Recently, my daughter asked to be dropped off at Velvet Rope – our area’s most visible gay bar – on both Sunday and Wednesday nights. Those are karaoke nights, and my daughter and four or so of her girlfriends and their boyfriends find it a lot of fun. 

On the Wednesday night I stopped by, drinks were a buck, which is undoubtedly part of the allure, and I think my daughter and her friends find the whole experience a little different, a lot of fun and non-threatening. I mention that last point because at some nightspots – I’m thinking bars on Madison in Forest Park – young women are going to get a lot of attention from guys, and sometimes that attention may be unwanted. That’s apparently not a problem at Velvet Rope.

My acid test for a karaoke bar is if they have Gene Pitney’s “Town Without Pity” on the playlist. Velvet Rope did.

Gay bars used to be somewhat underground, outside the mainstream, separate from “straight culture.” That distinction may now be disappearing.

Anthony Todd, Food and Drink Editor at, told me he much prefers “the inter-generational, mixed-gender crowd of Velvet Rope to the waxed, 20-something hordes of Lakeview,” where he says gay bars are pretty much the traditional men only watering holes.

As the gay life becomes less shocking to the mainstream, a place like Velvet Rope – which in the past would probably have been located in some off-radar space with the windows blacked out – is now just another entertainment option for people of any age or orientation.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...