Steve Johnson | Chicago Tribune | August 4th, 2017
When Bill FitzGerald started going to the music venue that became FitzGerald’s, there were deer heads and velour on the walls and Herb Alpert and classic country on the jukebox, and the owners lived in the room behind the stage that is now FitzGerald’s office and the dressing room for the bands.
He was an Oak Park house painter and music club habitue in his late 20s. But on the first day of 1980, at a brunch with friends and family, he said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to own a bar and have music?” He had heard that the Berwyn place, then known as the Deer Lodge, was for sale and he later learned the price was right: $60,000.
FitzGerald was taking this trip down memory lane the other night because he is on the verge of another transition. After one more successful American Music Festival, the club’s Fourth of July weekend tradition that is the longest-running independent music fest in the city, FitzGerald, who’ll be 65 in a few months, announced that he’ll be stepping down as the club’s talent buyer, the person who books the bands to come and play, in favor of 30-year-old Donnie Biggins.
It seemed like the end to an era in its own right: No longer would patrons be able to count on the avuncular, white-haired presence of FitzGerald, the guy you’d see fiddling with the soundboard, shushing overly talkative patrons, roaming intently through a crowded room on his way to another of the mystery missions that keep a music club going.
But there was more to it than that. FitzGerald and his family, he has decided to say publicly for the first time, have also determined that it’s time to get out of the business altogether. FitzGerald’s Nightclub — a nearly four-decade fixture on Roosevelt Road and on the American roots music scene and a club the roots musician Dave Alvin, who is legendary himself, describes as “legendary” — is for sale.
FitzGerald and his family have hired a broker, Tim Rasmussen of SVN Restaurant Resource Group, the same guy who successfully sold Schubas and Lincoln Hall a couple of years ago. And Rasmussen has been offering the property quietly, at least until now.
He is optimistic, he said, but he knows it’ll be a challenge. “It’s not like selling a restaurant in Lincoln Park or the West Loop,” he said. “You have to thread the needle and find somebody that’s got a love of the music … and appreciates what they’ve built over the last 37 years. I liken it to selling a piece of art or an antique. Its value isn’t just in the financial performance or the underlying real estate assets. It’s the totality, kind of the cultural thing that it provides the city.”