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EXTENDED BREAKDOWN(s) with Patric McCoy

Featured image: A black and white photograph of two Black men both sporting butter waves in their hair. The man closest to the photographer has his back turned; there are white rollers at the end of his hair. He’s wearing a light floral polo striped shirt. The other man is in front and to the left of the man with the rollers; only his side profile is visible. In front of both men is a lawn chair. Both men are in a crowd of people that are unfocused in the photograph. [Patric McCoy: The 1980s was the decade for extreme hair styles for Black men.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.

EXTENDED BREAKDOWN(s) is a series of interviews and prose unearthing niche, often undocumented histories within Chicago’s dissipating nightlife (pre-pandemic). In this iteration, Jared Brown talks to art collector, curator, and co-founder of Diasporal Rhythms, Patric McCoy.


EXTENDED BREAKDOWNS
by Jared Brown

1 million people left a city on fire-
pigs inherit more pressing matters than to chase
sissys,
wineos ,
night owls,
limp-wristed deviants,
and fags – there’s no need to wake Jane Byrne

1 million little deaths occur everywhere around the city,
at all times of the day 
and night; 
not to be mistaken for murders, because the city’s got those too!
there’s only so much time left
to recruit surpluses of stars into the disco militia.
ain’t no stoppin’ us now! unless the welfare lady finds you hiding inside a closet or
you get glamoured by the trade(s)!
trade can suck the soul out from one,
if not, all your holes,
penetrate your best friend then, 
lie about it; steal your phone charger; tend to your bushes, twigs, berries, rosebuds
then offer you warm milk to chase with 100mg of doxycycline.
Truly, he’s an anti-hero fighting for the right to survive, to fuck, to stand underneath the train station and not get harassed by greasy swine, that get pensions for slaughtering niggas.
His right to leave behind scraps of fool’s gold in the grass for chasers because
he’s as essential to america as apple cobbler, i mean, pie-
hole!

 ***

whispering waves tickle the back of a crown with her tongues like a summer dynast
two cavities
then 
one
just rush
Suck the colors (in),
Smell the ecstasy, 
Smoke a square.

the children; 
the dolls; 
the selectors;
the wanderers; 
the dreamers;
the girls;
the misfits;
the outkasts;
the drug dealers;
everyone blurred out
Commune under a disguise woven from shades of affinity Black
something for your mind + your body + your soul
everyday of your life
loops leverage a Movement
Rhythm can be the apex of divine data

Admire the stranger searching for a place they belong
Look at your reflection in the disco ball
Then, say hello to the ghosts that can only be seen there
Blow kisses to a downtempo diva

People stopped caring about their origins 3 blends ago
Ooontz oontz could never do the bass palpable justice

Image: A horizontal, black and white photograph of a Black man wearing a baseball cap that covers his eyes. There’s a stain on the top left part of the t-shirt (right-side in the photo). He’s not smiling, flexing his muscles and seemingly aware that the photo is being taken. There is a sweatband on his right arm. The background of the photo is washed out by the flash of the camera. [Patric McCoy: Strong Man/Tony. Did not go in the Rialto, but for 10 years hustled on State Street and was homeless living on lower Wacker Drive (he was the enforcer down there). He always maintained a membership in the health club so that he could keep clean and pump iron! He didn’t say much and always had his cap pulled down so that you could not see his eyes.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.
Image: A horizontal, black and white photograph of a Black man wearing a baseball cap that covers his eyes. There’s a stain on the top left part of the t-shirt (right-side in the photo). He’s not smiling, flexing his muscles and seemingly aware that the photo is being taken. There is a sweatband on his right arm. The background of the photo is washed out by the flash of the camera. [Patric McCoy: Strong Man/Tony. Did not go in the Rialto, but for 10 years hustled on State Street and was homeless living on lower Wacker Drive (he was the enforcer down there). He always maintained a membership in the health club so that he could keep clean and pump iron! He didn’t say much and always had his cap pulled down so that you could not see his eyes.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.

Patric McCoy is a retired environmental scientist in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) Regional Office in Chicago. He became a National Expert in enforcing air pollution regulations against the petroleum refining industry and was the recipient of numerous awards from the Department of Justice and the USEPA for that work. He has a BA in Chemistry from the University of Chicago (1969) and an MA in Environmental Science from Governors State University (1979). He taught chemistry and physics in the Chicago Public School system from 1969 to 1971. McCoy has been collecting contemporary African American art for 50 years and has a collection of over 1300 pieces of fine art, 90% done by Chicago artists. In 2003 he co-founded Diasporal Rhythms, a not-for-profit 501(c)3 arts organization that promotes the collection by individuals and institutions of art from the African diaspora. 

