THE LOSS OF QUEER SPACE: PARLOUR ON CLARK
“Nikki and I took a run down tavern in an area of the city that we loved and turned it into a space that would provide a home for artists, musicians, comedians, drag queens, and many amazing dance parties.” - Jennifer Murphy, co-owner of Parlour on Clark
The first time I went to Parlour on Clark was after my first Dyke March in 2012. It was one of the first queer parties I ever attended. I arrived early for an ice cream social and soon after, the bar filled wall to wall with queer people. I could barely move. I hardly knew anyone there but it didn’t matter. My body surrendered to the motions of the swaying crowd. Sometime around midnight, the cops showed up. To a gay bar full of people commemorating Stonewall. The bar was overcrowded and the police encouraged people to go home. As if we weren’t already there.
After four years in business, Parlour on Clark is closed. Owners Nikki Calhoun and Jennifer Murphy wanted to sell the bar. However, they couldn’t transfer their liquor license due to a moratorium the city refused to lift. In an email sent to Parlour’s customers, Murphy commented, “We hoped it was going to be around for awhile…What we learned was that people were less focused on supporting a local business and more interested in finding the newest bar, event, club, restaurant or party.”
Parlour was an important space in Chicago’s queer landscape. It provided a much-needed alternative to the plethora of gay bars that cater exclusively to men. Parlour was more inviting than its longstanding neighbors Jackhammer and Touché, creating a welcoming atmosphere for lesbians, queer artists, and trans people. It was a hip neighborhood bar located near the border of Rogers Park and Edgewater, two neighborhoods with significant queer and trans populations. It was the type of place you’d take a friend from out of town, a place where you met your wife, a place where you went to dance, catch a performance, or to relax on the round white leather couch in back.
The loss of queer space is nothing new. We’re a community familiar with loss, perhaps even defined by it. I’ve noticed several queer spaces in Chicago that have disappeared after an average lifespan of 2-3 years. Many queer events, especially dance parties, occur on a monthly basis in otherwise straight spaces. What does it mean that so many queer events take place in straight spaces? If our spaces are temporary, does that mean we are temporary too?
The closing of Parlour on Clark proves that loving a community is not enough. Love needs to be sustainable. The queer community needs to do a better job supporting spaces and people when they are struggling. We need to create a culture where we can ask for help and receive it. Otherwise, we will continue to lose our spaces, our friends, and ourselves. We will continue to be defined by loss.