Bijou Theater

1349 N. Wells Street,
Chicago, IL 60610

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Bijou Theater

The Bijou Theatre was advertised as “The Oldest Theatre in the US showing the very finest in Gay Films since 1969”.

Located in the Old Town area of the city, the cinema was basically a store front operation with a ‘play’ area on the second floor. It was opened by Sean O'Connor on July 14, 1971 screening avant garde/underground movies shown from 16mm prints but gradually went over to screening gay porn within a year. It was then operated by Steven Toushin and operated 24 hours a day. The Bijou Theater was closed September 30, 2015.

Contributed by KenRoe

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

DONTKNOW on March 17, 2008 at 6:29 pm

This theater has been around for quite a long time. In the 1960’s it would not be uncommon to stroll in here and see the likes of Nureyv and others from that era. In the 70’s it became quite raunchy as the clientele changed to a more “macho man” leather crowd. I am going to be honest here, about 97% of the guy’s never wore condoms and barebacking was the norm(with several partners.) The 80’s brought the big Aids scare and it became notorious as one of the places that Jeffrey Dahmer met one of his victims(who worked their.) The 90’s brought back go-go dancers and a mix of artistic shows geared towards the more flamboyant. The late 90’s brought financial trouble for their legendary owner, Steven Toushin. Last time I was in a guy actually died! To see the place with the lights on was scary to say the least.

The Bijou holds a place close in my heart. I was a mere 19 year old lad when I lost my virginity here.

teddy666 on September 6, 2008 at 2:44 am

When I worked at the Village, many men would come in asking where the Bijou was located. I’ve visited recently and find it an amazing gay time capsule. They certainly don’t make places like that anymore. I’d urge anyone interested in seeing the place to go there soon. I can’t imagine it remaining open for another decade…but then again it has lasted this long. The theater is very clean compared to most, and it is surprisingly bright and tiny. There is a stage up front. Gloryholes, slings, mazes or rooms, and a wooded back alley/garden are beyond the theater. It’s fascinating.

DavidZornig on April 7, 2009 at 11:03 am

A few years back there was an art gallery further North on Wells St. that had an exhibit based on the owner of the Bijou. There were giant mugs shots from the `70’s in the gallery window.

There was also an apparent failed bombing in the early `90’s that I mentioned over on the Aardvark CT page.
According to news reports at the the time, the would be bomber accidentally blew himself up while alledgedly enroute to the Bijou. Though I’m not sure if this was ever proven to be true, or just speculation due to the bomber’s supposed criminal ties. Might have just been the media trying to link the theatre to other seedy activities.

Though the theatre may specialize in gay porn, I believe the accompanying book/DVD store caters to a hetero adult clientele as well. Even though we grew up in the area, we never set foot in this place.
The Royal London Wax Museum down the street was more our interest. Until the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum opened up across the street. Possibly in the building the Habitat Co. is in. Or near it.

I was always amazed that the Bijou stood the test of time, with a Chicago public grade school located essentially kitty corner & across the street. I’m sure if any such operation were to try and open from scratch at such a locale today, the surrounding yuppie parents would block it to no end. Real estate values in that area have gone ballistic.

teddy666 on June 26, 2009 at 4:46 am

It’s an incredible place to explore, and surprisingly the theater is very clean. If you ever have the time or money I would strongly suggest exploring it. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and realize it probably won’t be around for much longer!

Matthew Prigge
Matthew Prigge on April 5, 2012 at 11:23 am

Hello all,

I am doing a large-scale research project on adult theatres and would be very interested to hear from anything who either worked at or attended this theatre during its time showing adult films. If you would like to help me out, you can email me at .


DavidZornig on September 12, 2015 at 10:39 am

Appears to be closing as of September 30th 2015. Via the Old Town Facebook page. Copy & paste to view.

DavidZornig on December 25, 2017 at 1:12 am

1976 photo added credit UIC Collection.

DavidZornig on July 14, 2021 at 11:14 am

According to the below Chicago Tribune article (added to the gallery plus 2 more), it opened as the Bijou Theatre in July 1971 as a 77 seat screening room by Sean O'Conner, the former assistant manager of the Aardvark Theatre which had had a fire confirmed as 1971 as well. Richard Nixon’s 1952 “Checkers Speech” was the opening film.

nycman on March 1, 2022 at 3:35 am

I refuse to accept as true that there are no more adult cinemas in Chicago. You say?

nycman on March 1, 2022 at 3:37 am

I had so much fun at the Bijou back in my Navy days. I couldn’t wait to ride the Metra Line train service into downtown Chicago to enjoy myself at the Bijou. Memories….

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