By Jerome Stuart Nichols
Each summer for the past 32 years, queers, freaks and friends from around the world converge on downtown Chicago to shop, eat and dance during the Midwest's largest street fair, Market Days. About 100,000 people are expected to flood into the six-block stretch Aug. 9-10 for this year's festival, many of them Michiganders.
With only a $10 suggested donation for entrance, and a selection of 400 food and art vendors, it's well worth the few hours it takes to get there from the Detroit area.
"It's an eclectic group of people," says Novi resident Kevin Griffin, who attends Market Days annually. "You see families – quite a few people with strollers – and I always run into some friends out there. Then you have the people in leather (who are) really scantily clad. It's really fun!"
And with so much going on, it can also be overwhelming. Here's some tips from local attendees to help you navigate the gayness of Market Days:
No queer-centric event would be complete without some queens. "You get to see a few drag queens walking down the street," Griffin says. "I can't understand how they survive in that heat with all that stuff on!" Out of the sun, and in their natural night-club habitat, every gay club in the area will have their best ladies on display.
For a drag-while-you-dine experience, Michael Durant of Berkley recommends visiting Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club in Boystown (3700 N. Halsted St., Chicago; 773-525-1111). "I've eaten there a number of times," Durant says. "The food is good; the drinks are good. It's a fun atmosphere."
Market Days has hosted a myriad of musical acts, including Darren Criss, En Vogue, Kat Graham, Jody Watley and Wilson Phillips. In 2011, Jennifer Holliday belted out her world-famous Broadway classic "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."
This year, the lineup includes headliners Belinda Carlisle, Deborah Cox and Steve Grand on Aug. 9; on Aug. 10, it's Neon Trees, Mary Lambert, Rockell and Karmin. But it won't just be big names. Expect lots of queer indie bands, local treasures and, of course, street performers.
For the greatest balance of value and control over your travel, Griffin recommends driving. Taking the toll roads offers a much shorter trip, but remember to have enough change for all the tolls. If you must take non-toll roads, schedule your arrival in late morning or late night to avoid the rush-hour crunch. (Check out GasBuddy.com before you fill up to find the cheapest gas around you.) Alternatively, an Amtrak train ride offers a chauffeured ride, comfortable seating and great views; long delays on the return trip, however, are common.
Getting around Chicago is a cinch if you rely on public transportation. There are buses, the train and, if you're only in town for Market Days, Griffin suggests getting a Ventra card from the Chicago Transportation Authority (http://VentraChicago.com). It's $5 for the initial card and $10, $20 or $28 for a one-, three- or seven-day pass, respectively. The card is good on all CTA busses and trains. After it expires, keep the card to refill for up to four years. If cabs are more your thing, Uber and Lyft both offer flexible ride options.
Where to stay
Where you stay in Chicago depends on much you're willing to spend.
For a city like Chicago, try Priceline.com or Hotels.com for more reasonable rates. If you need non-traditional, home-style or last minute lodging, check out
Airbnb.com; pricing is often cheaper than hotels but with the comfort and privacy of staying in a home.
When looking for a place to stay, try looking right outside the heart of Market Days (remember: public transportation can get you where you wanna go). In Griffin's experience, those hotels tend to be more expensive and not quite as posh. Griffin recommends Hotel Felix (http://HotelFelixChicago.com), and both he and Durant suggest Club Quarters (http://ClubQuarters.com).
Regarding Club Quarters, Durant says, "You're within walking distance of everything. The rooms are super clean and they're about three blocks away from the 'L' train station. For what you pay for the room, you're really getting your money's worth."