Thursday, January 7, 2010

Free Drinks, Onion Rings, and Bears, Oh My!

Big Chicks

5024 North Sheridan Road
Chicago, IL 60640-3118

(773) 728-5511

Big Chicks was my haunt back in the days of yore when I was an intern at Lambda Legal. I was introduced to the sordid bar by the Outreach Coordinator, Catina Lowrey, who ultimately became one of my best friends. A many nights we closed that bar: we talked about Earl Warren, we drank over Roe v. Wade, we cried about boys (when about me), we cried about girls (when about Catina). Big Chicks was our little haven. It was my alcoholic uterus.

We haven’t gone to Big Chicks in awhile. Catina left Lambda and is now getting her masters in something that deals with (1) management, (2) public policy, and (3) non-profits. Whenever she talks about (2) and (3), my eyes glaze over. She spends all her time harvesting tomatoes and lichens in her pursuit of making the world a better place.

After Lambda, my path was different. I could have been an attorney for orphans and widows. I could have been, but I sold out. When I hear “good public policy” I immediately think of “weighted average cost of capital.” Whereas rake and sweat come with her vocation, mine is coupled with gin and tonic. Christmas was around the corner, and I had to call Catina. It is not her fault she chose such a lofty life decision. She was still my best friend, and it was my turn to treat.

I picked her up at 8:00 and the conversation between the two of just continued to flow. It is hard to describe Catina. Think of Whoppi Goldberg, as a Blacker, man-hating lesbian, and you get Catina. She hates straight men. One time we were walking around Wrigglyville, and she almost tackled three overweight Cubs fans. I was afraid she would kill them. She is a badass. The type of woman that I normally surround myself with. But here is the one thing about her, as much of a militant lesbian she is, the gays love her. She is not a diva like some of my friends. She is not a faghag like Paulene. She hates the penis. The concept makes her violently noxious. She refuses to take any “[his]tory” courses because of its root; hence, why Big Chicks is Catina’s Bar. This picture of Catina is quite important. I parked along Sheridan, and we had to walk a block to Big Chicks. On that short walk, I thought I was walking with the mayor of Chicago. Everyone stopped to talk to Catina. And it wasn’t just the gays - the homeless, the needy, the well-dressed, everyone stopped by. It was like walking with the Black Statute of

Liberty carrying a placard that read "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses.”

For those who normally think of gay bars, one would likely have the image of a flashy, well manicured locale found in a gentrified neighborhood. Many of those do exist in Chicago. I tend to shy away from those. I may like Gucci loafers, but I want sticky floors when I drinking. In some way, Big Chicks scratches that itch. The bar is located directly across from some building meant to serve as residences for crazy people. I am not talking Arkham Asylum crazy, but more like the lunacy that runs in Asian mothers. To add to the motif, Big Chicks is flanked by some rather questionable establishments. Nothing all that pernicious because it is located in Uptown, and a certain amount of gentrification has occurred, but it is not a place where I would want my mother to see in her first visit to Chicago.[1]

It was fucking cold, and I walked ahead and into the bar. I was stunned. What the Hell happened to Big Chicks. It should have been called “Bears Den.” For the ones who are unfamiliar with the term “Bear” just think of “Smokey the Bear” or “Winnie the Poo” in gay form. Typically, Asians are not bears and I already tend to standout in crowds due to my vampiric pallor. I stood out even more at Big Chicks.

The bar is your typical long U-shaped table. I believe that there are more than 20 stools at the bar. Along the periphery are several hightables that can comfortably seat three. There are two other rooms. The back room has a pool table and two tall banquettes. It is narrow, and I hate elbowing through it when I go the bathrooms. The other room is adjacent to the bar. It serves as a dancefloor on some nights, a dining room on others, and a room where euchre is played on Mondays (which btw is the best Burger-Buck Nite in Chicago). Ironically, you have to walk through the dancefloor and to some desk in order to make any food orders.

