Memorial Day weekend heats up with IML, Grabbys and Bear Pride

Tue. May 24, 2016 11:49 AM by Anthony Morgano

international mr. leather, may 26-30

photo credit // anthony meade

Chicago is ready with a holiday weekend line-up to help you get down and dirty

With Winter long behind us, but in the midst of a manic depressive Spring, it's a relief to know that no matter what the weather this Memorial Day weekend, Chicago will be heating up as thousands of leathermen, adult stars and bears descend on the city for International Mr. Leather, the Grabbys, Bear Pride and more.

You'll be too busy hopping from one event to the next while your parents are lamenting your absence at their Memorial Day Weekend BBQ -- and with this year's lineup, it's definitely going to be well worth it.

IML 2016

International Mr. Leather comes around once a year to crown new titleholders and brings with it a cacophony of leather, testosterone and flesh. This year's IML is taking over the Congress Hotel, 520 S Michigan Ave, the center for all things leather over Memorial Day Weekend. This is also where the social anthropologists and leather-curious will go to join the throngs at IML's infamous Leather Market, featuring the finest in kinkwear, leather and more all weekend long (Fri: noon-7, Sat: 11-7, Sun: 11-5, Mon: 11-4).

The IML Open Ceremonies kick off the weekend competition on Friday, May 27 at Park West, 322 W Armitage Ave, from 8-11 p.m. Constants return the following day for the Pecs and Personality Contest portion of IML and reconvene on Sunday at the Harris Theatre, 205 E Randolph, for the International Mr. Leather Contest -- doors open at 5 p.m. with shuttles leaving the Congress Hotel starting at 4 p.m.

The Congress plays host to most of the weekend's activities. Check out the San Francisco Party in the Florentine Ballroom on Friday night (while in the neighboring Rendevous Ballroom men sweat it out at Gear Night) and come back the next day for the ever-popular "Off Leash" pup and handler romp at 3:00 p.m. (and don't forget to stretch out beforehand with Puppy Yoga starting at 2 p.m.). From an "Erotic Hypnosis Reception" to the rotating lineup of DJs spinning in the hotel lobby -- there's something for all kinds at IML.

"IML is always a favorite weekend for me," Matthew Harvat, ubiquitous Chicago DJ and entertainer, told "I have the honor of representing the IML organization with five different events, three nights of DJ's in the host hotel lobby, The Victory Party and, of course, the epic Black and Blue Ball."

After the new International Mr. Leather is crowned the crowd will flock, per tradition, to the House of Blues, 329 N Dearborn, for The Victory Party -- Harvat's 17th. He's bringing back wildly popular Brazilian DJ Tiago Vibe (check out his special IML podcast to get warmed up:, who spun last year at Market Days, alongside Chicago's own DJ Freddie Bain in the Foundation Room. With an amazingly amped up sound system, mindblowing custom light and laser show and special appearances by the weekend's winners and contestants, The Victory Party always sells out fast. Get your tickets at Cram Fashion, 3329 N. Broadway, or online -- and don't wait.

After taking a break from the Black and Blue Ball (after a decade and a half) last year, Harvat is back with the event and excited to showcase DJ/Producer DJ Tom Stephan (Superchumbo, U.K.) -- who's making his IML debut. The favorite IML closing event returns this year to Sound-Bar, 226 W Ontario, on Monday May 30 where it will be the first major party to debut the club's remodel and all new lighting systems. Up and comer DJ Alex Cabot opens and Chicago's legendary DJ Milty Evans entertains in the Red Room.

"It's Chicago's chance to meet people from around the world and dance to phenomenal international DJs," Harvat said. "This year, with Tiago Vibe from Brazil and Tom Stephan (Superchumbo) from the U.K., it really is an international weekend for music."

International Mr. Leather runs May 26 through May 30. A full list events, vendors and more, is available online


Memorial Day Weekend also means your favorite adult stars are flocking to Chicago for the annual Grabbys Award Show, hosted by Grab Magazine. Come see some of the hottest names in the industry as they announce this year's best top, twink and more. The 2016 Grabbys return to The Metro, 3730 N Clark, for a show hosted by ChiChi LaRue and Honey West and the sexy studs Mickey Taylor, Levi Karter, Diego Sans, JJ Knight and Dallas Stelle.

