Monday, September 19, 2011


432 North Clark Street today

Location: 432 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Opened/Closed: 1970s?

This is one woman's description of Marilyn's from a 1999 article in Windy City Times:

"Oh that was fantastic! They had really great ideas. I think Nancy Reiff was the front for Felicia, Jim Flint ... that´s my own personal opinion. You walked in there and there were tree branches in the ceiling and there were Italian lights ... they were way ahead of their time. The hostess wore a tuxedo, you knew she was a woman but she was a very feminine looking type. Nancy would show you around, or be around, or whatever. I don´t know why they didn´t take off, it was so great, such a great bar."

In a 1996 article in the Chicago Tribune, Marilyn's is referred to as "one of our town's legendary lesbian hangouts." Nancy Reiff also clarifies that she managed Marilyn's from 1976 to 1979. But Marilyn's apparently existed before then, as Nancy clarifies here:

"I joined [the Tavern Guild] about 1974, and we used to have some of the meetings at Marilyn's bar. It was set up by bar employees. All the bartenders would network and talk about what was going on in the community, trying to build a sense of cohesiveness between all of us. I think what they were trying to do was unionize without the formality of unionizing, trying to push for benefits and employee rights and things like that."

Reiff went on to become Mayor Richard M. Daley's liason to the Chicago's gay and lesbian community. And then in February 1996, she opened her own place called Icon Bar, which we're told was just up the street from the old Marilyn's. But Reiff's new place made sly referrals to its predecessor, as this little anecdote reveals:

The guy in the red jacket steps into Icon and looks around. There, behind the bar, is a mirrored skyline of the city. And on the dance floor, a solitary woman turns and turns as if in a trance. Above her is a huge portrait of Marilyn Monroe, the movie queen to whom the club's name alludes.

The guy surveys the bar, where women sip on creamy drinks, dozens of beers and a long list of natural and flavored waters. The women chatter, lean into each other, laugh with easy familiarity. Then the guy in the red jacket, his face expressionless, turns and leaves, pausing for just a minute on his way out, looking back one more time as if to make sure he really gets it.

Nancy Reiff laughs. "You know, we're really very boy-friendly," she says. "He certainly could have come in."

Though Reiff was aware of the fact that Chicago's lesbian bars were plagued with short lifespans, she was optimistic about Icon Bar's chances of survival:

"This whole area's very hot right now," she says. "It's fun and safe and I thought it was a great time to open up a new place -- a place for women who work in the Loop and want to relax afterwards, a place for sophisticated women, women who love salsa and other dance music like tribal and house. Besides," she adds, "the business that was in this place just before us was called Norma Jean's -- it just felt so right, like it was meant to be."

But it doesn't appear that Icon Bar survived very long, as I have been able to find out very little else about it. Not even a precise address.

Photo: 432 North Clark Street today

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