What follows is a transcribed interview between Patric McCoy and Jared Brown at Patric’s home in North Kenwood, Chicago. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

* * *

Jared Brown: A million people have left this city…

Patric McCoy: Yeah…from the time I was born in 1946 ‘til present day, 75 years later, a million people have left [Chicago]. And it’s affected this city in numerous ways that I see as I move through it and move through it with a love for the way it was. Or even the concept of the city. I really like Chicago and I see that the loss of that many people has dramatically changed it, and changed all aspects of what used to make it a vibrant kind of place.

JB: I remember the last time that we talked you also said, ”the city was on fire,” and “the city was hot.” What went up in smoke?

PM: Oh gosh, it wasn’t like a fire. It was like a place where there was a lot of heat and action and motion and activity — interactions. Sort of like when you’re rubbing things together it gets hot hot hot and can burst into flames. When you have a large number of people in an area, they are going to be interacting with and bumping and moving past each other and moving out of each other’s way. That creates a lot of energy and a lot of excitement. Chicago was hot, especially in the Black community, in the early years of my life because it was so dense. You have 3.6 million people and most of the Black people, which was about a million or so, were concentrated into very small areas and so that makes it dense. See, now you have a lot of people in a small space and they’re interacting and moving around. It’s the laws of physics: you just compress things down and that thing is gonna get hot — heat is going to generate. Our communities were hot and that heat did translate into sexual energy. The city was alive with sexual energy because the density, the people were pushed on top of each other. They didn’t have free or private space so they had to go out always — to go out into some place to interact with other people — to have some space. So you had a world with a large number of “entertainment” spots. In today’s world, that entertainment spot can be in your house, in your living room, because you can be fully entertained with these devices that you have that you don’t need to be around people. You can even use them to interact with someone on the other side of the planet.

JB: Right, but it doesn’t create the heat that you’re talking about.

PM: It does not do that.

JB: We’re talking about contact.

PM: Yes, exactly. Actual physical proximity and contact. And [there was] a high level of that back then, especially in the Black community. What I see when I move around this country is New York is the only place that still has that and it’s going away.

JB: Can you recall the first place you went to convene with people your age, people in your community?

PM: Oh come on now. You can’t even begin to start to think about the first time — there were a gazillion of [places] on a block.

JB: Ranging from someone’s house…

PM: The stoops of the houses, but really you had ice cream joints, the pool halls, the bars, churches, little neighborhood clubs; the alleys were places as a child…

JB: …to convene.

PM: Yeah, we didn’t have places to go. So we were always inventing places to play. And the alleys and the gangways were always that. So, as you get older, then it’s the playgrounds and basketball courts. It was to a point where your community could be two blocks and there [could] be a thousand things to do in there. And now, that just doesn’t exist. In fact, I don’t even see any kids anymore…the absence of the presence of children on the street creates a whole other environment than what I grew up with. The adult entertainment spots were places that kids would go past and get titillated by the fact that the door would open and some music, smokers, and people cursing and all kinds of stuff would come out. It would be exciting to even be near it. The pool halls, the barber shops, the beauty shops — all those things were places of entertainment in a bigger sense and places where people gathered and exchanged information. So, all those things are just gone. They’re gone; they cannot be sustained in an environment that’s not dense or in an environment where people have moved away from actual contact. And when you do that, you then transfer over to driving because walking and public transportation kind of go together. And once you [are used to] driving, then the only places you’re comfortable going to are places with parking. So then that starts to limit where you can go. And then you add another layer of if the neighborhood is “dangerous” or has the perception of being dangerous. In fact, earlier, the danger was that your car would get stolen as opposed to gun violence. To me, all those things have contributed to reducing the environment in which entertainment — urban entertainment — was lively. I grew up in that period when it was extremely lively. Everywhere you turned you could get into something because there was so many things happening on the streets and things spilled out into the streets.

