Hyde Park bartender Diego Damis robbed and stabbed to death in Kenwood: ‘He was the sweetest soul in the world’
The Italian immigrant, a regular turned staff member at The Cove Lounge in Hyde Park, left his mark on the neighborhood before his death last week.
Diego Damis “encompasses what Hyde Park is,” according to his friend and coworker Sonnie Kireta.
Damis, a relatively recent Italian immigrant, was a regular-turned-bartender at The Cove Lounge in Hyde Park. But he was also a musician, a painter, an avid chess player and a tiramisu expert, according to his family, friends and others who knew him from the well-known watering hole.
Early Friday, Damis, 41, was tragically stabbed to death in the 4900 block of South Greenwood Avenue as he was walking home from work. Family members say his wallet was stolen; police have not made an arrest in the case.
“It makes me mad that person looked at my brother and saw nothing, but to everyone else in Hyde Park, they saw a kind and perfect human being who genuinely did not deserve to die that way,” said his sister, Claudia D’Amico, who lives out of state.
After moving to Chicago from Italy in 2015, Damis sewed himself into the fabric of Hyde Park — becoming a regular at The Cove right away.
“He made Hyde Park his home,” Kireta said. “Everyone that met him was his family.”
His sister noted she “had never seen him so happy” as he was when he was at bar.
“When he was coming from Italy he was really sad, he wasn’t in a good place, but ... he was so happy at the Cove,” D’Amico, 22, said. “All the people he met, he talked about them all the time. He loved all the people there.”
D’Amico described her brother as “selfless,” recalling times he would bring home people he met on the street — offering them food, showers and a place to stay.
“He would make money just to give it away,” D’Amico said. “He always told me there’s no value in money if it’s not helping people.”
Although The Cove doesn’t serve food, Damis would insist on feeding people — bringing in home-made Italian dishes such as risotto and chicken cacciatore to share with everyone.
“Everyone opened their arms to him and he opened his arms to them,” Kireta said.
A “free-spirited” man with a plethora of interests, Damis always “bounced around,” D’Amico said.
“He’s a bit of a nerd,” D’Amico said. “He loves chess and music. He played the saxophone, he really loved to read historical novels.”
Kireta said Damis was never one to focus on crime or violence in the city. Even after pleas from D’Amico and Damis’ mother to get a ride home after late-night shifts, Damis always preferred to walk.
“I can picture him walking home now, singing a song or whatever, and just oblivious to his surroundings,” Kireta said.
“He just liked walking, it was his clarity,” D’Amico said.
And friends from the neighborhood lamented the stabbing in the heart of Kenwood a block from where the Obamas have a home.
“He was the sweetest soul in the world,” said friend Brian Fadden. “The fact someone brutally stabbed him multiple times is crazy.”
Following his death, Kireta started a GoFundMe to pay for services and help support his family, and the bar closed to the public on Friday after the news of his death friends could come to grieve. A memorial held at the bar Sunday pushed the small lounge to its capacity with people who were touched by Damis, Kireta said.
“It’s a devastating blow to the community, the bar family community,” Kireta said. “It’s pretty tough. We’re all carrying it pretty hard right now.”
Damis is survived by his siblings — Laura Damis, Andrea Damis and Claudia D’Amico — and his mother, Rosa Bejar.
Services are private. Details for an upcoming candlelight vigil in his honor will be available for the public facebook.com/thecovelounge.