A Fun Night in Champaign-Urbana …

Me an Phil Reese at Emerald City with the Yellow Brick Road

I ended up staying nearly an hour in Pontiac, Illinois – which (so far) has proven to be the funkiest and most enjoyable town on Route 66. And because I had plans to stay in Champaign Urbana for the night (which was actually an hour out of my way on the trip), I decided to speed things up a bit. So I got back in the car, and hit the road – putting in a little country music to get in the mood. I played Rooster McClintock – a bluegrass band in Humboldt County who played at my friends Earl and Melissa’s wedding two years ago.

As the car zoomed down Route 66, I again had the train tracks on my left – and the Interstate on my right. It was truly beautiful to have the whole open road to yourself, while cars on I-55 are stressing out with traffic (and probably not getting there much faster than me.) When I got to Bloomington, which seemed like a cool college town but not very distinct, I deviated from Route 66 and headed towards Champaign. But because my friend Phil wasn’t gonna be home for a few hours, I said: “hey, forget the Interstate. Why not explore more of this area?” So I took U.S. Route 105 all the way to Champaign – as it sped through the Illinois cornfields with remarkable efficiency.

Champaign-Urbana, of course, is home to the University of Illinois. And it’s crazy that despite growing up my whole childhood in Chicago and knowing countless people who went there, I had never been until tonight. I met up with Phil Reese, a gay blogger who writes for Bilerico Project – who plays tour-guide for me that evening. After a wonderful meal at a Spanish Restaurant, he takes me to Emerald City – which he says is the only “out” gay bar in Champaign. While there are other gay bars, Phil explains, the others claim to be “mixed.”

At Emerald City, all the drinks have a Wizard of Oz theme – with apparently the most popular drinks being the Good Witch and the Yellow Brick Road. The Tin Man drink has a cucumber theme (which doesn’t sit well for me), so I go with the Yellow Brick Road for its tasty mango flavor. All in all, a fun mellow night at Emerald City – and Phil seems to know every gay person in Champaign-Urbana. A bartender even calls him one of those “Administrative Gays.”

Phil’s about to graduate from U of I with his Masters Degree – and has a job interview in DC this week for the Washington Blade, the oldest LGBT paper in the country. So of course, we are all keeping our fingers crossed for his success!! Champaign is a fun town, but tomorrow morning I head back towards Route 66.

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4 Responses to “A Fun Night in Champaign-Urbana …”

  1. JoeMcNamara Says:

    This is for your friend Phil: So sorry you weren’t around when I owned theBar now known as Chester Street. That area of Chester Street was filled with all gay shops, including The Gallery, several salons, vintage clothing, florists and we even had a restaurant.

    Champaign was the center of Gay Illinois and theBar attracted thousands of gays from Chicago, Saint Louis and Indianapolis weekly. Over 1,200 pulsating bare chested male bodies was not unusual on any given Saturday night, and always a thousand plus on half price Wednesday and over flowing crowds Thursdays for New Wave.

    There were many and I do mean many nights Wed thru Sunday that the Champaign Police would have to literally direct traffic around theBar to keep the cars and pedestrians moving.

    In order to get the crowds out of the crowded bar many nights I would have drag-queens entertaining on the streets and sidewalk musicians.

    That was then and it could very easily be again.

    JoeMcNamara
    Fort Lauderdale, Florida

    JoeMcNamara is the former owner of theBar – Chester Street and Chances R, Champaign, Illinois. He also owned theBar and Second Chance, Carbondale, Illinois, Side Street, Club Tropic and Cafe Exile, Key West Florida, in addition to Fabooo and the Red Raven, Palm Springs, California

  2. Chris S Says:

    It’s a damn shame that Joe no longer owns what is now C-street – a dirty, run-down dumpster. Tommy Williams now manages the hole, treating customers like garbage and providing watered-down, cheap alcohol. I will never return.

  3. Nick Says:

    I’m planning a trip to Champaign this 4th of July weekend. Is Emerald City still open? A few websites say that its closed, but it looks like its still operating according to google maps. If closed, any suggestions on other gay bars in the city?

    • paulhogarth Says:

      Hey Nick!! I wish I could help you out, but I haven’t been to Champaign in three years — and my friend who I visited has since moved away. So I’m afraid that I have no idea. Thanks for checking out my blog.

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