Robert Brumbaugh, owner of Progress Bar and minibar in Lake View, as well as Phoenix Bar and Nightclub in Elk Grove Village, has passed away, according to reports.
Brumbaugh died in Fort Lauderdale the week of Dec. 6, where he owned another bar. No funeral services are currently planned, according to John Freed, a longtime friend of Brumbaugh's.
"Every time that I saw him, he was on his way down to Florida to scout properties," said Freed, who had known Brumbaugh since high school "We were both closeted kids at New Trier East at Winnetka. We used to sing showtunes in harmony together. That may have been a clue. 'Bosom Buddies' was a particular favorite."
Freed recalled Brumbaugh's drive, which was apparent even in high school. "We had a public radio station at our high school. They turned him down to be a station manager, so he went to a radio station, WYEN, and he became a disc jockey, eventually their drive-time disc jockey. He was working full-time, in radio, at the age of 16."
Brumbaugh had been married with a family, but when he came out in his forties, "He bought all these bars and came out with a bang," Freed recalled. "I'd walk with him down Halsted and every other person would be saying, 'Hi, Rob.' 'How're you doing, Rob?'"
Freed recalled Brumbaugh as someone who was generous and "whose smile could light up a room. He was a great friend. He also had big ideas and was very determined, and if you tried to get in his way, he did not take well to it."
Indeed, Brumbaugh had legal difficulties in 2011, shortly after he purchased the building where Progress Bar now stands. The owner of Cocktail, the bar that previously occupied the space, sued Brumbaugh, alleging that he conspired to ruin the bar's reputation and drive it out of business. Progress Bar opened in 2013 and Brumbaugh purchased Minibar in March, 2016. He opened Phoenix Bar in 2013 as well.
Brumbaugh worked in advertising prior to being a bar owner. Freed said Brumbaugh was a person who kept the different parts of his life compartmentalized, adding "He had the 'advertising agency' side of his life and the 'gay' side of his life, and never the two shall meet."
Freed recalled further, "He and I reconnected at our 30th high school reunion. We talked about what it was like to be gay at a public high school in the '70s."
He and Brumbaugh remained in touch after that. "To his friends, he was extremely, reliably loyal. To his enemies, watch out."