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Andersonville bar owners purchase Jackhammer Complex, saving iconic LGBTQ bar from closure
by Jake Wittich
2018-10-10

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Two prominent LGBT bar owners have purchased The Jackhammer Complex, saving the North Side bar from closure.

Mark Robertson and Mike Sullivan, owners of The SoFo Tap and Meeting House Tavern in Andersonville, announced their purchase of the Jackhammer business and its building, 6406 N. Clark St., on Tuesday, October 9. Jackhammer will now be part of 2Bears Tavern Group, which runs Robertson and Sullivan's bars.

"Jackhammer is a safe, engaging environment for the LGBTQ community and fetish groups that are a part of it," Robertson said. "It's the epitome of what we want to be and the same model we have for The SoFo Tap and Meeting House Tavern. Our goal is to provide a second home for our communities."

Jimmy Keup, who opened Jackhammer with his late partner, Joe Maggio, in 2001, will remain general manager of Jackhammer, promising to maintain the bar's identity as a safe place where all types of people are welcome. Robertson and Sullivan will co-manage the bar with Keup beginning Oct. 14 and then assume ownership of Jackhammer after the business transaction's closing, expected in November. The real estate transaction will likely wrap up in December, Sullivan said.

"We get to continue our legacy of providing a safe space for everyone, regardless of gender, to come and enjoy themselves and explore their fetish endeavors," Keup said. "We can now make that space bigger and better for our community and the people who come from all over the world to visit."

Keup announced in June that Jackhammer could face imminent closure because its building, which also houses the Leather64TEN store and several residential units, was foreclosed in 2016. According to a press release, Leather64TEN, which has spent 13 years at that location, could be easily relocated, but Jackhammer's eviction would mean the bar is gone forever because its 4 a.m. liquor license is tied to the address and non-transferable.

This prompted concerned community members to launch a widespread marketing campaign to save The Jackhammer Complex. According to Sullivan, Tom Fencl, owner of the Davis Theater, played a key role in that effort.

Fencl belongs to a group that acquired the rights to the building, and was tasked with evicting Jackhammer, Leather64TEN and the building's residents when an out-of-town investment firm offered to buy it, according to the press release announcing Robertson and Sullivan's purchase.

"I was heartbroken to hear that such a longstanding institution was about to end," Fencl said in the press release. "I was able to convince the majority shareholders that given more time, I could save the Jackhammer."

This left Fencl with limited time to find a new owner for the building.

Sullivan said Fencl recruited power broker Laura Rahilly, of Rahilly & Associates with Coldwell Banker, to find a buyer committed to keeping Jackhammer in business.

"Tom is fantastic for recognizing this is more than just a business opportunity to sell the building," Rahilly said. "Instead he took the more challenging road to secure the right buyers who would keep the integrity of what Jackhammer is to Chicago and the community."

Rahilly said she was overwhelmed by the amount of inquiries she received about how to support Jackhammer and prevent its closure.

"From a real estate business perspective, I have never been more bombarded with phone calls and emails inquiring about a property," Rahilly said. "This was a very complicated transaction, and we're fortunate Mark and Mike were able to save the Jackhammer given their success as bar owners in Andersonville and commitment to keeping Jimmy, who is the heart of Jackhammer."

Robertson and Sullivan purchased The SoFo Tap, 4923 N. Clark St., in July 2011 and rebranded it in October of that year, Sullivan said. The duo opened Meeting House Tavern, 5025 N. Clark St., on June 28 of this year, shortly after Keup announced The Jackhammer Complex's foreclosure.

"Although the timing happened in a busy point in our lives, we didn't want it to prevent us from exploring this opportunity," Sullivan said. "The Jackhammer is a source of strength for people that emboldens people to be themselves, not just within the walls of the bar, but in their lives. We don't want our community to lose that space, so everything people love about Jackhammer is what they'll continue to see."

Marc Moder, who DJs at both Jackhammer and The SoFo Tap as DJ Moose, said in the press release that he's excited to see Robertson and Sullivan's management skills partner with the "heart and soul" of Jackhammer.

"I've stayed active at both venues for years because both, at their core, have a feeling of family and love above all else, which, for me, is the key to not only working with an establishment but patronizing it. I see big things ahead," Moder said.

The sale also means that Leather64TEN will be able to remain in its home next to Jackhammer, Sullivan said.

"Leather64TEN could have relocated somewhere else, but there's no better place for them than right next door, where the two businesses have such a great synergistic relationship," Sullivan said.

Keup said he's relieved and excited to work with Robertson and Sullivan and keep The Jackhammer Complex open.

"It was wonderful seeing the outpouring of love and support from the community and hearing how the bar has changed peoples' lives," Keup said. "I'm proud that Jackhammer is known as a place that welcomes and encourages everyone to be themselves, and excited to keep that space open."


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