Memorial Day weekend heats up with IML, Grabby Awards and Bear Pride

Thu. May 22, 2014 2:30 PM by Anthony Morgano

iml leather market, 2013

photo credit // anthony meade

Summer kicks off as revelers descend on Chicago this weekend to heat things up and show some skin.

Chicago, IL - International Mister Leather (IML), the Grabby Awards and Bear Pride are converging to bring an influx of thousands into Chicago from across the globe for a long, steamy weekend celebrating brotherhood, self-expression and sexual freedom.

This year marks the 36th time Chicago has been invaded by leathermen, kinksters and fetishists from around the world for the annual International Mister Leather competition, more commonly known by its acronym IML.

The weekend is filled with conventions, workshops and parties all celebrating a shared love of sexual deviance -- leather, rubber, sports gear, pup play and much much more -- and organized around the annual competition to crown International Mister Leather as well as the newer International Mister Bootblack.

"It's going to be quite a remarkable year," IML Executive Director Jon Krongaard told "It's a complete and utter smorgasbord of fetish, from the simple attractions to the outright, 'Oh my god!' Although the core of IML is still about leather, the event has come to symbolize all things fetish."

The Marriott Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile, 540 N Michigan Ave., is playing host hotel again this year and will be the center of activity and home to IML's famous (or infamous) Leather Market. Featuring over 120 vendors from across the U.S., a few from Canada and even one all the way from Germany, the Leather Market offers an amazing assortment of leather and fetish goods and an even more amazing opportunity for people watching. Those not holding an IML weekend pass will need a Day Pass to enter, with the $10 donation goes to Chicago's own Leather Archives and Museum. The Market is open from noon to 7 p.m. on Friday and opens at 11 a.m. the rest of the weekend, closing at 7 p.m. on Saturday, 5 p.m. on Friday and 4 p.m. on Monday.

"One exciting new thing this year is we are featuring five DJ's in the lobby of the IML host hotel," Matthew Harvat, aka CircuitMOM, told "If you've never experienced the hotel lobby during IML, this is a great year to swing through the biggest leather bar in the land -- for three days, anyway."

Friday and Saturday will each feature two DJs starting at 6 p.m. and ending around 2 a.m. Harvat himself will kick things off on Friday, spinning house, classic vocal and unreleased mixes until 10 p.m. when DJ Phil DaBeatz takes over with his aggressive tribal beats. Saturday features Toronto DJ Neil MacLeod and Chicago's DJ Cody Domino. The super sexy winner of 2008's IML Competition, DJ Gary Iziria, will close out the weekend by spinning an extra long set from 6 p.m. until midnight on Sunday.

So, in summation, that's five awesome DJs over three days, with no cover and the best cruising in town. How can you say no?

The hotel will also play host to events that range from the Gear Blast party on Friday night to Sunday evening's Woof Camp for pups and their handlers. The IML Competition itself takes place on Sunday from 6-9 p.m. at the Harris Theatre, where 2013 winner Andy Cross will hand over his title to the newest International Mister Leather after three days of competition.

(Complete list of IML 2014 weekend events

IML Victory Party, Black & Blue Ball

Two of the weekend's biggest and most highly anticipated events are the Victory Party and Black and Blue Ball, the annual circuit-type parties produced by Haravat that bring contestants, winners and IML revelers together to shake, sweat and dance it out. Sunday night's Victory Party at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, picks up at 9 p.m., after 2014's winner is announced, and rages until 4 a.m. This consistently sold out party is welcoming back NYC Producer/Remixer/DJ Eddie Martinez to spin this year and get partygoers going with his "high octane brand of bass, drums, deep house vocals and tribal madness."

Those who've powered through the weekend until Monday night will be treated with the legendary Black and Blue Ball, held at Castle, 632 N. Dearborn (formerly Excalibur), from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. Once a small party held at The Eagle and later Man's Country, Haravat took over the Black and Blue Ball in 1999, moving it to its current location and expanding it into the big, beloved closing party that it is today. Haravat is excited to debut one of Toronto's rising stars, DJ David Picard, who promises to pull out all the stops to make this party one to remember.

