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FitzGerald’s owner sells legendary Berwyn nightclub to Chicago restaurateur

Bill FitzGerald, who opened the club in 1980 and transformed it into a musical destination, confirmed Wednesday that he sold the complex to Will Duncan, a businessman who previously worked for a popular restaurant consortium in Chicago.

Bill FitzGerald, founder of FitzGerald’s Nightclub in Berwyn, sold the west suburban musical destination on Wednesday to Chicago restaurateur Will Duncan.
Bill FitzGerald, founder of FitzGerald’s Nightclub in Berwyn, sold the west suburban musical destination on Wednesday to Chicago restaurateur Will Duncan.
Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

FitzGerald’s Nightclub, a legendary music nightclub in west suburban Berwyn, has been sold to a Chicago restaurant and club businessman after more than two years on the market.

Bill FitzGerald, who opened the club in 1980 and transformed it into a musical destination, confirmed Wednesday that he sold the complex to Will Duncan, a businessman who previously worked for On Center, a restaurant consortium group that includes Chicago’s Thalia Hall and MoneyGun/St. Lou’s Assembly.

“It feels like a dream. I can’t wait for people to get to know Duncan and see our place continue,” FitzGerald said with a hint of relief that his two-and-a-half-year search for a new owner had now finished. “The future is bright for FitzGerald’s.”

FitzGerald would not disclose the sale price on the nightclub, which went on the market in August 2017 when he decided it was time to retire and spend more time with family in Ferryville, Wisconsin, where he and his wife own a 10-room house along the Mississippi River that they plan on fixing up.

Over the years, FitzGerald’s became known for its iconic guests, such as Mavis Staples, Otis Clay and Stevie Ray Vaughan, who played two shows before many knew who he was.

FitzGerald purchased the buildings on both sides of the club in the early 2000s, transforming the venue into a music complex with a restaurant, additional stage and tavern called the Side Bar that hosted piano and jazz acts in a cocktail setting.

“[Duncan] has got his heart and mind all in the right place,” FitzGerald said of the club’s new owner. “He doesn’t want to make any huge changes initially but has plans to build on the business over the years.”

Duncan said he first visited FitzGerald’s more than 15 years ago and always loved the venue’s “character.” He said he plans on keeping the venue’s name and staff, many of whom have spent decades at the establishment.

“Bill has operated this place for 40 years, so it’s an extension of his personality,” Duncan said of the spot. “It’s got a distinct cultural signature, and I want to uphold its heritage, history, legacy and impeccable reputation.”

Duncan said independently owning and operating a live music venue has been his lifelong dream.

He spent his 20s playing in bands and recording music from his bedroom while paying the bills by working at various bars, nightclubs or music venues.

“I’ve been at it for nearly 20 years, so this is a dream come true,” Duncan said.

FitzGerald celebrated the sale — official Thursday morning — by hosting a “March Forth Open House” party Wednesday evening. The event featured a slideshow of more than 1,000 photos documenting FitzGerald’s 40-year history, as well as performances from some of FitzGerald’s favorite bands.

“We’re looking back at everything we’ve done and where this journey has taken us before marching forth into the next chapter of this nightclub and our lives,” FitzGerald said.