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If You Could Read My Mind

Dance clubs are a funny thing. They contain within their walls a life force and vibrancy sometimes unmatched anywhere else. When dusk settles and the lights come on, people will flood the dance floors to gyrate to music with hypnotic beats and songs about love, lust and fun at the disco. At gay bars, this sort of scenario usually increases ten-fold. It isn't for everyone, but for many it is a respite from the harsh realities of the real word. It is a place that isn't just a structure, but a sanctuary where folks -- minorities in their own communities -- can take shelter and unwind with abandon, at least for a few nighttime hours.

As someone who benefited greatly from such an aforementioned gay dance club, you can imagine my dismay at news of the closing of Chester Street Bar. In business for over three decades, gay-owned and operated, there was a time when C-Street (as it was known by most) was the only haven for those in the LGBT community, near and far, to enjoy themselves and truly feel uninhibited. During the mid-to-late 1990s, when I was going there several times a week, people would travel from all over Illinois and Indiana to enjoy the particular vibe that C-Street had to offer. And it wasn't just gay people. Many straight allies felt at home there, and many of them were just as awesome as the LGBT denizens for whom it was such a special place.

I don't know for certain what it's like for the LGBT youth of today, but I remember well what it was like for myself some twenty-odd years ago as a person just coming to terms with their sexuality and who they were as a person overall. After years of bullying and anti-gay epithets, to the point that I finished high school as a home bound student, entering the doors of C-Street upon turning 19 was a godsend. There were people like me within those walls. They didn't necessarily look like me, but many of us shared the same story of having faced hostility in society because of who we found physically and romantically attractive. There, at C-Street, was almost a home away from home.

Layered on top of the sense of inclusion at C-Street was the added bonus of some pretty awesome dance music. I was introduced to the luscious sounds of classic disco and the (then) current wave of Euro dance and pop/club songs that boomed out from the speakers that surrounded the dance floor. There we would dance the night away, jamming to tunes from artists such as Donna Summer, Lipps Inc., Spice Girls, Deee-Lite, Pet Shop Boys, Whitney Houston, Whigfield, ABBA, Cher, La Bouche, and countless others. I was introduced to a whole new world of music, one that has happily stuck with me to this day.

A night club can only be as memorable and successful as the people who infuse it with its energy. And I remember fondly so many of the people I met at C-Street during those years. A few not so fondly, but then that's to be expected during any sort of experience in life. Some of those lovely folks were friends for a short time, others I remain friends with to this day. Still others have already passed on, way before their time. Whenever I visited C-Street years after my formative time there, it was eerie how the ghosts of all those people, of the times we shared there, still haunted my thoughts.

I think the mistake we often make in life is assuming that most things are forever. Deep down we know better, of course, but during our day-to-day bustle, we take for granted that the rote presence of people, places and things we cherish are always going to be there. Sadly, nothing is forever. Not our lives, not the Earth, our solar system, not even our beloved C-Street. Despite its flaws -- and it certainly had them, dear reader -- Chester Street Bar will always have a special place in my heart, and the hearts of everyone who enjoyed going there, who felt safe there, who had a fantastic time there, and who got up to some shady but fun stuff within its walls. Those times will never come again.

* photos from Doug Barnes


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