Today's closing of Charmer's Café marks more than simply the closing of a coffee shop and hang out enjoyed by many of us who lived within a few blocks of the area we know as Jarvis Square.

For many years before local resident Dan Sullivan opened Charmer's Café, the name “Charmer's" adorned the quirky and famous gay bar, one of the oldest gay bars in Chicago, which actually existed immediately west of Charmer's Café, occupying around half of space of the bar that now exists there, the Poitin Still.

It appears that for the first time since 1929, there will be no business establishment named Charmers at this street corner. (The article suggests that Charmers started catering to the gay community in the early 1960s.)

A Google search lead me to the following Chicago Tribune article from the Arts and Entertainment section, dated March 1, 1996, which offers a glimpse of what Charmer's meant to the community over fifteen years ago.

On a personal note, the gentlemen quoted in this article, John Ellis, was one of my best friends growing up in Oak Park – we later became reacquainted when we learned that we lived across the alley from each other here in Rogers Park. John ultimately fulfilled his dream and ended up purchasing Charmers a few years later. Tragically, John's dream was short lived, as he died unexpectedly only around six months after buying the bar.

So, in honor of Dan Sullivan in appreciation for what he has done to carry on the Charmer's name for as long as he has, and in memory of Charmer's Bar, and in further memory of my friend John Ellis, I am posting the 1996 Tribune Article.

(I invite anyone with more knowledge about the history of Charmer's Bar to share it with me, and I will be glad to post on this website.)

Eclectic Neighborhood Swirls Around Charmers Bar
March 01, 1996 By Achy Obejas.

The young voice booms into Charmers on a balmy night -- it delivers a single word, cutting and ugly. The doors open and slam shut -- both doors, including the heavy one with the grating that faces the street -- in an instant. The whole incident occurs so quickly that it hangs in the air as a nightmarish possibility, rather than a reality, for a second or so. Did that actually happen?

But at Charmers, arguably the city's oldest gay bar and one of the most charming places in town, nobody takes anything too seriously for very long. The bartender -- a middle-age man with a serious diva attitude -- seems more annoyed than offended.

"Sooooooo?" he yells out after the young punk, who's running down the street by now. The patrons laugh, shake their heads, and go on with their conversations without much of a care.

Charmers, which first opened its doors in 1929, sits on a dicey corner in Rogers Park. A half block from Don's Coffee Club, that other just-left-of-center neighborhood hangout, and squeezed between a liquor store and a tiny grocery store, it has been hosting gays and lesbians since the late 1960s, but recent changes in the area are changing Charmers, too.

"I've been coming here since about 1982," says John Ellis, who manages Billy Hork Galleries but tends bar at Charmers once or twice a week for fun. "What I've noticed is that the crowd's getting younger as more young gay people move into the neighborhood. This used to be a sort of retiree community, but that's changing, too."

Proof positive lies right across the street, in a parking lot adjacent to a tiny strip where the alderman's office used to be. Young African-American men sitting on the curb bob their heads to the loud, rapid-fire beat blasting from a suitcase-size boom box leaning on the mailbox. Inside the laundromat at the tiny mall, a Hispanic man uses a key from a huge ring to let the last of his customers in and out. Inside, an Asian mother folds sheets while her two babies press up against the pane for a view.

As Rogers Park changes -- and particularly these few blocks just south of Howard -- from a mostly white, significantly older and Jewish community to a more racially and culturally mixed neighborhood of younger people, Charmers finds itself in a curious position.

Suddenly, it has a broader local customer base of young gays of all colors, but it's also faced with the loss of its anonymity in the neighborhood. Any young boy nervous about his sexuality can use Charmers to test it out: He can come in and have a drink, or do any number of stupid things, like yelling into the bar. Last summer, the disruptions were enough that a squad car perched itself on the corner of Jarvis and Ashland and didn't leave until the weather turned cold.

Inside Charmers, though, the attitude remains unaffected. It's a sweet, friendly place, "a low-key Big Chick's," as Ellis calls it. The jukebox boasts the Fifth Dimension, Pearl Bailey, Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, Xavier Cugat and Dean Martin, among others. On Monday nights they watch "High Society" on the tube.

The regulars are mostly white males in their 30s, but people from all walks of life seem to hang out here. Women are warmly welcomed. People actually talk here. Customers have a real say in what's heard or on the TV. The bartenders are witty and give the sense that they're here because they like the place and each other. There's camaraderie.

The bar itself is what Ellis calls "a jewel box." The counter is spotless and long, and the decor is tasteful, masculine deco. A huge relief of Artemis hangs dead center behind the bar. All around there are reliefs of priestesses reaching up to the skies. The only male figure is an isolated white statue of Michelangelo's "David."

"There used to be booths along the side," says Rick Osborne, whose day job is in the jewelry department at Marshall Field's but who has been tending bar at Charmers for about four years. "Some people say it used to be a speak-easy. There are all sorts of rumors about the place. It used to be called Chalmers and had a big sign outside in the shape of a martini glass. It used to be called Peppers, too. It's a great neighborhood place. It would be wonderful to get attention for it but, honestly, we wouldn't want to get too famous."