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PASSAGES North End manager George Nichols
by Matt Simonette

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Longtime North End manager and bartender George Nichols, who passed away Sept. 12, was remembered by friends and loved ones as someone who could put people at ease and had "the gift of gab," said Nichols' partner, William Schorie.

"He just liked entertaining people," recalled Schorie. "You come to a bar and you want to forget your troubles. ... George could small-talk about anything, and when you stand behind the bar for eight hours, you usually run out of things to talk about."

His good friend Bill Gubrud remembered Nichols as as "a huge influence on who I am today." Nichols was a die-hard Chicago sports fan and he encouraged Gubrud to come out of the closet—as a sports fan. At the time, Gubrud, who eventually organized the Out at Wrigley LGBT events, did not yet realize appreciation for sports could be much of an outlet in the LGBT community.

"George always told me, 'Be yourself. Be who you want to be,'" Gubrud said.

Nichols "loved the Bears, Cubs and Blackhawks," Gubrud recalled. "His family were all die-hard White Sox fans, too. He got a chance to throw out the first pitch at a White Sox game and rubbed it in his family's face."

Among the other bars he worked at were Carol's Speakeasy, The Bushes and Buddies.

Schorie and Nichols first met in the early '90s. When the couple met, Nichols was in a relationship already. The three men moved in together, but the third man eventually moved away. "But I knew of George even before I 'met' him because he was the back-bartender at Carol's," Schorie recalled. "That was the leather part. He didn't remember me—when I was going there I was underage and had different hair."

Nichols also loved working with video. Schorie remembered him being the "'VJ/DJ' at the North End. He used to make videos on VHS tapes and they also played them at Buddies [where Nichols also bartended]. When you'd go to Buddies and they'd be playing videos, that was George."

Schorie described Nichols' work-history as "mashing up" with that of Touche General Manager David Boyer; the two often worked in the same spots. Boyer added that, "We worked around each other and together, at all the different places in town."

Boyer called Nichols "one of the 'old school bartenders.' They realize that, while we're here making money, slinging drinks, we also have a responsibility to the community that we serve and getting the word out to people about things."

Before text-messaging and cellphones, Boyer recalled, bartenders and other bar staff "had an impromptu phone tree—we'd call each other at different bars, and say that somebody was getting raided or that something was happening, to tell people to get out or turn out for things. That was a big thing we pushed for people everywhere."

Boyer said Nichols was "quick with a joke, quick with a shot, and quick to back you up if you needed it. I can't say anything bad about George. He'd been battling his illness for quite a while. We worked together at Buddies and Carol's. … I just know that I always got a friendly greeting when I walked in the door, and at least a shot of jager."

A memorial visitation was held Sept. 20 in Burbank. The announcement at the time called for casual attire.

"Everyone had on either Hawaiian shirts or Cubs stuff," said Gubrud.

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