer a laid-back, but still fun party atmosphere.
- Sidetrack: This immensely popular gay video bar is a busy multi-level bar that appeals to gay men and lesbians of all ages, although it does tend to lean towards the preppier side. Video screens play a medley of retro and contemporary music videos.
- The Closet: This bar has long cultivated a friendly, mixed-gender following and is arguably the most popular lesbian hangout in Boystown. There's a small dance floor and the screens show music videos most of the time.
- Roscoe's Tavern: One of the great legends of gay Chicago nightlife, this food-serving bar has remained fun, relevant, and busy since it opened in 1987. Its famous $15 pitchers can be filled with anything from draft beer to fruity cocktails.
Boystown is host to plenty of bass-thumping clubs that are well-versed in the art of organizing theme nights and costume contests. Whether you're looking for something posh or have a hankering to whistle at some go-go dancers, the neighborhood offers a large variety of dance clubs.
- Berlin: A friendly dance club on the busy Belmont Avenue, Berlin has been a gay nightlife mainstay in Chicago for many years, its success due largely to its come-one-come-all vibe.
- Progress Bar: A swanky nightspot with a fanciful, eye-catching "cloud" ceiling, this bar draws in the well-dressed bunch. The name is meant to evoke the idea that the LGBT community has come a long way toward being inclusive and all-welcoming, and indeed, the crowd is fairly mixed. The bar serves exceptional craft cocktails and boasts a nice selection of craft beers.
- Hydrate: This eclectic dance club has earned a loyal following for its imaginative theme nights and occasional lube-wrestling competitions. Mostly, it's simply a pulsing venue for dancing to some of the best music in the neighborhood.
- Scarlet: This cosmopolitan, upscale gay lounge and dance club is known for its dandy drink specials and sleek decor. It's a relatively intimate space as far as Boystown dance clubs go, but that makes it all the more fun when you want to get closer to someone.
When you need to earn back some of those calories you burned off on the dance floor, Boystown has plenty of LGBT-friendly restaurants that are open late and ready to serve.
- Lark: The trendy and inviting neighborhood bistro is a rustic-chic space that has cultivated a strong happy hour following and also stays open for post-midnight nibbles on Friday and Saturday nights.
- Chicago Diner: Since 1983, this old-school diner has been serving an entirely vegetarian menu, including some highly inventive fare that even meat-lovers rave about. The casual spot with a cheery patio out back has long been a friend to Chicago's LGBT community and stays open until 11 p.m. on weekends.
- Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club: One of Lakeview's swankier mixed gay-straight lounges and eateries, Kit Kat is a retro-hip hangout. The kitchen turns out commendable international fare and many of the glamorous staffers dress in drag. On Fridays and Saturdays, the restaurant stays open until midnight.
- Nookies: Open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays, and until midnight during the rest of the week, this classic Boystown diner serves traditional American fare like burgers, cheesesteaks, and French toast.
Across the U.S., Chicago is revered for its comedy scene and the Boystown-situated Laugh Factory is one of the best places in all of Chicago to check out some of the city's up-and-coming laugh-makers. The club also draws in bigger names from time to time, so you really never know who you might see at the mic on any given night.
Another hotspot for comedy in Boystown is The Annoyance Theatre, home of Chicago's longest-running (and raunchiest) musical: Co-ed Prison Sluts. In addition to stand-up, this is also a great place to catch boundary-pushing original plays, sketch-comedy, and improv.
Boystown is the center of the action during Pride Fest, which comes around every June. All the gay bars, restaurants, and clubs will have something special planned during this month and the infectious rainbow-spirit spreads across Chicago. This two-day street festival in Boystown will feature multiple stages of live performances, DJs, drag shows, a pet parade, and a singing contests.
The Annual Pride Parade is a four mile affair, traveling through multiple Chicago neighborhoods, beginning at Montrose Avenue and Broadway and wrapping up near Lincoln Park. It takes place on the last weekend of June every year, commemorating the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The best place to enjoy the parade is in Boystown, where the energy level will be at its gayest, proudest, and most fun.
Tips for Going Out in Lakeview
- While most bars and restaurants will stay open later on the weekends, there's usually something going on in Boystown every night of the week.
- Much of the gay scene in this neighborhood is focused along Halsted, Belmont, and Addison Streets.
- The closest metro stations to Boystown are Addison and Belmont, which are stops along the L, Chicago's elevated train track.
- If you're not sure you're in Boystown, look for the rainbow flags hanging on the lampposts and the giant rainbow pylons.
- If you need to kill time, the Legacy Walk is an LGBT public hall of fame located on Halsted Street. The outdoor museum recognizes LGBT icons and historical events.