Chicago’s LGBTQ bars gear up for Pride Fest, Pride Parade

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“There is going to be a huge turnout at the festival this year,” said Mark Liberson, owner of gay nightclub Hydrate, which is in part of the Lakeview area formerly known as Boystown (now called Northalsted). “There is pent-up demand and impatience certainly for the return of Pride Parade.”

Liberson, who also owns gay bars Replay and Elixir Lounge, both of which have locations in Northalsted and Andersonville, said his businesses had “lost a fortune” during the pandemic.

And the challenges remain, even as the city’s gay bars once again welcome Pride crowds. Supply chain issues and inflation have driven up drink prices at some establishments, and some basic bar necessities, from tonic water to tequila, are hard to come by. Staffing remains an issue, and there’s the always fickle Chicago weather that threatens to put a damper on the celebrations. Additionally, Chicago has recently been at a medium risk level for COVID-19 transmission.

Still, LGBTQ bar owners are optimistic about upcoming festivities, which include Pride Fest this weekend in Northalsted and the Pride Parade, which runs through Lincoln Park and Lakeview on June 26.

Last weekend’s Andersonville Midsommarfest was a sign of how big the business was.

For Atmosphere, a gay bar in Andersonville, Midsommarfest attendance broke records, co-owner Micah Hilgendorf said. It also owns The North End, a gay sports bar near the intersection of Halsted Street and North Broadway in Northalsted, and the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge, which features go-go dancers, a few blocks south. The Pride Parade will parade in front of both establishments.

The parade hasn’t been held since 2019. The city canceled Pride Fest altogether in 2020 and pushed it back to October 2021. Even then, it didn’t draw business as usual, Hilgendorf said.

“People weren’t coming out,” he said. “Street parties. . . make up 10% of my income throughout the year, so losing that income is a big deal.

Hilgendorf’s businesses have been kept alive through Paycheck Protection Program loans and other federal assistance. He said he still had a balance in his account from the loans, which were canceled, which he was saving “in case the other shoe falls”.

He raised prices in his bars to compensate for rising inflation. Tequila prices are on the rise – when it can be had – as are other products. Drink prices are up about 50 cents to $1, depending on the product. Hilgendorf said it raised prices once before New Year’s, and again just before Memorial Day.

Customers haven’t complained much, and Hilgendorf thinks that’s partly because people have a pent-up desire to go to bars. He said he was seeing more parties booked and sponsoring more recreational sports teams than ever since pre-pandemic.

“It was a terrible, terribly confusing time, but I think we were stronger on the other side,” he said. “People are so ready to come out.”

Nobody’s Darling in Andersonville is also planning for business to pick up during Pride Month. The black, lesbian-owned bar opened on weekends in June, co-owner Angela Barnes said.

The cocktail bar, which opened in May 2021, was just two blocks from Midsommarfest. Barnes doesn’t expect the same influx of customers for the Pride festivities as they aren’t in her neighborhood, but she does expect people to make the trip from Northalsted to hit up an LGBTQ bar.

“Our regular customers have asked us, ‘What do you do?’ she said. “There’s clearly this anticipation of what might happen in our bar.”

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