Apparently it started out with the idea of how to "sell" poetry directly to the consumer, so they came up with the idea of using the setting of a turn-of-the-century bordello. There are all kinds of statements about how selling your art can mean selling yourself, and they are well aware of this so they have turned it into a very accessible, fun, and slightly risque way to experience art.
Visitors are encouraged to dress up 'Victorian' and it nets you a discount on admission. You are greeted by the doorman, who takes your coat and ushers you into the venue - in this case the basement of a storefront theatre in Wicker Park. The space is decorated in lush colors, with plenty of couches and intimate cafe-style tables - meant to evoke the lush atmosphere of a 'sporting house' like Chicago's famous Everleigh Club. There is old-timey music playing, but not loud enough to overwhelm conversation, and the drinks are tasty. On a small stage in the corner there is sometimes live entertainment - this evening featured a piano-playing 'Professor' and an elegant burlesque artist.
But the primary entertainment is the Madam and her Poetry Whores (both male and female). There are 'Blue Books' scattered around the space, which feature a photo of each of the Poetry Whores, a highly fictional biography, and a sample of their poetry. On occasions, they take the stage to do a Poetry Tease - like a striptease but featuring a small snippet of poetry. For $5 (or 5 for $10) you can purchase a token which entitles you to go 'upstairs' (or in this case, back behind a curtain) with one of the Poetry Whores for a private session (because even a Poetry Whore isn't allowed to directly touch money, even in Chicago). You can go alone or in a small group, and ask for a particular theme or style of poem. The Poetry Whore will read you one of their poems, or possibly even compose an original piece based on your suggestions. You can dialogue with the performer, in character or not, or simply listen as you choose.
This particular night was their Masquerade Ball, so there was also a tarot card reader and a silhouette cutter. I had been meaning to go to one of these for quite some time - the local steampunk community has a lot of overlap with this group and have been big supporters. So when I found out that an online friend was stranded in Chicago by Superstorm Sandy it seemed the perfect time to actually go. My friend is a graduate student in women's history and gender studies so I thought she would really enjoy herself. She had a wonderful time, and even went 'upstairs' for private readings with two of the Poetry Whores - one gentleman was doing horror-themed pieces, and a lady (wearing a mustache) who turned to to be a poetry professor at a local college! We both got our silhouettes cut, and she also got her cards read. I was mostly content to sit and people-watch, and chat with some of the local scene folks I knew. Couldn't stay too late as it was a work night, but it was quite and interesting and fun evening!