Image:  A photograph of five Black men wearing tracksuits and sneakers. Three of the men are in a line formation with their right hands in the air. One man wears black Adidas track pants with white stripes, a gray sweatshirt with red shoulder detail, and a hat. The man next in formation, is wearing black sweatpants, with two red stripes down the side, red Chuck Taylors with black shoe strings, and a gray sweatshirt with a red panel across the center and with black sleeves. The last man in formation with them wears white sneakers, ruched neutral sweatpants with one small red stripe down the side, and a red sweatshirt with gray sleeves. The three men are facing a street with a row of parked cars. The other two men are to the left of them, standing back to back. The man facing the camera is wearing a black and yellow track jacket with two stripes, black pants and white sneakers. His arms are crossed. The man behind him is wearing an all red tracksuit with the pant legs pulled past his calves that show his white tube socks with three bold black stripes and red low top Chuck Taylors. In the background is a building with pinkish lights that read: ESSEX. The second ‘S’ is the only letter not lit. Other buildings also make up the background of the photo. [Patric McCoy: New Zoo, this was common during that time where guys would perform routines to a boombox on the streets in hopes of being “discovered”. They were performing across from the Conrad Hilton Hotel.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.
Image: A photograph of five Black men wearing tracksuits and sneakers. Three of the men are in a line formation with their right hands in the air. One man wears black Adidas track pants with white stripes, a gray sweatshirt with red shoulder detail, and a hat. The man next in formation, is wearing black sweatpants with two red stripes down the side, red Chuck Taylors with black shoe strings, and a gray sweatshirt with a red panel across the center and with black sleeves. The last man in formation with them wears white sneakers, ruched neutral sweatpants with one small red stripe down the side, and a red sweatshirt with gray sleeves. The three men are facing a street with a row of parked cars. The other two men are to the left of them, standing back to back. The man facing the camera is wearing a black and yellow track jacket with two stripes, black pants, and white sneakers. His arms are crossed. The man behind him is wearing an all red tracksuit with the pant legs pulled past his calves that show his white tube socks with three bold black stripes and red low top Chuck Taylors. In the background is a building with pinkish lights that read: ESSEX. The second ‘S’ is the only letter not lit. Other buildings also make up the background of the photo. [Patric McCoy: New Zoo, this was common during that time where guys would perform routines to a boombox on the streets in hopes of being “discovered”. They were performing across from the Conrad Hilton Hotel.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.

JB: I appreciate the way we haven’t explicitly used “gay” in this conversation or some sort of label to preface an experience or contact.

PM: What I experienced, there really was no difference in these areas, which we’re talking about. The clubs irrespective of the type of people that frequented them were very lively places. And there were large numbers of them for all age groups and even mixed age groups. We grew up in an environment where even older people had bars and lounges where they would congregate. It wasn’t just a young person’s game.

JB: I like the idea of nightlife not just being exclusive to young people.

PM: …which is definitely how I think things are perceived today. Or maybe because I’m not that age, but I just don’t hear of that middle adult age group socializing a lot outside. I hear young people are still doing their thing.

JB: They’ll always find a way to do their thing.

PM: Yeah, but what I see them doing is still a dramatic reduction from what we did.

JB: I think, again, it goes back to this contact aspect that you mentioned earlier and what it means to go out and explore the city.

PM: Yeah, but also your social groups were creating situations where it was in to be there. You had to be there. In high school, there was a whole organization, Tri Hi Y (YMCA), which was a social club for young teenagers that mimicked sororities and fraternities. And they would have parties, so there was a whole class of people that always wanted to be at their sets. And then there was another set of people that were more into the street and gangs and they had their own parties. We knew that on Friday and Saturday nights there’s gonna be a gazillion parties in our neighborhoods. I can’t even envision young people today doing what we did, which was to walk around the neighborhood during the party time and listen for a party. And you would go and say, “Oh, there’s a party up in here.” You just go up and ring the bell and they’ll ask you who it is and [you] just make up a name. (laughs) Then, when it got time with a little Boone’s Farm or whatever, everybody would pass the hat, send someone to get more drinks or go get some chicken wings. It was that concept, but also people weren’t afraid of each other. You could be afraid of certain types of things like a gang or a drug dealer, but people you were not afraid of. So, [you would] invite people to come to your house as a teenager and your parents either know about it or they don’t know about it — people would go to somebody else’s house and don’t necessarily know who they are.

JB: You’ve said before how segregation breeds culture.

PM: Right, we had a culture of entertainment.

JB: What happened once people started to explore and go to other parts of the city — specifically downtown?

PM: When I was a younger person, [it] was an ordeal to go there. It was a big thing. You dressed up to go there. And you had to behave a certain way when you were down there.

JB: Who lived down there at the time?

PM: Lived? Nobody lived there. The only people that lived downtown were hobos. This whole concept of urban living, close to the center — remember, I’m growing up in a time period where white flight was accelerated. White people are moving further and further away from the center of the city to live. So nobody would think of living downtown. The beginning of that was the construction of Marina Towers. It was shocking at the time that they would build an apartment complex downtown and people were going to live there. That was shocking!

