José CascoJ. GEIL/Photo Editor

A few short years ago, Inclusive nightclub quickly became a neighborhood nuisance, with loud noise, brawls and public urination a common occurrence after hours. That bar is long gone, and a Chicago entrepreneur wants to transform the empty space into Berwyn’s first gay bar.

José Casco, 54, is working feverishly to turn the former Inclusive space at 6319 W. Roosevelt into a lounge/restaurant called Antronio’s. The business will be multifaceted, according to the owner, operating as a community center and Mexican eatery during the day, and switching to a Latin gay bar in the evening.

He formerly owned a club called Chesterfield’s in McKinley Park. The client base was growing too fast to keep up with, so Casco decided to decamp and start up somewhere else. Berwyn and Cicero have a growing gay Latino population, which the West Lawn resident hopes to capitalize on.

“Berwyn has a large community of gay people, just like Oak Park and Cicero,” he said. “So we’re centralizing ourselves among three towns that have a good gay population.”

Casco says other clubs in town have hosted gay-friendly nights, but none were solely geared toward gay customers. He’ll offer a drag show and dancing on the space’s sizeable dance floor, which would function as community space while the restaurant operates. They plan to keep a low profile during the daytime, so as not to upset any neighbors.

“If I want people to respect my clientele, I have to respect that they live around this area,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with two guys holding hands, but we all have different values. So I don’t want your kids to see two guys kissing at noon. That’s why I’m trying to do this very low key.”

The South East Oak Park Community Organization worked with local police to address the issues that came from Inclusive a few years ago. Board member Jim Kelly says they’ve reached out to Casco already and hope to meet with him in the future to build a relationship and talk about the “toxic” impact that Inclusive had on the area.

Kelly, a 63-year-old gay man who is a member of the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association, thinks Antronio’s will be a much better fit.

“On the one hand, you can argue that gays and lesbians don’t need their own spaces because we’re so integrated into everything that’s done in Oak Park. There isn’t any place we can’t go and feel welcome,” Kelly said. “On the other hand, it is nice to have something that’s more akin to a place of our own, where everyone is welcome.”

OPALGA and Berwyn’s version, Berwyn United Neighborhood Gay and Lesbian Organization (BUNGALO), have often talked about holding activities together. Kelly thinks Antronio’s might be a good place to meet “halfway.”

Ted Korbos, a 26-year Berwyn resident, who is founder and chair of BUNGALO, doesn’t know why Berwyn didn’t have a gay bar before (though he said Salerno’s restaurant in the town’s Depot District used to cater to gays after hours.) Korbos added that the gay advocacy nonprofit is planning to host an event there sometime soon, possibly this summer.

“I’m glad to see a gay bar opening in Berwyn. I hope it succeeds,” he said.

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