Mad Pride: The 2012 Madison Gay Pride Festival
Last weekend I went to Madison, Wisconsin with a friend of mine to experience their Gay Pride. I was way excited, as Madison just happens to be one of my favorite hangs. I think it’s the level of safety I feel there and also the fact that everything is laid out relatively well (except all those weird one-ways around the Capitol Building). The festival was scheduled to take place downtown, around the Capitol building, so I chose a super hotel close by.
Now, most cities schedule their Pride Festivals in June, as that is national Gay Pride Month. But let’s face it, there are only so many weekends to go around – and if Minneapolis is one weekend, and Chicago another, and Milwaukee, yet another – well, you see how it goes. That is part of the reason for such a late date. The other is that the students all return to college on this particular weekend (think Fleet Week!), so it made total sense that Madison would have theirs in August.
We got into town early on Saturday. I parked the car in a lot I always use when checking out the bars downtown, or visiting my sister, who happens to work on State Street. My eyes popped huge when I saw the number of tents set-up around the Capitol, but alas, after walking around a bit I came to realize that this was not part of Pride, but the weekly Farmer’s Market! I’d been to it a couple of times with my sister, but was surprised that it would take up all the prime real estate on Pride Weekend. I discover later, of course, that all the Pride events were to begin Saturday evening, with the parade taking place on Sunday afternoon. A picnic that had been planned had been cancelled, as had a gay weddings event. No problem. That just meant I had more time to snack, nap, and douche before the night’s festivities.
After touring the Farmer’s Market and the Capitol Building, my friend and I found our way to Cooper’s Tavern, a real favorite of mine. There, we had a tasty Bloody Mary. We would return here later, after a nap, for a really great dinner. I have to say, the food at Cooper’s Tavern is very good. For dinner, my friend had one of the specials – a good looking plate of food featuring a steak, mushroom filled crepes, and green beans. I had a salad. We both had a good time, and if you’re ever visiting Madison – be sure to give this place a try. It’s right off State Street, across from the Capitol, and next to the Military Museum. They even have a sidewalk patio area.
After our first Bloody, we ambled back to retrieve my car. On the way there, we stumbled on a little place called The Shamrock. The Shamrock happens to be the very first gay bar my sister dragged me to in Madison some 15 years ago. Has it changed? No. And it’s all the better for it. The place was hopping, so we snuck in. There was a very ‘Margaret Cho’ waitress working part of the bar, and a cute, young, thin man with headband and a mean swish working the other. When we returned later that night, this poor dude would still be working! The place has food, and it is a cut above your average ‘bar food’, including salads and breakfast. All the food we saw walk past us looked great. We ordered another round of Bloodies with beer chasers. My friend and I both liked the bar a whole lot. The atmosphere is authentic Midwest, no-frills, but very clean and neat. Layout is pretty much a long rectangle with the bar on one side, next to the kitchen, next to the restrooms, and various seating taking up the other. There is a small stage near the front entrance and a mirror ball hanging from the ceiling. The crowd was the full spectrum of gay – all ages, all types. It felt good to sit there. Okay, so the Bloody Mary’s were awful (the mix was weirdly sweet) and the chaser (which came in the cutest little bottle) was bitter. Needless to say, we didn’t drink much of them (or at least I didn’t), but that hardly spoiled our visit.
The Doubletree Inn by Hilton
After leaving the Shamrock, we got in the car and decided to let the GPS system on my Droid guide us to the hotel. So, first off, it pays to know the name of your hotel. The Doubletree Inn is not the same as The Days Inn. Second off – sometimes you need to stop listening to your GPS system, take in your surroundings, and recalculate yourself. It took us five or six tries, but eventually we did find the hotel (a few blocks away from State Street – where we pretty much began our search).
What can I say? We pulled up front, and parked. Check in was super easy, and so was parking. The staff was friendly and well-informed (they even called me in my room to let me know that there was a block party that night at Woof’s!). The hotel was clean and nicely decorated. I liked the pool, never got to see the work-out room (but there is one). Our room was super comfortable. We never turned on the T.V. The moment we sat on our beds and discovered just how comfy they were, along with the comforter and the pillows, we were sold.
Travelling With a Friend
My friend took a cat nap while I trolled on-line.