Image: A horizontal black and white photograph of a Black man standing at the bar, writing. He’s wearing a leather jacket, denim pants and a paperboy hat. Underneath the bar is a slightly visible array of bottled beers. The background is less focused, however there’s another patron’s arm in the photo. [Patric McCoy: “Dear Mama,…” a brother writing a letter inside the Rialto at the bar.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.
Image: A horizontal black and white photograph of a Black man standing at the bar, writing. He’s wearing a leather jacket, denim pants and a paperboy hat. Underneath the bar is a slightly visible array of bottled beers. The background is less focused, however there’s another patron’s arm in the photo. [Patric McCoy: “Dear Mama,…” a brother writing a letter inside the Rialto at the bar.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.

JB: What kinds of businesses were downtown at the time?

PM: In the early 60s, you still had businesses and retail that were catering to white people. So the big name stores, department stores, and restaurants all were left there for that crowd. Slowly it gained a connection with Blacks and the lower class. Certain stores moved away from the loop. There was a movement to north Michigan Avenue. So the actual loop and State Street got Blacker and Blacker, becoming more of a Black neighborhood. The stores started to cater to Black people. That was the change that occurred through the late 60’s to the 80’s.

JB: I’m trying to figure out a fluid way for us to get to the Rialto Tap. I’m thinking about multiple places for heat — there had to be places before the Rialto.

PM: The loop has always been a center for sexual activity.

JB: Why do you think that is?

PM: Density — the density in the early years was because [there were] so many people coming to work in the loop. They’re coming out of this Victorian, prudish culture of the early part of the 20th century so at the end of the 50’s, people started to feel freer. All people started to feel freer about interacting with each other. They called that decade the sizzlin’ 60’s or swingin’ 60’s because everybody was doing everything. But the loop had always been that kind of a spot. It just became Blacker. Throughout the loop there were always all kinds of public bathrooms where there were all kinds of information on the walls that people would write about how to hook up.

JB: Like what? Phone numbers?

PM: Everything. Bathroom walls were filled with graffiti. Things like “come here at such time”, “meet me here”, “knock 3 times”. (laughs) It was all of that, [in] every public place: bus stations, libraries, train stations, even retail stores. There was all this interaction with people — public sex was very prominent. It was prolific, it was below the radar. There was a whole lot of stuff happening, but people in society were walking around like they didn’t see it. Whereas today, they’d be calling the police on you. It was unhidden sexual culture that most people would have said they didn’t know existed even though it was right there in their face.

JB: That’s fascinating to me! I think about State Street having a makeover. I want to talk about the Rialto.

PM: The Rialto was just a result of that. The south loop was like a skid row — State Street was a skid row with a gazillion peep shows, burlesque shows, tattoo parlors — which were low life at that time — soup kitchens, SRO’s, and homeless shelters. The south loop was seedy. The north loop was more respectable, that’s where the movie theaters were. It kind of had a Times Square effect — all the bright lights and zillions of people on the street. The south loop had a lot of people, but they were all basically on a different agenda. So places like the Rialto were just a natural outcome of that. The first place I knew about in the south loop was the Cellar, which was right around the corner of State and Van Buren. It was underground. It was almost like a watering hole for the people that were doing the seedy stuff on the street, because right across the street was a whole row of peep shows and stuff.

JB: Where Harold Washington Library is?

PM: Yes!

JB: Wow.

PM: There was a whole block full of [peep shows]. And then both the Sears and Goldblatts, which were across the street, were places known for people hooking up in bathrooms. The homeless shelter was another block down from where Harold Washington Library is. So, that part of the south loop had a whole contingency of people that were going to places like the Cellar as a respite. You go there to hang out, talk crap, and get a drink. And also, it was seedy so you could meet hookups. It was a place where almost anybody could go. You weren’t going to be excluded because you were bizarre. It would be like the bar in the original Star Wars. (laughs) Everything was in there. And you know any minute something is going to break off and someone’s going to get killed or stabbed or some shit like that!

Image: A black and white photograph of a Chicago police officer interacting with a Black man (centered, foreground); left of them is a Black man sitting on the city curb, looking down, at the ground. A bicycle is also laid in front of the man with its front wheel erect. To the right of the officer and civilian is a convertible car with the driver’s door open; a leg is out of the car, foot planted on the ground. In the background are civilians walking by a black fence in front of a weathered city wall. [Patric McCoy: Bicycle/car accident on Jackson and Dearborn, Chicago Loop. Indicative of Loop as Black neighborhood (the bike culture that we have now didn’t exist then so his presence suggests a comfort ability.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.
Image: A black and white photograph of a Chicago police officer interacting with a Black man (centered, foreground); left of them is a Black man sitting on the city curb, looking down at the ground. A bicycle is also laid in front of the man with its front wheel erect. To the right of the officer and civilian is a convertible car with the driver’s door open; a leg is out of the car, foot planted on the ground. In the background are civilians walking by a black fence in front of a weathered city wall. [Patric McCoy: Bicycle/car accident on Jackson and Dearborn, Chicago Loop. Indicative of Loop as Black neighborhood (the bike culture that we have now didn’t exist then so his presence suggests a comfort ability.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.

