BOHEMIAN LIFE
by Marie J. Kuda



In Harvey Warren Zorbaugh's The Gold Coast and the Slum ( 1929 ) and from other sources, we get confirmation of the existence of a bohemian area similar to New York's Greenwich Village, extending from the foot of the Water Tower on North Michigan Avenue to North LaSalle Street. Alternately known as “the village” or “Towertown,” the area was home to all kinds of sexual behavior and free-love advocates.

Women ran most of the art shops, bookstalls, and tearooms ( real tea, not sex rooms ) . There were a number of artists' studios and students from the Art Institute; the Wobblies were there, and a few radical bookstores, as well as that fabled bastion of free speech, the Dill Pickle Club. Zorbaugh quotes references to “girls in the apartment across the well” and to parties attended by the “best-known fairies and lesbians in Chicago.” A nurse observed of some of the girls “across the well” that they “would put on men's evening clothes, make love to the others, and eventually carry them off in their arms into the bedrooms.”

He also makes reference to a male village leader and his retinue of “blue birds” who would promenade down toward the Drake Hotel. The area also held the Tent, the Paradise Club, and the old Chez Pierre.

Copyright 2008 by Marie J. Kuda

From Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, edited by Tracy Baim, Surrey Books, 2008.

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