So, here’s the thing about travelling with a friend that I hadn’t considered; ummm… how do you hook-up with someone if you’re sharing a room with another dude? This particular friend is a joy to travel with: great conversationalist, great taste in music, knowledgeable about food. When I am with him, I am guaranteed a great time. He’s good company. But two is company… and three is… awkward.
On-line, I get hit up numerous times throughout my stay by the hottest guys. Some were intellectual giants, some passionate connoisseurs of gay sex, and some preppy cuties. Most were age appropriate for me and right up my alley (which is exactly where they were hoping to stick it to me, nudge-nudge, wink-wink).
Unfortunately, there was the matter of place and time. They all wanted to come to the hotel room. Or, if they did want me to come to their place, it turned out they lived somewhere I was unfamiliar with or made their request at an hour that I was not willing to drive. (After bars closed ? Not this guy.) They all understood about my friend sleeping in the queen bed next to mine – some even went so far as to suggest he join in – but that is not my friend’s thing, so I am thinking it is also not our thing. I would suggest meeting up at Woof’s or someplace downtown, only to be told that they did not frequent bars. (So they troll for company on the net, but not bars? To each their own.) Needless to say, almost my entire weekend came and went without the passionate embrace of a fellow pride lover. Which is a damn shame – because every one of those guys were blistering hot and raring to go. Final count: Three that wanted to come to my hotel room while the roomie is sleeping, and if he wakes up, he can join in or watch. Six that wanted me to travel to their place either clear across town or at an hour I would not travel, and seven hotties that wanted to come to the hotel room, but offered no alternatives. Sigh. My loss, Madison.
Lesson Learned: When travelling with a friend – ALWAYS GET SEPARATE ROOMS!
After my friend woke from his cat nap, we talked about and shared a laugh over our predicament. If the rooms had been cheaper, maybe we would have tried to get another, but, hey, sometimes it can’t all be about sex – even when you really feel it should be all about sex.
We made our way to Cooper’s Tavern for an early dinner, taking in the sights of State Street and the like along the way. After dinner, we strolled around that Capitol Building (truly a beautiful structure, inside and out) and noticed the block party being set up in front of Woof’s on King Street. Okay, so at this point, I’d had 1.15 Bloody Marys, a chaser of beer, and a delicious Hendrick’s Press (thank you, Cooper’s Tavern), and a salad – minus croutons, minus bread. I woke up at 5:00 a.m. – packed, showered, etc., drove to St. Paul to pick up my buddy, and then drove to Madison, stopping once at a rest stop to piss and grab a vending machine Sanka, and once to eat some breakfast (which I only ate tiny bits of – IT WAS HUGE). While my friend slept, I was on–line, getting revved up, only discover that my vehicle was up on blocks for the duration. My eyes are tired. I want rest. I want my pillows and comforter. We head back to the hotel for a second cat nap. I wean myself off Grindr, and my laptop, and close my eyes. But I’m revved. And I can’t sleep. But I do rest. My buddy falls to sleep immediately. He wakes an hour later, and heads into the bathroom to prepare for our evening adventures. I’m tired, but still revved.
I’d been to Woof’s once before. It is a tiny, efficient leather bar, catering to those who like their men with a little scruff, a little buff, or a bit kinky. It’s a great crowd. Super-friendly and accommodating. The bar is at the back of the club, behind which there is this little store full of leather goods, jocks, and kink-wear. Main part of the house is open space, lined with high tops and stools, featuring a small stage at its center. At the front of the club is this wonderful little dark room with a nice leather sofa and some chairs – a kind of lounge, where I kept imaging myself making out madly with some impassioned dom. This has yet come to fruition, but I will not give up hope. I will live out this dream – someday.
Now, this evening there is a block party outside. It is a well put together affair, I must say. There’s a portion in the parking lot, next to the bar, where there are porta-potties, a tiny foam pit, a series of large, cushy bean bag chairs, and even a mini bouncy castle. Dominating the end of the street, which is cordoned off, is a sharp DJ stage with flashing lights and three male dancers. The dancers are not good, though the music is – and this is true of the entire weekend. Madison DJs know their audience and how to keep a good time moving forward. This DJ hits all the marks, including ‘When Love Takes Over’ and every Gaga song ever recorded. The dancers? Not so much.