JB: Did anybody ever get killed or stabbed in the Cellar?

PM: Oh, I’m sure! When you look at the records of that time period, it dwarfs the crime that we have today. It was happening everywhere in the city. So bars were always having somebody getting cut, somebody getting shot.

JB: Was [the Rialto] known to be a gay space?

PM: No. In that community, people knew it was friendly. It was actually an oyster bar. I would never eat anything there. In fact, people would go there on lunch break to get food. Everything was open all day. That’s when Chicago was a 24 hour city.

JB: That’s hard to imagine.

PM: Yeah — 24 hours, three shifts. So the el’s and buses were just as crowded at night as they were in the day time — even at midnight, you would get a whole slew of people. Things catered to that. Bars and lounges did, too, because laws in Illinois at the time were very liberal. You could open up and sell liquor at six in the morning. You had licenses that you could keep open until two or four. If you got a four o’clock on Saturday, the state gave you an extra hour. So now you didn’t have to close until five and could open up at six (laughs). So it was always somebody going in and out of those kinds of places. The Cellar wasn’t identified as a “gay bar” because that wasn’t even a concept then. It wasn’t a concept that had a label that anybody could articulate. They would just say, “There’s some funny people there,” or some “sissies”. They’d speak about them being there as oppose to that’s that kind of place.

JB: Or that that’s their space.

PM: That’s right. That came [in the] late 60’s when you gave it a label.

JB: What happened to the Cellar?

PM: All of a sudden, the Cellar closed! It might’ve closed for health reasons. They just closed it with the people in it (laughs). So people walked out of the Cellar, they went up them stairs, and walked down like three or four doors [to] the Rialto. It was a bar that catered to the people from the homeless shelter. They had these big steins of beer for 60 cents. You could sit there and nurse this beer all day long if you wanted to. Nobody was pushing you out, so people from the Cellar came up and into the Rialto and started socializing there. And it was on!

JB: Was there music at the Cellar?

PM: A jukebox maybe.

JB: What was a song that you would have played on the jukebox?

PM: Oh jeez! Not in the cellar! I would be going there and trying to be inconspicuous. Seeing what I could get out of there. The Rialto was a different story. The underground aspect of the Cellar was not conducive for me to feel really comfortable. It was exciting and…

JB: …dangerous.

PM: Yes, but you recognize that you’re not in Kansas when you’re in the Cellar (laughs).

JB: But the Rialto felt more comfortable?

PM: Well, you were on the ground floor. [The Cellar had] really steep stairs. So you could not get out of there fast.

JB: So if the cops were to have raided it, everybody would be caught.

PM: Or if something broke out, you would have a hard time getting out of there. [The Rialto] was just conducive to anybody coming in there, so it quickly gained a reputation for a place where you could go at almost anytime of the day and hook up with people. The drinks were cheap so you could buy somebody a drink with no problem. And the people from the homeless shelters were there.

Image: A color photograph of a Black man resting on the top of a car. He’s wearing a neutral colored polo with green stripes, a baseball cap, a bracelet, ring on his wedding finger, blue jeans with a belt buckle with the word, “DICK’; all capital letters. He’s looking away from the camera. Behind him, is a parked car — across the street and support beam of the aboveground L train. In the background is a building that appears to extend for at least half of a city block; it fills the entire background of the photo. [Patric McCoy: Mike sitting on a car outside of the Rialto advertising his wares! He was part of a set of men that just hung around outside of the Rialto but wouldn’t go in. He did frequent the undercover bars in the Chicago Ave. and Clark Street area that catered to the guys coming out of Cabrini Green projects.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.
Image: A color photograph of a Black man resting on the top of a car. He’s wearing a neutral colored polo with green stripes, a baseball cap, a bracelet, ring on his wedding finger, blue jeans with a belt buckle with the word, “DICK’; all capital letters. He’s looking away from the camera. Behind him, is a parked car — across the street is the support beam of the aboveground El train. In the background is a building that appears to extend for at least half of a city block; it fills the entire background of the photo. [Patric McCoy: Mike sitting on a car outside of the Rialto advertising his wares! He was part of a set of men that just hung around outside of the Rialto but wouldn’t go in. He did frequent the undercover bars in the Chicago Ave. and Clark Street area that catered to the guys coming out of Cabrini Green projects.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.