This year's show also includes an appearance by celebrity and funnyman Bruce Vilanch and special performances by Dida Ritz, Bebe Sweetbriar and Mickey Taylor.

"I think everyone comes back to celebrate the industry every year because it's such a loose, fun event centered around something we all love: sex," Stacy Bridges, editor for Grab Magazine, told "It's also a chance to meet and mingle with some of your favorite fantasy men."

A host of events surrounds the Grabbys, most of them teetering with special appearances and performances from the weekend's nominees. On Friday night Falcon Studios is taking over the Lucky Horseshoe, 3169 N Halsted, while the CockyBoys are appearing live at Sidetrack, 3349 N Halsted, for an underwear auction and more. After Saturday's event, join your favorite stars at Debauchery, the the official Grabby's 2016 Afterparty at Charlie's, 3726 N Broadway. Round out your weekend at the Kink E Post Grabby Brunch at North End, 3733 N Halsted, on Saturday for interviews with the winners and nominees and to meet the stars you danced drunk with the previous night.

More information and Grabbys tickets are available online.  

Bear Pride, Furball, Neverland and More...

Welcome to all our furry friends at Bear Pride, taking over the Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro, 733 W Madison, for the weekend! The hotel plays host to many events, including the two popular parties: Nuts to Butts on Sunday and the Boxer Pajama Party on Saturday. Far north bar Touche, 6412 N Clark, welcomes Bear Pride with their Early Bird party featuring Freddy Bain (who spins at Sunday's IML Victory Party) on Thursday and Steamworks hosts a Wet n Wild event on Saturday from noon until 5 p.m.

Many Bear Pride revelers will also be headed to this year's Chicago edition of the popular NYC party Furball. The event returns for its third year in Chicago after a big year of growth saw the party debut in DC, Atlanta, Dallas and New Orleans. Chicago's Ron Geronimo and London's Hifi Sean (Sean Dickson of the Soup Dragons) return from last year's Furball to bring the beats for the crowd and sexy gogos, including Colt model Marc Valint, to get down to. Tickets for the event at the Metro on Saturday the 28th (at 11:30 p.m., after the Grabbys) are available online or at the door for $20.

"Furball Chicago was one of my favorite events in 2015 -- it was that rare moment when crowd, music, and space came together to create an amazing event," Joe Fiore, Furball's creator, told "It was very exciting to have 1100 people at Metro Chicago... which is such a great venue to throw a dance party in -- with its gritty vibe perfectly matched for an IML / Bear Pride dance party... The energy on IML/Bear Pride weekend is palpable, everyone is ready to party and the Chicago natives love to join in with the visitors to create a unique event."

Chicago's own will not be outdone next weekend, with a host of dance parties and special nights celebrating the weekend's activities. For the fourth year, Hydrate Nightclub, 3458 N Halsted, welcomes revelers for their highly anticipated Strapped party featuring the sexy sounds of Shane Stiel from 11:30 p.n. Until 5 a.m. Further north, Touche, 6420 N Clark, will be hosting its Fetisch Party on Friday night and their Rough Trade party on Saturday, and the crowd will be overflowing, as always, at neighbor Jackhammer, 6406 N Clark, with a variety of dirty parties and events.

Chicago's own brand of high concept theme parties, Neverland, is taking on IML for the first time ever with their dark, dirty Animal Farm party at Charlie's Chicago, 3726 N Broadway, on Friday, May 27. Neverland's outstanding visual team will be transforming the club into a dirty barn populated by sexy men wearing unique, handmade leather items, steel and animal masks. DJ Serving Ovahness spins throughout the night.

Related: Neverland takes on IML with 'Animal Farm' party May 27

Anthony DiFiore and Martin Luna, the creators of Neverland, are following up Friday's Animal Farm party with a special Saturday night event at Fantasy Night Club (formerly Circuit). While not as big and elabroate as a Neverland party, Lemonade offers the same sexy, high-energy style, featuring Miamis most famous afterhours DJ Carlos G.

All this and so much more awaits for those brave (and curious) enough to go after it. So grab a harness, a jockstrap and a bandana (but make sure to check the hanky code color) and get ready to get down and dirty this Memorial Day weekend.

Calendar of Memorial Day weekend events