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Howard Brown To Buy Pioneering Gay Bar Little Jim’s For A Major Expansion In Lakeview

Little Jim's, the oldest gay bar in Boystown, would close under the plan. The owners plan to retire.

Pioneering Boystown bar Little Jim's could be sold to Howard Brown Health.
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BOYSTOWN — One of Boystown’s longest-serving businesses is closing down, and will likely be replaced by another venerable neighborhood institution.

Howard Brown Health is in talks to buy the building that houses Boystown’s oldest gay bar, Little Jim’s Tavern, 3501 N. Halsted St. In its place, Howard Brown would build a new health clinic that would double the capacity of its nearby center at 3245 N. Halsted St.

After 45 years in business, the owners of Little Jim’s Tavern are retiring and selling the building at Halsted Street and Cornelia Avenue, ownership said. In early 2019, the building that houses Little Jim’s and other local businesses went up for sale with an asking price of $7.5 million, Chicago Magazine reported.

“In planning the disposition of the property, we hoped its new use would preserve the character of North Halsted Street,” Little Jim’s owner, who is not named, said in a statement. “We are thrilled that Howard Brown Health is planning to acquire the site to continue our legacy of community support and service.”

It’s not clear when the bar would close for good, however.

Howard Brown’s plans for the Little Jim’s site call for a new building that would provide primary care appointments, sexual and reproductive healthcare and behavioral health services, the LGBTQ-focused health group said in a statement. The proposed building would include street-level retail space, though plans for the space have not been solidified, a source familiar with the plan said.

The development would require a rezoning and City Council approval, said Tressa Feher, chief of staff to Ald. James Cappleman (46th). Cappleman’s office is working to receive more information about the plans and schedule community meetings on the rezoning request.

“Out of all the developers that came to us, we’re pretty excited that Howard Brown is interested in the space,” Feher said. “Howard Brown is such a good neighbor. It seems to be the best plan we’ve seen.”

The proposed redevelopment of the Little Jim’s location could be completed by 2022, according to Howard Brown. Once completed, Howard Brown will relocate its clinic at 3245 N. Halsted into the new facility.

Opened in 1975 by Jim Gates, Little Jim’s Tavern was the first gay bar in Boystown and the second-oldest gay bar in Chicago. As the neighborhood blossomed into a gay-friendly nightlife hotspot, Little Jim’s became the longest-running bar in Boystown.

In 2017, the bar expanded into the neighboring storefront with a new spot called Big Jim’s.

Little Jim’s is now an iconic and highly visible neighborhood gathering place. But the city was not always as accepting of such establishments. In its early days, Little Jim’s had darkened windows to protect the safety of its customers, bar management previously told Chicago Magazine in a feature on the tavern.

In 2014, Gates sold Little Jim’s to the building’s landlord, a Philadelphia-based investor. Gates was seeking a buyer as he was set to retire to Florida, he told the Windy City Times.

Little Jim’s director of operations did not return requests for comment.

Howard Brown’s plans for the Little Jim’s site is just one part of a massive expansion of the non-profit health provider.

The health care group is also looking to relocate its Broadway Youth Center from 4009 N. Broadway to a to-be constructed building at 1023 W. Irving Park Rd. At the site, Howard Brown will build a five-floor, 20,000-square foot to house its youth programs and clinical services, the health agency has announced.

Howard Brown is also seeking to build a community center on the South Side, and is working with local groups to identify an area and services that are needed the most, according to the organization. The site could be open by 2024.

The major expansion comes as demand for health services among LGBTQ communities has skyrocketed. Long wait-times and service capacities have plagued some Howard Brown facilities, the organization’s leadership said in a statement.

The new health center at the Little Jim’s site would double the capacity of the existing Halsted Street center and help alleviate long wait-times at Howard Brown’s flagship location at 4025 N. Sheridan Rd., the organization said. The youth center relocation would help the agency serve about 2,000 additional kids a year.

Howard Brown currently has 15 locations throughout the Chicago area.

“As the need for LGBTQ affirming healthcare services continues to grow, Howard Brown is responding with bold plans that will increase capacity citywide to serve more people than ever before,” David Ernesto Munar, president and CEO of Howard Brown Health, said in a statement. “We’re excited to take the next steps towards making our model of care more accessible for all who seek our services.”

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