Bartender Derek Dziak, a friend to those who live by night, dies
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Derek Dziak’s friends invented a cocktail to honor the wisecracking Chicago bouncer, singer, writer, musician and actor who died at 33, just six weeks after his wedding.
They call it the “Dziaktail.” It’s “Four Roses, a slap in the face and a hug,” according to his friend Brian Nielsen.
Mr. Dziak — who poured drinks and worked the door for a decade at the Continental, a popular 4 a.m. bar near Humboldt Park — died Jan. 2 at Rush University Medical Center of complications from a viral infection, according to his wife Avalon Dziak.
“He had symptoms for a while, but he was also quitting smoking and wasn’t drinking as much,” she said. “He’d been not feeling great.”
She said an autopsy was done but results won’t be ready for some time.
Mr. Dziak was starting to get enough acting work to scale back on bar jobs, friends said.
“He was going places,” said Arman Mabry, another bartender at the Continental, 2801 W. Chicago.
He played a drug-addled character on “Chicago Fire” and, more recently, a mentally unbalanced man on “Shameless,” according to friends and family. He played Hannibal Lecter in a production last year of “Silence: the Musical,” a raunchy parody of “Silence of the Lambs” at Corn Productions, 4210 N. Lincoln. Mr. Dziak also did voice acting, and he helped write and performed in “Stiff Investigations,” a stage version of a noir-tinged radio gumshoe drama.
He met his future wife in 2015, when they both were cast in “Knocking Up the Mob’’ at Greenhouse Theater Center, and he made her laugh.
“There was a piano in the rehearsal hall, and I sat down at the piano and started playing chords, and he started improvising a song over it, and it was something stupid like having to go in the bathroom in the middle of the night,” she said. “We kind of skipped the dating and went right to being engaged.”
On Oct. 14, the Dziaks got married in Humboldt Park. They had a reception at the Continental and honeymooned in the Bahamas.
His life intersected with many creative people who live by night.
“A lot of people who work in restaurants and other bars that close at 2 a.m. make their way over to see us till 4 a.m.,” Continental bartender Chris Kozy said. “Superior Street [rehearsal] spaces, for bands, are right around the corner from us as well, so Derek became really friendly with not only others in our industry but also all sorts of musicians.
“To know him was to love him,” Kozy said. “He knew you, knew your name, what you did, what instrument you played — he paid attention.”
“His world was half theater people and half bar people and band people,” Mabry said.
He was also insightful and kind, Avalon Dziak said. If customers lamented the state of their love lives, friends said, he’d ask questions that seemed to help people figure out why they were repeating the same mistakes.
“He made sure that everybody was safe,” said his friend Jasmine Skorupa. “He had a way of keeping an eye on everybody.”
Young Derek grew up in La Grange Park and went to Lyons Township High School. He worked for the school radio station and did intercom announcements.
“He would do accents, like Sean Connery imitations, Charlie Sheen imitations, Boris Karloff. Everyone enjoyed it — except the teachers,” said his friend Mark Adkison.
Mr. Dziak also performed in a group called the Coco Cabana Club.
“He built a guitar out of a toaster for that band,” Nielsen said. While playing, he “would make toast and hand it out to the audience.”
At Columbia College, he studied radio and music composition.
He loved science fiction, the music of Frank Zappa, the Beatles and Strapping Young Lad, and “he couldn’t get enough Carl Sagan,” his wife said. Mr. Dziak’s tattoos included a quote from the astrophysicist about the earth: “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.”
He also had a tattoo reference to “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut: “Busy, Busy, Busy.”
A fan of Penn & Teller, he was planning to learn juggling and sleight-of-hand tricks, his wife said.
Prior to the Continental, he worked at Metro, Underbar, the W hotel, Estelle’s Cafe & Lounge and the Burlington Bar.
Mr. Dziak is also survived by his parents, Eileen and John.
His wife said his metal band, Geth Prime, and other musicians are planning to perform at a March 3 memorial show at Subterranean and Estelle’s.