Local tour guide Mike McMains will take Chicagoans through Downtown's underground streets, train stations and pedestrian tunnels starting July 22. Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — A local tour guide launched a new series of tours for Pride Month spotlighting LGBTQ+ stories, from the site of the Disco Demolition to the birthplace of house music and a hub for LGBTQ+ artists and authors.

Mike McMains, founder of Tours With Mike and creator of the Ugly Buildings tours, has three tours focusing on LGBTQ+ history on the North Side, South Side and Downtown.

The North Side tour focuses on Northalsted, the country’s first official LGBTQ+ district. That two-hour tour highlights the area’s bars, architecture, Legacy Walk and more.

The South Side tour focuses on the South Loop and Bronzeville, highlighting areas that hosted the drag ball scene and the city’s old vice districts. That tour will run on the bus of Chicago’s urban historian, Shermann “Dilla” Thomas.

The Downtown tour kicks off in the Loop, and will share stories about LGBTQ+ artists and activists, the country’s first Gay Liberation March and queer life Downtown in the mid-20th century. It also will highlight The Warehouse, the birthplace of House music and safe haven for Black, queer people.

McMains will lead each tour himself. Tickets for the walking tours on the North Side and Downtown are $30. The South Side tours are $45.

Victor Luna dances near the Belmont Stage during Bambi-Banks-Coulee’s Soul Train on the second day of 39th Northalsted Market Days along North Halsted Street on August 7, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

LGBTQ+ tours on the North Side seem like a natural fit thanks to the vibrant Northalsted and Andersonville communities. But it’s equally important to highlight that history in other parts of the city, McMains said.

“For Downtown, that used to be the center of where you would find what we call LGBTQ activity today,” McMains said. “Back then … we didn’t have that language. We didn’t have the acronyms. A lot of people didn’t even identify themselves as necessarily homosexual or lesbian or LGBTQ. But the people were there and the stories were there. To be able to uncover them and showcase them and really highlight their contributions and how they’re all around Downtown is really amazing.”

The South Side tour is equally special, McMains said.

Much of the area has been razed throughout the years, but it used to be “absolutely vibrant” with a plethora of blues clubs, night clubs, jazz performers and the gay ball scene, McMains said. Activities in the community were cataloged in the newspaper gossip columns.

Jazz clubs, particularly in Bronzeville and Woodlawn, were the centers of a vibrant drag scene in the 1930s through the mid-1960s.

RELATED: Decades Before Boystown, South Side Jazz Clubs Were A Haven For Queer Chicagoans

“It’s a story about neighborhood evolution, and highlighting these stories that people don’t notice,” McMains said.

Mark King is dressed up for Pride Fest on June 19, 2022 outside of the Center on Halsted. Credit: Kathleen Hinkel/Block Club Chicago

Ticketholders also will have access to a private website with historic photos and videos they can peruse on their own. That free virtual tours are a way to ensure more people can access the material, McMains said.

“The virtual tours provide a way for people who may not have the economic means or the physical means to be able to travel with me on my in-person tours, so they can experience it in some kind of way,” McMains said. “It’s a very interactive experience. I have people from all over the world on it. I see the chat as it comes through and I can answer questions.”

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