As part of a new Slate feature closing out Pride Month, eleven prominent gay, lesbian and bisexual writers, including David Rakoff, Alison Bechdel and Mart Crowley, recounted their first visits to a gay bar.
Chicago-born sex columnist, It Gets Better Project co-creator and, most recently, New York Pride Parade grand marshal Dan Savage contributed one of the piece's more biting submissions and recounted his first visit to a bar called "the Bushes," at the age of 17, alongside his first "real" boyfriend.
Apparently located on Halsted Street, still the epicenter of the city's LGBT nightlife scene, Savage described the bar as dark and dirty, but, importantly, public. It was "the first place I'd ever been where everyone was gay, where being gay wasn't something that set you apart," he wrote. Savage lived in Chicago through his high school years.
"I don't remember much else about the place—but I do remember what I had to drink (a Long Island Ice Tea, I'm embarrassed to say), and I do remember what it felt like to walk into the Bushes for the first time. I had spent all day, every day, for the last six years trying to hide my homosexuality from my family, from my friends, from strangers on the street and on the L. The pressure was so intense that I'm surprised I didn't crack. To step through that door and feel that pressure lift made me feel lightheaded. It was like stepping through an airlock; I'm surprised my ears didn't pop."
Savage went on to note that the bar was named for "the infamous bushes in nearby Lincoln Park where gay men—and straight-identified closet cases—had anonymous sex" and was just one of any number of gay bars at the time that had "names that winked … so that gay men could spot them in the phone book."