By Jean Lotus
Saying the owner failed to fix more than 40 building code violations inside and out, the village acted last week to close the Hideaway Nightclub, 7301 W. Roosevelt Rd., the only remaining gay/lesbian bar in Forest Park.
Owner George Grivas, of Franklin Park, said he bought the building in 1996.
"I have been working with the gay and lesbian community for more than 30 years," Grivas said. "I loved my customers and I never had any fights — with men or women."
He formerly owned a second bar, Temptations, in Franklin Park, in the 1980s but that closed down, he said.
Customers on the consumer review website Yelp.com affectionately called the Hideaway a "creepy old-man gay bar" and complained about out-of-order toilets, leaking sinks and called the place a "fire hazard."
The man in charge of Forest Park's Health and Safety Department, Fire Chief Steve Glinke, said the problems at the building made it uninhabitable. He said "three pages of code violations" were discovered in a pre-sale inspection in 2009 (the sale fell through). A field inspection in 2011 uncovered more problems, including bricks crumbling off the outside walls and a canopy that was falling down.
The village began to ticket Grivas for building neglect in 2012-13, Glinke said, but Grivas did not come to hearings or pay fines.
"[Grivas] never showed up in court," Glinke said. "Finally, after we gave him a year to comply, I served him personally and told him the place was not habitable."
"The back of that building looks like hell," Glinke added. "The building's been secured and occupancy has been denied."
Glinke said Grivas' lawyer asked to stay open a couple more weeks to "use up his alcohol supply."
"Of course, we denied that," he added.
Grivas, who said he's been in poor health, said he was, "very disappointed in the village."
He claimed the village did not fix slanting sidewalks that caused flooding in his building's basement. Grivas said some of the code violations were there when he bought the building almost 20 years ago.
"He bought a building he couldn't maintain," Glinke said. "Unfortunately, there are consequences. The village of Forest Park has been more than fair to him."
Grivas tried to sell the bar in 2009 to a colleague, Carl Mark Robinson, on a rent-to-own deal in exchange for a monthly payment of $10,000. That deal fell through after flood damage from the summer of 2010 was not fully cleaned up in a timely manner, according to court documents.
The exchange ended in a lawsuit in circuit court in 2011. An appeal in state court in March 2013 affirmed that Robinson owed Grivas $42,000 for back rent and fees.
The property is now for sale again, Grivas said.
"Or if someone wants to rent it, I'm willing to work with them," he said.
Former bartender/manager Tom Howe told the Review in 2013 his customers had formerly traveled between the Hideaway and Velvet Rope in Oak Park, which burned down in an arson fire in 2012. Howe said in November the nearest suburban gay bar was Phoenix Nightclub in Elk Grove Village. A short-lived gay bar in Berwyn closed last year.
Grivas said he was proud to have worked with gays and lesbians for 30 years. Grivas, along Mike Zych, former owner of the now-shuttered Forest Park gay bar the Nutbush, was honored by the Rainbow Spirit Awards in 2000 for "providing an island of safety for suburban lesbigays."
"They knew I was a good guy; they loved me even though I was a straight guy," he said. "I donated a lot of money to the gay community, and I tried to show my appreciation for my customers."
Does Forest Park have a market niche for another gay bar? Forest Park has the second-highest percentage of same-sex households in the state of Illinois, according to a 2013 U.S. Census analysis by the Williams Institute, based at UCLA Law School. Oak Park has the highest percentage of same gender-headed households.
"If a straight man goes into the gay business, he better have respect for gay people and lesbians," Grivas said. "I got to learn alongside my customers and I get along with gay people."
"I'm a sick man, but if I had my health I'd do it all over again," Grivas said.