JB: Were the shelters at that time integrated or just men?

PM: It was all men. And from the 60s to the 70s, it shifted from old white men to young Black men.

JB: Why?

PM: The change in society. You had the projects being built in the 50s and 60s. The concept: aid to dependent mothers — welfare. That almost required that the male not be present. So, they had to go, especially at a certain time of the month when the social workers would come by to check. Black men started going to the shelters for those time periods. Also, the gangs developed in the 60s and got stronger into the 70s. They became very hierarchical. Big gangs: The Blackstone Rangers, The Disciples, the Vice Lords…they got to be big institutions controlling territory. And what happens is that their territories were strongly enforced so you didn’t want to go into somebody else’s territory if you were hooked up in a gang. But the gangs also had their rules and regulations…

JB: …about being gay?

PM: No, first about being in a gang because you asked how the young men get down into the loop. They had their rules and regulations within the gangs and one of them did have to do with sexual activity, but it was often something you didn’t do and there would be punishments. Sometimes, the punishments were so severe that people would decide to not take it and leave. You can’t go into somebody else’s territory and you can’t stay in yours, so you have to go someplace neutral. The loop was the neutral square. And it was already starting to commercially (in retail) cater to more Blacks. There was a zillion movie theaters there. The movie theaters started to move into kung fu movies. So now, the movies that used to cater to the more adult family or different genres like westerns and romances, those theaters started to go into the kung fu films. So that also drew in a different crowd into the loop. The homeless shelters became young and Black. So, during the day they didn’t [have] nowhere else to go. They’d go to the library or come to the Rialto because they know somebody’s going to buy you a drink because drinks are cheap. In the early years of the Rialto, it was so laid back that people could smoke weed at the bar.

JB: Oh, amazing! I wish that were still a thing.

PM: (laughs) This is before it was legal! You could go into the Rialto and there would be a huge cloud of smoke…it was a very easy place to be.

JB: So, the Rialto had its own economy? Deals were happening?

PM: Oh yeah.

JB: Was sex work happening as well?

PM: The sex work is a different kind of thing than what we would call that today because there was no clear transactional aspect to it. It would be more of, you buy somebody a couple of beers, you take them home, feed them, they may get rest, wash their clothes, they may stay the whole weekend, and you throw some money down. But it was never said that that was going to happen. So it wasn’t a transaction like that. Whereas today, it’s clear from the beginning of the interaction that there’s going to be this financial exchange — work being done you would call trade.

Image: A black and white photograph of a Black man smiling, sitting with his legs open and his hands perched over his knees. He’s wearing a watch on his right arm, a ring on each middle finger, two chains, denim, a t-shirt that says, ‘Rialto Tap (top); 14 W. Van Buren (center) and Chicago (underneath)’, and a paperboy hat. He has a gap between his two front teeth. He is looking directly at the camera. [Patric McCoy: Typical look of trade i.e. masculine presenting but not hyper masculine.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.
Image: A black and white photograph of a Black man smiling, sitting with his legs open and his hands perched over his knees. He’s wearing a watch on his right arm, a ring on each middle finger, two chains, denim, a t-shirt that says, ‘Rialto Tap (top); 14 W. Van Buren (center) and Chicago (underneath)’, and a paperboy hat. He has a gap between his two front teeth. He is looking directly at the camera. [Patric McCoy: Typical look of trade i.e. masculine presenting but not hyper masculine.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.

JB: I was just gonna bring up trade! But it’s also been bastardized today.

PM: I know!

JB: What did trade mean then? Let’s talk about trade!

PM: Trade was a nice looking young man that would go with you and that would more than likely get some benefits like some drinks or food, or a place to stay over the weekend. That’s it! It wasn’t a concept that we were gonna get married or anything like that. It was transactional. It was a casual, noncommittal kind of relationship. And people didn’t talk about it.

JB: Now trade has this aesthetic. It’s often very racialized. I’m wondering if white men could be trade at that time?

PM: I want to say: HELL-TO-THE-NAW! (Laughs) No! Not in our world. You could possibly be for them but they would never be for you.

JB: The term has changed completely. It’s almost completely detached from sex. It’s more of an aesthetic or a hyper-masculine archetype.

PM: Oh hell no!

JB: So trade wasn’t contingent on hyper-masculinity?

PM: [It’s] not hyper-masculine. It’s masculine but…

JB: Right. Masculine-presenting. What role did discretion play at the Rialto?

PM: There was nothing very blatant, and flamboyancy was restricted to just a few characters in the bar.

