Man's Country

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There have been gay bathhouses in Chicago since the late 19th Century, but Man's Country in Andersonville, which opened in 1973, was the first to come clean about it. In its early days, the bathhouse played host to performances by Bette Midler, Waylon Flowers and other artists with large gay followings. It was also the scene of uninhibited sex, with men copulating in public. Since the spread of AIDS in the 1980s, Man's Country has mellowed. As a sign proclaims, the rule now is "No Condom = No F***," and public sex is barred. Baskets of condoms are all over the place, and the bathhouse won't even show a porn movie on one of its video screens unless the actors have sheathed their weapons. "It's much better that people can come here and get an education instead of running around the city," owner Chuck Renslow said. Man's Country works like this: You pay $10 for a lifetime membership, then you pay for a locker every time you visit. The bathhouse also rents small rooms where clients can rest or have sex. But Renslow insists Man's Country's appeal is not just sexual. "It's to be with your own kind," he said. For men who are interested in a mellow evening, the bathhouse has saunas, whirlpools and a juice bar. And comedians, singers, and drag artists have become bigger draws. "Business dropped terribly (in the '80s)," Renslow said. "But once people started seeing you didn't have to have sex, business started going back up."