Black nightclub owners and promoters called for the end of “nightlife racism” during a protest march Saturday on the Near North Side.
About 50 people representing Black promoters and nightlife venue owners marched north on State Street, then west on Division Street to the Chicago Police Department’s Near North District station, to raise awareness about discrimination against Black-owned businesses.
“[CPD’s Near North Side District] has been running Black people and Black promoters and Black businessmen from downtown simply because of the color of their skin for at least 20 years,” according to Asa “Duce” Powell, a nightclub owner and promoter for the past 20 years.
The march was organized by Teddy Gilmore, another longtime restaurant and club owner in the city.
Nouveau Tavern in River North, where Gilmore worked as an executive, was shut down abruptly over liquor licensing issues in 2014. The building was later tagged with racist graffiti and closed for good in 2015.
Last year, Gilmore’s DrinkHaus Supper Club in Greektown was also shut down by city officials, which Block Club Chicago reported was due to code and liquor license violations the business faced.
Gilmore said he believes the club was unfairly targeted due to discrimination against Black-owned businesses.
“If you look around, you don’t see any African-American nightclubs or restaurants downtown,” he said.
When passing Tavern on Rush, a popular restaurant and club in the Gold Coast, Powell pointed to a difference he says he sees between the police presence at their events and those he holds at Transit, another popular club in the West Loop.
Powell said he wants police to maintain a limited presence outside Black clubs to help when needed with security rather than having police generally either ignore the Black clubs or work to shut them down.
“We just want the same equal rights to be secured like police secure Tavern on Rush, or Wrigleyville or a Bulls game,” he said. “But I’m [hosting] 1,100 people a week at Transit, and I’ve got to create the security myself. Which we’re good at — I didn’t have an incident for 15 years straight doing the largest Black parties down here — but why not treat me like you treat Tavern on Rush?”
Powell said the E2 nightclub tragedy, when 23 people died during a 2003 stampede at the former Near South Side venue, has been used by police to justify “harassment and pushback” against Black club owners.
The group hoped the march would result in getting owners and promoters a meeting with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown to discuss racism in the city’s nightlife industry.
The owners say they also hope to establish more Black-owned bars and clubs in the River North and Near North Side communities.
“Some people say, ‘Why don’t you go to the South Side?’ Gilmore said. “For us, we don’t want to view ourselves as just being on the South Side. We want access to the tourism dollars that come down here.”