Leather bars seem to be slowly receding into the past, but the Cell Block in Boystown is bringing it back, or trying to at least on its ever popular "Furr Night" when bellying up to the bar takes on new meaning... On every other night, it's cheap drinks, darts and pool that draws a predominantly non-leather neighborhood gay crowd.
Not to be confused with the very straight Lockdown on Western, Cell Block lurks ominously behind darkened windows on Halsted, just north of Waveland and adjacent to Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club. If you blink as you walk by, you might never even notice it.
I must admit that I was a little apprehensive about going to Cell Block. I've often heard it described as a hook-up bar for older gay men and the name itself is a little intimidating, not to mention the somewhat unwelcoming façade. However, after visiting the bar on several occasions, I discovered that the place is a little misunderstood. Although there are some creepy men lurking in the shadows, Cell Block isn't the hardcore leather bar like everyone thinks. It's mainly groups of men and women just having a good time.
The bar itself could use a décor upgrade. It's dark and dingy, and not in a rustic sort of way. Paint is chipping off the walls and the barstools look as though they may crumple if anyone over 100 pounds happens to sit down on them. There are several different rooms, including the back that's open only on weekends. Back here, it's even darker and filled with TVs playing porn. I'll spare you the details but you can use your imagination...
For most, the cheap drinks more than makes up for the surroundings and, rumor has it, that the bartenders will even buy you a drink if you tip them well. It's possible this is their attempt to distract you from the ambiance, and it works. In fact, being easy on the wallet makes Cell Block a great place to go towards the end of the night when you're running low on dough after spending the evening bar-hopping in Boystown. The daily specials are pretty hard to beat, especially with $2 PBR on Mondays, $4 for any beer on Fridays and free hot dogs on Sundays.
If cheap drinks aren't reason enough to check out Cell Block, I recommend Furr Night, which happens on the third Saturday of every month. Furr Night is all about shirtless, hairy men in chaps and those looking for an eyeful. The night also features a live DJ and some pretty fantastic drink specials. If you want the full leather bar experience, this is unquestionably a good time. Also worth mentioning is their annual "Cell Block Leatherman Contest" where dozens of leather-loving men compete for the title through various competitions and the bar crowns a winner with the help of patrons.
Cell Block is supposedly straight-friendly, but I wouldn't recommend it—especially if your gal pal just wants to giggle and stare at the leather lovers, which doesn't go over well. For the most part, the clientele tends to be bears over 40. The younger clientele tends to be people curious about the bar or those looking for cheap drinks, not a leather experience. Furr Nights are the exception, when gays and straights of all ages check out the bar, mostly out of curiosity.
"Cell Block is one of Chicago's well-known leather bars. With its dark facade and daunting name, you might hesitate going in. However, the Cell Block is probably the softest approach to the leather world."
– Matt B. on Yelp (February 9, 2009)
Having "served" since the late 90s (with original décor to match), Cell Block continues to draw inmates with bargain booze, darts and pool, and Furr Night—where the leather everyone thinks the place is full of comes out in full glory. If you like Cell Block, you might also like Little Jim's a few blocks south on Halsted, Touché further north, or Manhandler in Lincoln Park. For more information including a calendar of events, check out the Cell Block website. Now lights out!
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