JB: Thinking about the Cellar and the Rialto, the constituents are male-identified people, masculine, cis-hetero men?

PM: Yes — by your language. We didn’t have no thought like that.

JB: Y’all just said men, males. So, there were no women?

PM: Maybe one or two…you almost could feel the presence if a woman came in there.

JB: Was it negative?

PM: It was strange.

JB: Was the reaction to her presence negative?

PM: Oh no! The people were never nasty to somebody that came in there. But you could feel the difference. It was like there was an unspoken understanding that this is a men’s club. Nobody said that. Women could come up there anytime — which, when you look back at that time, that was very common: men’s clubs.

JB: Be it gay, straight, or whatever.

PM: That’s right. It was for men.

JB: I think a lot about Black people’s relationship to pleasure — there’s always negative connotations around rest or things that are pleasurable. Rest is needed, but I think people enjoy rest.

PM: Oh no, we weren’t thinking like that. Nobody was thinking like that. It was like, you don’t need your rest, and you could stay up all night then go to work. Rest was not important.

JB: Ok, what about other pleasures? Was there a collective way to empower people to chase after their desires or whatever’s pleasurable? How did you negotiate that?

PM: If you think about it, this was a world where everybody had jobs, so pleasure was the activity after you work and you want a release.

JB: So, if you work hard, you can play hard?

PM: Not necessarily that equation. You don’t have a television or a place to go and play Atari. So when you got through with work, you went someplace like a bar. You went to those [places] for entertainment — away from the house because the house was not very pleasurable for a large number of people. All these apartments we have today were cut up into kitchenettes. There were like four or five families on one floor. You had no privacy. It was horrible.

JB: So, that’s what the parks were for.

Image: A black and white photograph, taken from Grant Park. In the center of the photograph is a light post, with a figure standing behind it with their back against it. To the left, is the Field Museum. Trees are in front of the museum and span across the entire photograph. There appears to be containers or trash cans scattered across the grass in the park. The sky is bright with very little cloud formation. There’s a tall building to the very far right of photograph in the background. [Patric McCoy: Section of Grant Park long known as a sexual playground and home for the homeless. It was set up for the Bar B Que fest (the garbage cans for the charcoal ashes).] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.
Image: A black and white photograph, taken from Grant Park. In the center of the photograph is a light post, with a figure standing behind it with their back against it. To the left is the Field Museum. Trees are in front of the museum and span across the entire photograph. There appears to be containers or trash cans scattered across the grass in the park. The sky is bright with very little cloud formation. There’s a tall building to the very far right of photograph in the background. [Patric McCoy: Section of Grant Park long known as a sexual playground and home for the homeless. It was set up for the Bar B Que fest (the garbage cans for the charcoal ashes).] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.

PM: The parks become your bedroom because you don’t have one. You don’t have a place to have intimate interactions with somebody.

JB: Even if it’s not sex, but somewhere to talk freely about stuff.

PM: Or even to romance because the parks were filled with straight couples. The park benches were always filled with people. Both homosexual and heterosexual activity was taking place in the parks big time because that’s the only place you could do it!

JB: How did respectability politics play into this? Oftentimes it seems like you can be either a respectable person or a deviant.

PM: In the eyes of whom? Because those people were deviants, too. In fact, there was no place unturned in regards to where sexual activity was taking place. Universities were just rampant, so you could have all of these titles and so forth but that did not keep you from being actively involved in these things. The parks were filled with all the big time preachers that would be on radio or so forth — [they] would be out there in the park.

JB: That’s so deep!

PM: Everybody! The politicians — everybody!

JB: Social media, I think, makes us want to present our best at all times. And a lot of times, I think people understand sex and desire as not presentable.

PM: Well, that’s common. That was there, too. It was below the radar, it was below the area where we had conversations. It’s happening, we don’t talk about it, we don’t label it, we don’t do anything with it!

JB: Yet somehow you documented it all!

PM: By chance!

JB: Inadvertent photographer.

PM: Inadvertent! I did not set out to do it. And if I thought about it, I wouldn’t have done it.

JB: Why?

PM: Because it wasn’t a thing to document or publicize. It was human activity that’s taking place below the social gaze to a point that society was in agreement (without verbalizing) that that’s how it was going to be. There was so much stuff going [and] you didn’t want to be the person to bring it to the surface, no! I really don’t know how to articulate how it was so pervasive and yet people did not feel compelled to talk about it, or to identify it, or to point it out.

JB: I cannot imagine.

PM: There’s a few people that would catch people right in the act and get appalled, clutch their beads — but that was very few! Most people just ignored it. Something could be going on right beside them or whatever.