The crowd is a good mix – lots of hot leather daddies, blue collar boys, a few young professionals, a handful of kinky twinks, a bachelorette party (of course!), and an odd assortment of tragic drag queens, old hippies, tourists, oddly costumed posers, and fag hags. Everybody was drinking a great deal and pretty much keeping to themselves. It’s at this point that my friend spots a rather attractive looking older preppie downing a beer. He’s quite good looking, in a classical way, and my friend is a bit smitten. The dude is wearing a light blue polo and would play a bigger role as our evening continued.
Having got a sense of the whole block party scene – the parking lot, the stage, the dance crowd, a few lingering retail booths, and a series of makeshift bars – we make our way inside. A different DJ is occupying the little dark room, which is disappointing, for me. We soldier up to the bar and wait for service. And wait. And wait. People are being belligerent. The bar is understaffed and I do my best to be patient. Finally, we get our waters - $3 a bottle (kind of ridiculous, if you’re the designated driver, but hey, it’s Pride). We scope out the place. On the center stage are a couple of dancers – not good at all – as in, neither has a clue how to dance, and one of them is a tad overweight and has cottage cheese butt. They both have beards and the heavy one has a lot of fur. The other one is kind of an otter-type, and is kind of hot, but he really doesn’t seem to be into it. So my attention shifts to the crowd.
Seated in a corner in a boot smith’s chair is one of the Ladies of Perpetual Motion – or that’s what I will call them. There’s a whole group of them, dressed up like gothic, naughty nuns running havoc over the whole event. This one must be the queen bee, for she is decked out exquisitely in a black lace dress, white clown-face, black tights and a pair of black cripple-boy shoes. In other words, she looks totally unholy and a little bit dangerous. I should have chatted her up, but I have no booze-buzz, and therefore, no social skills. Instead I just stare.
We wander back outside. Not much has changed. We study the dancers. There is one really hot older dude; bald head, goatee/stash, a sort-of-ginger, with a hot, stocky leather daddy body and a buzz cut. He’s wearing a red wrestling singlet and works that puppy like he knows its power. He’s good. Then there is another otter type, very similar to the one inside, only a little more animated. And then there is… a guy? Okay, so we can’t figure it out. It continues to puzzle us throughout the evening, and we even discuss it the next day. He’s kind of a full-bodied otter, except… he has curves and legs like a woman – as in real triangle legs (thick thighs that taper to tiny ankles in a perfect line). We think he may be transgender. But probably not. He may just have one of those hard to define bodies. That said, you have to admire him for getting up there. And that’s true of all, but two, of the dancers we see that night. It’s definitely amateur hour, but, for the most part, they fill the bill; a nice selection of cheese-fed Wisconsin men put on display for all to see.
We head back inside, and this time I pony up to the bar and get us a pair of drinks. Mine’s a gin and tonic, something I drink because I don’t like beer bloat and I can’t think of anything more interesting to order. The otter has vacated the stage and the little bear that was there before is now dancing with a real tall, muscular dude – quite handsome. Unfortunately, his idea of dancing appears to be: “lift left foot, lift right foot, repeat” and/or, copying whatever the little bear is doing with his hands. Fortunately, the dude in the singlet jumps up there. He’s apparently really into the muscular dude (as are we all), for he talks to him a bit and then the two of them start taking turns grinding on each other. Inside, the singlet dude is a lot more generous, revealing a lot more flesh and plenty of pubes. They also try to do a kind of three-way grind with the little bear, but strippers have never been my thing, so we decide to go back outside.
On our way out we are stopped by… not sure, was he bouncer? The door man? He screams at us that we can’t take our drinks outside – no mixed drinks, beer and shots only. My friend ignores him, I do not. I am about to ask him a question when he flails his arms in the air and decrees – just like that dude in Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz, “Oh, whatever. Just do whatever you like. Sure, don’t listen to me, just take your drinks out there. It’s against the law. But who cares about breaking the law?” He’s really pissed. And I? Don’t know how to respond, so I walk outside with my drink. It’s in a plastic cup and now tainted with drama. I don’t finish it. I throw it away.