As I essentially robbed a seat from some hairy fellow, I parsed through the menu. $12 for a Cobb Salad, $5 for onion rings, $7 for the California Burger, $5 for cake. Big Chicks is an all cash bar, and I started to think, “shit is $60 enough?” As Catina walked passed the adoration of a many bears, the mental calculus was forming, “Lesbians can drink, I will need to sell plasma.” As she stood next to me she nodded to the bartender, instinctively, another bear got up and yielded his seat to her. She was the like some ambassador, some emissary from Home Depot. Andy the bartender immediately got her a Peroni.

“When was the last time you came in?” I asked.

“Four days ago. Man we need to find a new place, I am so over this place.” She answered in a gruff manner.

Pondering how graduate students in non-profit studies could visit a bar so often I chimed in “What is with all the bears?”

She was already finished with half of her Peroni, “Boy! Are you going to drink or not? It is always bear night in this mother fucker. Andy, can my friend get a drink?”

“I would like a Peroni, and I presume she would too.” I was starving, “Hey, what do you want to eat?”

Catina was already chatting with a throng of bears. I started to have images of a witch in the woods surrounded by an army of bear-bodyguards.

“Bitch, what the fuck do you want to eat?”

A big black bear whom I shall refer to as “Smoky” stirred and jumped right between Catina and me, “Who the fuck are you calling a bitch you fag.”

Catina came to my rescue, “Smoky, leave him alone, the Asian is with me. I already ate babe.”

I walked past leagues of bears. Some were harrier than others. Some were heavier. Some were older. I wonder if there is a Gay Goldilocks for bears. As I ambled over to the ordering desk, I felt that all their eyes were on me. I was afraid of being mauled – the mini eggroll in their jaws.

I ordered the California Burger and a large basket of onion rings. The journey took me a scant three minutes. It is interesting how time flies when you are being assaulted while forging for provisions. As I returned back to our seat I noticed that there were three new Peronis sitting in front of me.

I tapped Catina on the shoulder, “Hey didn’t we order … what the hell woman! Are you drinking your second one? How many Peroni’s did we order,” I screeched. I was going to blow my proverbial wad before taking a sip. “How much do we owe the bar?”

Catina gave me a puzzled queer look, “We don’t, they bought it for us,” gesturing to her Ursidae friends.

I looked at them and said, “Oh thanks. I don’t really think Catina is a bitch. In fact I am more her bitch, we went to Detroit together.…” as I yammered on, I realized I made absolutely no sense. The bears were just smiling at me as if I belonged across the street. In retrospect, I have no idea why the synapses connected bears with Detroit, but they did.

Thawing to the situation, we started to talk about Lambda and transgender issues. I am not particularly knowledgeable with the legal landscape regarding the trans-population, but let me tell you, Smoky knew a lot about it. He was throwing words like “sex discrimination,” “gender stereotype,” “hostile,” and “Medicaid” into every sentence.

Finally I had to stop him “I am sorry, but how do you know so much about trans-issues.”

“Oh, I do drag.”

I almost threw up.

Serendipitously the food arrived. I offered my onion rings and french fries (which came with the burger) to Catina and my newly minted and knowledgeable friends. Catina took a handful of onion rings but the bears passed. So I thought to myself, “Good, more for me.” Well Dear Reader, as I bit into the onion ring I almost fell off my stool. No it wasn’t because an animal attacked me. It was fucking good. I rarely rave about anything, but these onion rings are quite raveable. So raveable that I would take off my shirt and The Big Chick can shower me in LSD. Each bite took me to the Age of Aquarius. I didn’t care about the french fries, and the burger did not hold my attention, I didn’t even care about the illegal activities occurring at the table next to me. I wanted more onion rings. I wanted them bad. It is impossible to do them justice. But each ring was a fat layer from a normal brown onion. Now these are not small onion rings like the ones found in burger king. These things were brontosaurus like. I am not sure if onions could be given steroids, but these things were the Schwarzeneggers of vidalias. Because they are naturally sweet, I am particularly partial to onion rings made out of vidalias, and nothing invites my wrath more than an insipid onion ring. But even more important than the species of onion, is the batter in which the thing is covered in. If there was ice cream made out of this batter I would eat it. The batter was a beautiful amber. It was sweet, crisp, and it had some sort of note to it (I presume it was beer). Dear Reader, this is the best onion ring I ever had. If I could loot my Roth IRA, I would eat infinite amounts of onion rings here.