JB: When did you decide to show photos from this time?

PM: That came in so late after I started doing it. The impetus was to develop the film, make a print, and take it with me the next day because I might run into this person.

JB: Because they asked you to take it…

PM: …and I could give them this picture and that would start another line of discourse and interaction. Other people would see that and would want to look through the whole stack and say, “I know that person!” or, “Oh, that’s a good picture of them.” So, I wasn’t thinking about showing it…

JB: …outside of the community.

PM: Yes, because there were people that had a hustle taking pictures inside of the clubs, bars, and lounges.

JB: That was never your hustle?

PM: No. In fact, some of the photographers would look at me and get mad because I was giving people photographs and better photographs!

Image: A black and white photograph of a dark-skinned Black man with a thick mustache wearing a pinstripe sports coat and black shirt, with the top buttoned unfastened. The collar of the shirt spills over onto the pinstripes. His hair is in a buzz cut with a crisp lining to frame his angular face. He looks directly into the camera. The background of the photograph is out of focus. [Patric McCoy: Homeless man that frequented the southern part of the downtown area from Jackson to Roosevelt and Grant Park. Always dressed well but would not go into the Rialto.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.
Image: A black and white photograph of a dark-skinned Black man with a thick mustache wearing a pinstripe sports coat and black shirt, with the top buttoned unfastened. The collar of the shirt spills over onto the pinstripes. His hair is in a buzz cut with a crisp lining to frame his angular face. He looks directly into the camera. The background of the photograph is out of focus. [Patric McCoy: Homeless man that frequented the southern part of the downtown area from Jackson to Roosevelt and Grant Park. Always dressed well but would not go into the Rialto.] Photo taken by Patric McCoy, viewable at the courtesy of the Patric McCoy archive.

JB: It also sounds like you were collaborating with your subjects, [as they] posed themselves.

PM: Yes, they posed themselves. I was taking this commitment to learn photography pretty seriously, so I was not directing. I was trying to figure out the best way to get a photograph in the circumstances — under these particular lighting conditions, with this background. That’s what I was thinking about, not telling them to do this or that. I think because people were much more free with themselves. I’m feeling that this new generation is so self-conscious, the way they talk — [back then] the people weren’t that way! So no, I did not direct them. What you see is what you get. That’s how they wanted to be seen.

JB: There’s an overwhelming amount of rhetoric and visual language from the 80s that depicts a dejected morale (drugs, AIDS, suffering), but what I love about your photos is that you capture freedom, joy, pleasure, and fun in your subjects. The 80s had to have been bleak.

PM: It was bleak. It was so weird that this plague [was] occurring around us — we’re seeing it, we don’t understand it, and yet we’re still having a good time. I remember in the early 80s, one of my friends died mysteriously and it shocked me. But I never thought about it being connected to anything else.

JB: Like HIV or AIDS.

PM: No, because that didn’t exist then. I mean, it didn’t exist as a term. And then, another [friend] died real quick of pneumonia, which we now know what that was. But until the later part of the 80s, it really didn’t have a great impact on the behavior of people. They still continued to do what they wanted to do. You knew it, you could see that so and so died, but it was a “one off” basically. When I look back on it, I think I was aware of it early. Personally, I can say I could have been aware because I saw people that I knew that were succumbing to it.

JB: Were you scared?

PM: Oh yeah, I was scared and not scared.

JB: Did the ethos of the Rialto change at that time?

PM: Oh yeah, it changed at the end of the 80s. The people started to recognize that there really was something and it did affect Black people, because there were periods when we didn’t think it would. We heard about it happening in the white-gay community, but at the end people started to see it as a real threat. Then it changed the behavior of people.

JB: Can you think of a song that encapsulates the Rialto?

PM: McFadden and Whitehead – Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now. That was almost like a theme song for the Rialto. That would come on and the place would go up.


​​Jared Brown is an interdisciplinary artist born in Chicago. In past work, Jared broadcasted audio and text-based work through the radio (CENTRAL AIR RADIO, 88.5 FM), in live DJ sets, and on social media. They consider themselves a data thief, understanding this role from John Akomfrah’s description of the data thief as a figure that does not belong to the past or present. As a data thief, Jared Brown makes archeological digs for fragments of Black American subculture, history, and technology. Jared repurposes these fragments in audio, text, and video to investigate the relationship between history and digital, immaterial space. Jared Brown holds a BFA in video from the Maryland Institute College of Art and moved back to Chicago in 2016 in order to make and share work that directly relates to their personal history. Follow Jared Brown on Instagram or on Twitter.