'Tis the Season for Northalsted


In Chicago, this is the time of year to bundle up.

For LGBTQ+ visitors, that doesn't just mean putting on your beanies, gloves, and fashionable scarves: It means smart trip planning that lets you bundle up all sorts of activities – shopping, dining, clubbing, and entertainment – in one vibrant, compact neighborhood where
you can get from one hot spot to the next in no time at all.

While famously queer-friendly all year round, Northalsted is the ideal hub for a winter weekend: The density of fabulousity in the neighborhood also nicknamed "Boystown" – a moniker that obscures its warm embrace of all gender identities – lets you minimize the shivers while maximizing LGBTQ+ fun.

Wise Up and Warm Up

You'll feel welcome from the moment you arrive on Northalsted's namesake street: The sidewalks along a half mile stretch of North Halstead between Belmont Ave. and Grace St. are lined with the 20 rainbow-striped pylons that comprise The Legacy Walk, an outdoor LGBTQ+ history museum.

On the base of each pylon are bronze plaques featuring brief biographies of queer groundbreakers, from Frida Kahlo and Freddy Mercury to Bayard Rustin and Sally Ride. If it's simply too cold for an admiring stroll, just step inside and head online for a complete guide to the honorees.

You needn't go far to settle in for a steaming cappuccino or hot cocoa. Right on North Halsted St., you'll find a pair of the community's favorite cafés, queer-owned Two Hearted Queen and Elevate Coffee. If you're hungry for something more substantial, Lark is the perfect spot to hunker down over pizza or chicken pot pie; their fireplace nook is stocked with board games, and weekends feature bottomless drag brunch.

One-of-a-kind Shops

Whether you're a 365-day shopaholic or just want to power through your holiday gift list, Northalsted will tempt you with its unique boutiques.

Even if you somehow can resist making a purchase, Ka-Pow Collectibles will set your inner child agiggle with glee. This is vintage toy and pop culture nirvana. Desperate to get your hands on a Suzanne Somers (R.I.P.) action figure? Got fond memories of your prepubescent PEZ collection? It's like traveling in a time machine with its tractor beams focused on kitsch.

Looking to keep your "boys" snug and chic for the season? Egoist Underwear has got a rainbow-hued collection of boxers, briefs, and even briefers. So many options to wrap up your missile before stretching out under the mistletoe.

Serious devotees of men's style flock to Cram Fashion, where owner Mark Engel and his staff curate an extensive collection of classic and on-trend garments. Their handsome and reasonably priced sweaters are particularly alluring.

If "don we now our gay apparel" strikes you as inspiration to get done-up in drag, you'll love holiday shopping at Beatnix Clothing. From wigs and makeup to vintage gowns and the highest of heels, you'll find a treasure trove of transformative couture.

Cultured queers never leave North Halsted without a visit to the browsers' paradise at Unabridged Bookstore. Drawing on of the best selections of LGBTQ+ fiction and non-fiction in the country, the engaging staff will make smart recommendations after a quick conversation about your personal taste in reading.

London House

Fabulous Forking, Sensational Spooning

There's something to suit any palate among the many restaurants packed into this close-knit neighborhood. At Wood, start with the caramelized mushroom and onion flatbread and move on to an entrée of crispy fried chicken. Krung Thep serves up authentic Thai sure to spice up a winter's night. And D.S. Tequila Company features gargantuan quesadillas and margaritas.

Angelina, which promotes itself as having served the neighborhood "for forever," is a stronghold of Italian American classics, including eggplant parmigiana, linguini with clams, and meatballs made with a house blend of beef, pork, and veal.

Northalsted is also home to one of the three remaining branches of Ann Sather, a breakfast-and-lunch only Chicago tradition since 1940. Don't miss their warm frosted cinnamon rolls.

Always a Party

Nightlife in Northalsted is gregarious and friendly, with a warm Midwestern openness that visitors from big coastal cities will find particularly refreshing. Attitude is kept to a blissful minimum!
But before hitting justifiably famous bars and clubs nearby, check out some unusual live entertainment: Trickery is one of the country's only venues dedicated to magic, and at a mere 30 or so seats, you're always close to the action. (Its double entendre of a name is a tip of the hat to the gayborhood.) And the Newport Theater hosts a variety of comedy, improv, burlesque, and dance performances.

If you're ready to do your own dancing, is a perennial favorite, particularly after their "Drag Race" viewing parties. Equally adored and just across the street is https://www.sidetrackchicago.com/|Sidetrack, a video bar rather than a dance club where you'll nevertheless find room to shimmy at their showtune singalongs and theme nights that range from K-pop to Taylor Swift.

Berlin, which doesn't even open its doors until 10 p.m., has been around for 40 years, but never gets old. Arty, edgy, and distinctively queer, this is where you'll find nights dedicated to electro, goth, house, and New Wave music with DJs who have deep expertise in the genres.

Lovers of leather will find fun seven nights a week at Cell Block, and country and western fans congregate (and line dance) at Charlie's. And those looking for the least inhibited scene in town head to the Steamworks bathhouse around the clock.

Art Institute

Pillow Talk

If you're looking to stay as close to the action as possible, there are three lodgings on the edges of the Northalsted neighborhood that are a quick walk to the thick of things.

The Best Western Plus Hawthorne Terrace is tucked into a charming residential area; breakfast is included in all room rates, and there's a fitness center with a sauna and jacuzzi.

The Old Chicago Inn is a handsome, homey nine-suite bed and breakfast with a fireplace lounge. And the Chicago Hotel Collection Wrigleyville features modern, minimalist rooms and clever baseball-themed lobby décor in tribute to the Cubs' nearby home field.

For more on LGBTQ+ travel in Chicago and all over Illinois, visit www.EnjoyIllinois.com/lgbtq.

by Jim Gladstone

Jim Gladstone is a San Francisco-based writer and creative strategist.

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