As I was engorging myself in the onion rings, I would occasionally take a bite out of the burger. According to the blackboard, the California Hamburger is served with avocado, lettuce and tomato. What makes the California Burger, California, vis-à-vis The Delaware Burger, or the Toronto Burger is probably … the avocado. This is quite ridiculous. Tomatoes are not grown in Illinois, but for some reason we do not call every pedestrian hamburger a Fresno Burger. The burger was serviceable, but one thing I took note was the generous amounts of avocado found in it. It was either: a) an entire avocado, or b) a very large one. I presume it is “B,” which then leads me to wonder who the hell provides Big Chicks its produce.

The fries were pretty good. They were normal brown potatoes, fried to a crispy texture. I am particularly partial to fries where the skin is left on. But I hate french fries cooked in a sweet batter. This batter was quite sweet. Not so sweet that it would make me hyperglycemic, but sweet enough that I had to cast it aside. But I didn’t care – the O Rings beckoned.

As I continued to gorge on the onion rings, it dawned on me that a few more of these and I would fit in quite well with the crowd. Would I be a panda? As I thought of a whimsical moniker, I chuckled “I could be called Ling-Ling.”


What the fuck? Did I get shot? It is Uptown! As I tried to look up from what must have been a glutinous stupor, Smokey commanded “DRINK!”

I reached for my Peroni. It was empty, I presumed that Catina finished it. But in its place was a shot of what could easily be mistaken as tar. “What the fuck is that,” I asked.

Catina was suspiciously eying the shot glass that she was clutching in her hand, “Jaeger.”

Oh my god.

Not since the black tar in the X-Files has a black liquid been so evil. We did the “Cheers” – the drink – the slamming of the glass. I almost wanted to gag, but I couldn’t lose the onion rings. They were becoming quite precious to me. The bears laughed and bid us adieu. Apparently there was some bear party elsewhere.

After finishing the burger and onion rings I was still peckish, and I inquired about dessert. Big Chicks is known for its red velvet cake and I meandered over to the ordering desk for it. They were out, and I was bellicose. I blame it all on genetics really. I am the type of Asian who cannot process alcohol; moreover, my parents are Cantonese. So if I get loud in a bar, it really is one, or the other. With disdain I ordered the chocolate cake, but I did tip $2 feeling guilty that I was such an ass. It really isn’t my fault – just chromosomes.

As I got back Catina was already making a new friend, “Robert.” He told us he was a licensed masseuse and that he charged $60 an hour when working on the side. I gasped, why the hell did I choose my profession? Catina was shocked too, she asked if sex was involved.

As we discussed the logistics and the sliding scale of pricing in the massage-world, the chocolate cake came. The cake was disgusting. It was chalky, and desiccated. The one notable thing about the cake was the icing. It was chocolate and buttery, but no amount of icing could save the dry floury mess. I wanted the red-velvet cake, and instead I got this disaster that was the culinary equivalent of Chernobyl. Sensing my anger, another bartender bought us a round of drinks. And it dawned on me, I have not paid for a single drink at this visit. In fact as the night continued, Robert and the bartenders picked us up four rounds. By the end of the night I was staggering and requesting water in a hybrid of Cantonese, Mandarin, and Latin.

As we treaded out of the bar, I asked Catina “How many drinks did we pay for.”

“None,” she answered.

“How is that possible?”

“Bears like Asians.”

“Is there MSG in honey?”

In a scale of 1-4 with 4 being the best.

Quality: 3.5. It would be a four, but for the chocolate cake.

Service: 4. I love the bartenders, especially Andy. An aside, there is a surly barback, he needs to eat a sandwich.

Atmosphere: 3. It is a dive, and I would actually rank it higher, but some crazy people do come in; for example, odd wheelchair guy.

Hotness of Clientale: 2.5 They bought me a bunch of drinks – but I am not into bears.

[1] For those in the know, I admit Argyle Street is located in Uptown and one can get a decent Pho there, but you don’t know my mother. Think about it. She spawned me.

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