CHICAGO – Despite the rumors earlier this year, the mighty has not fallen.
Bear Pride was the mightiest of bear runs on the circuit. Bears know that Memorial Day weekend meant being in Chicago. However, years of operating losses and issues with host hotels allowed the Great Lakes Bears to reinvent the community’s premier run. They brought it back to its roots and back into the “gayborhoods.”
Bear Pride Classic was not entirely “Bear Pride Lite.”
Before the weekend began, 200 people were Pre-registered. That number jumped up to 325 as the weekend progressed. For Saturday’s dance and coffee house at Ann Sather on Belmont Avenue in Boystown/Lakeview, an additional 100 tickets were sold and attendance for the dance was reported as being “at capacity” for the restaurant and meeting hall. Organizers predicted that up to 500 people were to show for the Nuts N’ Butts party up at the Chicago Eagle in Andersonville.
In contrast, Bear Pride registration was up to 1200 attendees just five years ago.
Bear Pride organizers speculated that the jump in weekend attendance were mainly due to local bears in Chicagoland area who did not pre-register for the run or purchased advanced tickets. Many critics of the scaled-down run pointed out that this is due to lack of a host hotel, vendor rooms or a contest held at this event previously.
However, the larger International Mr(s). Leather event downtown made up for all three aspects. Some Bear Pride registrants took advantage of the IML room deals at the Hyatt Regency Riverside on Wacker Drive, where rates were as low as $139 a night. The Leather Market at the host hotel, held in the largest non-city owned exhibition space in Chicago, also had several bear community vendors on the floor.
But, what Bear Pride lacked in years past was quickly made up with an unbridled enthusiasm by the attendees in town, along with the variety of events scheduled in and around the run.
One had never seen Touché up in Rogers Park/Andersonville gets packed so early. The issue with the Friday Night Welcoming Party was the bridge between Jackhammer and Touché was not open, therefore both bars had their share of people going back-and-forth between the neighboring locales. However, the extra space at Jackhammer became simply the overflow for Touché rather than a “shared space.”
Even the non-sanctioned events were nicely attended. Ron Suresha’s reading on Saturday up at the Gerber-Hart Library in Edgewater had a small crowd, but a very supportive one. A private party on Saturday evening attended by Managing Editor Randy Stern was reported to be well attended and quite friendly. Overall, it seemed that the smaller side events had more opportunity for quality camaraderie than the larger scheduled events.