Chicago LGBTQ+ and gay bars declining in number, study shows; trend holds nationwide as well

ByJason Knowles WLS logo
Friday, June 10, 2022
Chicago LGBTQ+ and gay bars declining in number, study shows
If it feels like Chicago has less LGBTQ+ and gay bars than it used to, that's because it does. The trend holds nationwide too, data shows.

CHICAGO -- The number of LBGTQ+ and gay bars in Chicago and nationwide is declining, data shows. Experts say that could mean fewer spaces for some of the community, especially those with diverse backgrounds.

"We have had the experience of going into bars in you know, in our community, and not necessarily feeling welcome," said Angela Barne.

Barnes and Renauda Riddle opened Nobody's Darling in Andersonville in 2020. Nobody's Darling is a black, queer, and women owned and "women forward" bar.

"People are so excited that we own this bar because they can see themselves in us folks, queer women of color," Riddle said.

Their community-based bar has thrived during the pandemic and even earned a coveted James Beard Award nomination.

"We fill a niche that most bars in the city do not," Riddle said.

In the two years since Nobody's Darling opened, more and more LGBTQ+ bars have closed.

Greggor Mattson, professor of Sociology at Oberlin College, is researching this troubling trend,

"36.6% of gay bar listings disappeared between 2007 and 2019. So more than a third of gay bars closed in a 12 year period," he said.

His data also shows that in 2017 there were 38 gay bars listed in Chicago. In 2019 that number dropped to 34, and in 2021 it dropped to 26. That means 23.5% of Chicago's gay bars were lost in a two year period.

"And yet, in most parts of the country, gay bars are the only public LGBTQ+ place. In other words, they're the only place where queer people can reliably encounter other queer people in public," Mattson said.

In Chicago, Northalsted is a longtime home to many gay bars in the city. But some say many of those establishments may cater mainly to white gay men. As some LGBTQ+ bars close, gay men of color, transgender, non-binary people, and lesbians may lose out.

"When you don't have spaces like this it's harder to find community," Barnes said.

"If the only bar with a purpose-built drag stage closes, then it leaves drag queens and drag kings without a place to practice their art. If they're doing diverse things, then I get really sad when such a bar goes away because they're special," said Mattson.

He added that the decline of gay bars may be attributed to the growing popularity of location based dating apps.

It may not all be bad news; bars that may not be listed as LGBTQ+ are welcoming to the community.

Another positive, according to Mattson's research, is that 100% of lesbian bars nationwide were retained throughout the pandemic. However, Nobody's Darling is one of only a few women's-forward bars left in America.

"It's been sad because these were places where women really found community and you know, when you don't have that, where do you go," Barnes said.

She and Riddle both hope that their bar remains for years to come.

The study raises concerns over where certain bars may close. For example, if an establishment shuts its doors in a neighborhood like Andersonville or Northhalsted, it may not have a huge impact but if one closes in a neighborhood or a suburb where there aren't as many options, it may affect that community more.