That’s when we spot our blue-shirted preppy. He’s been drinking. Quite a bit. He has that ‘I’m melting’ desperation about him now, and suddenly he is not looking quite so hot. He disappears into the crowd and we turn our attention to the stage. Things are definitely winding down. We catch sight of a Carrie Bradshaw wannabe in a long blonde wig which has been pulled into a ponytail. Missy thing needs to keep trying, she has the off the shoulder blouse just right and the shoes, but the wig and the face? Well, bless her heart. The DJ ends his set with some totally un-danceable song, and we decide it is time to head over to The Shamrock to catch what’s happening there. (Woof’s? You threw a hell of a block party and we will be back next year!)
The Shamrock II: Night of the Living Drunks
Shamrock’s is hopping. Same faces from Woof’s, including Mr. Blue-Shirt have followed us. He is now absolutely piss drunk and looks like a lesson I learned ages ago. He’s careening about, and bumps into a spikey-haired blond in a plaid shirt who is every bit his equal in the drinks department. For the remainder of our time there, the two of them do this weird mating dance. Drunk One walks over to Drunk Two and mauls his face with his mouth in a sort of passionate kiss. Drunk Two behaves as he is in the process of being thrown up on, so revolted is he by the advances of Drunk One. They have a mamby-pamby spat and part ways. Moments later Drunk Two makes a similar pass at Drunk One, with Drunk One reacting in the same manner. They swat limp wrists at each other in a sort of gay boxing match and go their separate ways. This goes on and on for at least three more acts. The bartenders, much to our amazement continue to serve both dudes. I look to my friend and say, “Things are going to get very ugly at the sidewalk sale tonight.” The two continue their inebriated tango of seduction and we watch amused.
At one point, I get an elbow in the face by this young kid playing dress up. He’s wearing an outfit suited for the Robert Mapplethorpe story – sort of a gangly, tall, thin version of Marlon Brando in ‘The Wild Ones’. I lose it, as the elbow causes my glass to hit the bottom of one of my front teeth. I grab him by the elbow as he attempts to get past me and words are exchanged. He’s all wide-eyed and apologetic, I am apoplectic. Finally I just growl at him to “Walk away. Walk away!” My friend gives me the ‘tsk tsk’ and tells me I scared the shit out of that poor kid. I feel bad, but not as bad as my tooth hurts.
The rest of the evening we attempt to dodge the previously mentioned drunken couple, a tiny peroxide blond dyke who is so high she moves through the crowd like the corpse of Karl Lagerfeld, bumping and weaving, and every motherfucking fag hag there. Okay… so here is a hard and fast rule for all gays: Your fag hag is only entertaining in a bar setting TO YOU. For the rest of us, her tipsy ass is a god damn annoyance, hazard, and – most of all – deterrent from talking TO YOU. Seriously clueless straight women dance for our pleasure all night, sloshing their drinks everywhere in the process. Happy Fucking Gay Pride.
God, I sound like a crabby old queen (Shaddup!).
Just as I am about to tell my friend that it is time to call it a night, a tall, dark, hunky dude with some sexy scruff sidles up beside me. I take one look at him and proclaim to my friend very loudly, “Oh, this one will do!” – thinking that this stranger saw an empty spot next to me and just ended up there with no intention of actually talking to me. But that is not the case. We do talk. He’s bisexual. We talk about eating pussy. Eating ass. Titties. Butt holes. Va-Jay-Jays. Then the topic turns to work. I tell him what I do and where I work. He works for a similar company. I know all the companies in our field that operate in his area and ask which one, because my brother-in-law also works at one of them. He clams up. Now, I already told him where I work and I don’t know his last name (or him, from Adam, for that matter), but apparently that is enough to cause him to scurry away. I shrug. We watch Drunk One and Drunk Two for a moment longer and then I tell my bud that I need to hit the can before we can leave. On my way to the bathroom I see Mr. Bi. He’s seated at the bar, on the end where they serve food during the day. I take note and exit to pee. On my way back to my friend, I decide to set things right with Mr. Bi before heading out. This results in a fucking hot make out session, with my pressing all up on the hard dick he’s got hiding in his jeans. The kissing is good. The hole massage is even hotter.
He wants to fuck me, but I need to have a place to go. I explain about the hotel and my friend and he says he can join in or watch. Or I think that’s what he says. Or maybe he says to get rid of my friend. Really? And how does that work. “Hey bud, could you sit in the lobby for about a half hour while I turn this trick?” In one sense, it is my style (tacky me), but in another – it is not. And it is definitely not my friend’s style. I excuse myself, saying I need to find my friend. I grab my bud and tell him we’re leaving, and don’t even bother telling Mr. Bi - good-bye. Such a cock tease! Well, at least I got a little. And for that matter, so did he. Wanting, though, it left us both. Sigh. (Shakespeare!)