"I produce many types of events throughout the year, but the energy, audience and truly international influence from men and women here, together, in support of each other is both mesmerizing and mind blowing," Harvat told

(IML set to party with DJs Eddie Martinez and David Picard)

Grabby Awards honor hottest adult stars

"Grab ahold of your zippers and pull 'em down, because it's time for the Grabby Awards again, and I'm coming to town!" ChiChi LaRue, renowned adult film director, drag queen and returning co-host exclaimed to

Grab Magazine, ubiquitously available at queer locales throughout Chicagoland, is filling the city with adult stars again for its annual Grabby Awards, better known as The Grabbys, which honor the best of the best in gay adult entertainment. Some of your favorite stars, and definitely some of the hottest, will be in Boystown and the rest of gay Chicago rubbing elbows and celebrating at the many parties and events surrounding the award show.

The Grabbys' weekend kicks off on Thursday with the Skin Trade party at Hydrate Nightclub, 3458 N. Halsted, where LaRue will spin alongside a gaggle of gay adult stars, including last year's winner of Best Versatile Performer and Performer of the Year Trenton Ducati. Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted will host a party with the stars of on Friday from 6 p.m.-9 p.m., which is followed by Christian Owen's Porn Star party at Lucky Horseshoe, 3169 N. Halsted, from 9 p.m. until midnight. Owen is a former star who is even on the Grabby Wall of Fame and currently directs for Hothouse Entertainment.

The Grabby Awards themselves are moving after their year at the Center on Halsted to the nearby Metro, 3730 N Clark. Doors open at 5 p.m. with the show slated to start at 7:30. Honey West will be rejoining LaRue as co-host alongside Trenton Ducati, Jesse Jackman, Adam Killian, Jason Phoenix, Shawn Wolfe and Levi Karter. Balcony tickets are still available online for $41 a piece at

After the show, head on over to Debauchery, the Grabbys After Party at Charlie's Chicago, 3726 N. Broadway, from 10 p.m. until close where LaRue will spin, adult stars will gogo and everyone will be having a gay ol' time. Finally, North End will host the annual Post-Grabby Hangover Brunch, which starts at 11 a.m on Sunday.

"I think what makes it so much fun is we are celebrating what we all love -- sex and porn," Stacy Bridges, who owns and publishes Grab Magazine and is the man behind the Grabby Awards, told "The porn stars are always excited to be here in Chicago and you can just feel the energy... [I'm] looking forward to seeing all people from the Porn Industry and the fans -- we hold this fun weekend every year and it's like a family reunion of sorts."

Celebrating 20 years of Bear Pride

Bear Pride is celebrating its 20th year this year and partygoers are all flocking to The Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro, 773 W Madison St, as the center of events.

The weekend kicks off in the hotels' ballroom for the Meet & Greet Party on Friday, May 23, from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. This event is included in the Run Package, but individual tickets are available for $15 and an additional fee achieves open bar from 7 to 11 p.m. For those new to to the Windy City, or even local Chicagoans who want to get to know their hometown better, Bear Pride is also offering two trolley tours (one on Friday and one on Saturday) that will run you $35 as well as a boat tour on Sunday for $45 -- more information about these and other events is available at

In addition to a weekend of brunches and bar crawls are a couple great annual parties that bears and bear-lovers alike will not want to miss. Saturday night is the Boxers and Pajama Party in the Ballroom at host hotel, with individual tickets available for $20, and Sunday night is the Nuts to Butts Dance Party at Sanctuary, 632 N. Dearborn -- a dance party to end all dance parties. Both events start at 9 p.m. and run until bartime. Bear Pride will also be taking over Steamworks, 3246 N. Halsted, from noon until 5 p.m. on Sunday.

NYC's Furball make Chicago debuts over IML/Bear Pride Weekend

New York City's infamous Furball is also making an appearance in Chicago this weekend, as part of its series of 10th Anniversary parties that also includes NYC and Provincetown. Chicago's DJ Ron Geronimo is joined by DJ Paul Goodyear direct from Sydney via San Francisco, who's making his debut in the Windy City. This furry party is open to all -- bears, cubs, leather daddies, pups, hipsters and those that love them. Metro is hosting Furball Saturday night after the Grabbys -- doors open at 11:30 and the party goes until 5 a.m. Tickets are available for $15 in advance or $20 at the door.

"I was in Chicago last year for the Bear Pride/IML Memorial Day weekend and with all that energy in town for the weekend I thought it would be a great locale to do a FURBALL party," Joe Fiore, the man behind the party, said in an interview with "FURBALL is a party that can bring them all in. Chicago is a city with a great dance music history and is an exciting place to throw a dance party."

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