Behind-the-scenes at Sparrow's Pt. 1
Sparrows at 5224 N. Sheridan Rd. was a drag bar owned by Chuck Renslow that opened in October 1970 and closed two years later.
An ad in the December 1970 issue of the Mattachine Midwest newsletter read: 'Sparrows dining room under new management by Barney. Opened at 6 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, Saturday, Sunday 6 p.m. to 10 a.m.'
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You could also party in the New Year ( 1971 ) at Sparrows for $15, which included dinner, drinks and a show.
Tillie remembers the very early days at the bar: ' … Chuck Renslow approached me and asked if I knew anybody who could get a drag show together at Sparrows. First I said no, then I thought it over and said, 'Yes, me!' So I opened Sparrows and drag started all over in Chicago again. They called us the Geritol girls, it was me, Kay Howard, Kay Leslie, Edie Lloyd, and then I had a little 19-year-old Spanish queen that was a dancer, who was beautiful.
'But she couldn't mix with the audience, she had to stay in the dressing room between shows because she wasn't old enough. They would have raided the bar for serving a minor. She had to drink nothing but coke and orange juice. I loved that club, there was a big Spanish Review there before us, they had a big stage and tables around the stage, then there was a bar at the back, so if you didn't want to see the drag show you went back there and talked without disturbing the show. I did that for eight months to a year, then Roby Landers took over.'
At Sparrows' Grand Opening in February 1971, the Roby Landers Revue performed with Jackie Knight, Kay Leslie, Virginia Slims, Tanya Terrill, E. D. Loyd, Shelly Michaels and Roby Landers herself.
Chuck Renslow remembers the Sparrows float that year: 'In '71, we had the first float in that parade from Sparrows. What we did was ... Gary Chichester was the coordinator ... since they had no floats and they wanted floats, we took a flat car we rented, one of these flat trailers you pull and we put this artificial grass on it. Somebody had a trellis and we mounted that and put all the drag queens on it.'
In the July 1972 issue of The Paper, an article appeared about the club, with three of the drag queens interviewed by Thomas Benji albeit poorly.
The article begins: 'It's show time and the darkened interior of Sparrow's is packed: the tables are full, the bar is crowded and the standing room only space behind the bar is packed. The curved stage bulges out towards the audience, heavy blue curtains hiding it from view. Now the recorded music starts and a tape announces that this is the Roby Landers Hot Pants Revue starring Roby, Tanya Terrill, Audrey Bryant, Ebony, Wanda Lust, Artesia Welles and Ricky.'
Roby was dressed in an enormous white gown and a blonde wig. She opened her act with: 'Vote for meI promise chicken for everybody. And for you girls, we'll find somebody to eat the whole thing.'
Other lines from Roby ( They were probably funnier at the time ) :
'I'm no Democratdon't I looked like a knocked-up Republican?'
'You going to have a baby, lady? Take a bow you must've done it with a dildo.'
'There's going to be a King and Queen contest at the Greyhound Bus Station. Did you know there was a gay bar in the bus station? And can you imagine being called Miss Greyhound Bus Station? All aboardthere's room in the back!'
Roby pointed to her dress and said: 'Do you know how many tricks I had to hustle at 35 cents a throw for this?'
Benji describes Roby off stage as a 'quiet, mild-mannered Black man with close-cropped hair.' According to the article, Roby was born in San Francisco and went to college at Berkeley, and though interested in theater, he never became a theater major. Roby did a brief stint as a Lieutenant in the Army Medical Corps, and so he always had a job to fall back on if the drag fell through. He was a registered nurse.
Roby first appeared in drag in San Francisco at a club called Ann's Forty-Four, just up the street from the world-famous Finocchio's drag bar. Somebody bet Roby $50 he couldn't look like a girl and win the bar's drag contest. He won first prize and a contract to perform there. In the interview, Roby said, 'It cost me $150 to win that $50 bet.'
More from behind-the-scenes at Sparrow's next week.
If you have memories to share, contact Sukie de la Croix at Windy City Times. You can leave a message on his voicemail at ( 773 ) 871-7610. He collects memories and interviews over the phone, in person, or via e-mail email@example.com