As we’re exiting I say good-night to the tall, black bouncer, and look over to see the following scene: Drunk Two in the plaid shirt is dancing in the middle of the street a la ‘Silence of the Lambs’ while people stand around him and stare. One the sidewalk, to my right, is Drunk One – who has ripped his light blue polo shirt – ripped it to shreds and is screaming/fighting with about three other people. I turn to the bouncer and say, “We predicted that two hours ago.” He smiles and we head toward our hotel.
We stop in Sotti. It’s last call, but the lovely ladies at the door let us in. It’s a club in the basement of this building and it is small but nice. It reminds me of a lot of clubs in the 1980’s. I have to pee… again, so I head off toward where I think the bathrooms are. The lights from the dance floor are in my eyes and I – almost go down – but not in the manner I am accustomed to at closing time. Turns out the dance floor is sunken, as in two steps down. I do manage to stay upright but wretch my back in the process. I hobble off to the restroom. When I come out, my friend decides there is not enough there (all young, very college, sweet – but not our thing) to warrant buying a drink and we head back to the hotel, where I troll on line a bit before drifting off to sleep. I get three hours’ worth.
We drag our asses out of bed, drink the hotel room coffee, clean up, and head downtown. My sister is going to meet us. Check out is a breeze and we manage to find parking nearby for the day. I want a latte and end up waiting for it to be made for what seems like forever, while the three people behind the counter of the coffee house restock frozen fruit, coffee filters, etc. My patience is thin, but the latte is worth it. We arrive a few minutes before the parade.
I take in our surroundings. At the mouth of State Street, kiddy-corner from the Capitol Building (streets are set up like spokes to a wheel, with the Capitol Building serving as its hub) there are about eight booths and a couple of food vendors. On the steps of the Capitol, a DJ is spinning great tunes. Beside him, about half a dozen protesters with signs that read things like: “Homo Sex is A Sin!” and the like. The protesters are flagged on either side by uniformed policemen. Standing in front of the protesters – people trying either to engage them in debate, or staring them down (dude in gold lame’ pants – you are fierce).
My sister easily spots me, introductions are done, and we find a nice comfy shaded spot on the curb.
The parade begins. There are probably a dozen churches represented, three drag queens, dykes on bikes, a singing group, PFlag, two politicians (only one present), The Latino Aloha Group, two bars (Inferno and Club 5), a karaoke float, a rapper hawking a 30 song CD, HRC, some other human rights group, The Grey Panthers, a radio station, a high school LGBT club, and this wonderful man with a giant rainbow top hat all bedecked in rainbow stripes and marabou feathers (he was the best!). They pass us once, walk all the way around the Capitol and the walk past us again, and that’s it folks. We cheer and clap as loudly as we can throughout. Sure, it’s modest – but it was great.
This serves as my first Gay Pride Parade, ever! I’ve never bothered with the one in Minneapolis. Not my thing. But this one, this was so sweet and earnest. I’m glad it was my first (Madison, I was saving it for you!).
Capital Tap Haus
We have lunch at Capital Tap Haus on State Street. It’s a brew house, and has the tastiest suds in the form of their Supper Club beer made from corn grits! I am not a beer drinker (it was the chaser to my Bloody Mary), but so impressed am I, bought a growler of it to take home. The food and service was great, too. So was the conversation. And, of course, my friend now has a huge crush on my brother-in-law (he is quite a hottie).
After that, we head to Woof’s where we both drank water and took a look at the leather goods in the back. Then, I sat in the boot smith’s chair and a real hot bearded leather daddy come over and jokingly offer to spit shine my boots. I really should have taken him up on it. He was as hot as the pics they show on all their video screens. That’s how I passed the time, looking at classic black and white leather/blue collar pics.
Then we made our way to Shamrocks. Again, I had water (I was driving). We took in the scene and then hit the road.
I’m really glad I went. I just love Madison. Next time I visit I plan on staying at the Motel 6 near Club 5. I love the scene at Club 5, and really should have dragged my friend out there.
Oh, yeah, and next time, if he comes with – we’ll each have our own room!