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Neighbors Want Funky Buddha Shut Down After Shooting, but Owners Deny Blame

By Stephanie Lulay | December 2, 2014 8:33am | Updated on December 2, 2014 2:02pm
 Funky Buddha Lounge, 728 W. Grand Ave., in River West.
Funky Buddha Lounge, 728 W. Grand Ave., in River West.
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dnainfo/Mauricio Pena

RIVER WEST — After a weekend shooting, River West neighbors are calling on city officials to close a longtime Grand Avenue nightclub.

About 3 a.m. Sunday, a 27-year-old man was critically injured when he was shot multiple times by an off-duty Cook County Sheriff's Police deputy outside the Funky Buddha Lounge, 728 W. Grand Ave., according to Chicago Police.

The off-duty officer shot the man after hearing gunshots seeing him firing the gun into a crowd, police said. On Monday, Near West Police District Cmdr. Melissa Staples said that it was a car accident outside the bar that led to the shooting.

"It had nothing to do with the patrons inside the bar," she said.

Neighbors tell Stephanie Lulay that this shooting was the "last straw."

But neighbors aren't convinced the bar isn't at fault. They have launched a petition calling on Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) to close the Funky Buddha indefinitely. More than 160 people signed the petition by late Monday.

Burnett, though, said there's "no actual proof" that the shooting was related to the lounge. The bar's owners "have always run a good establishment," he said.

Bar owner's account

Nick Stavropoulos, co-owner of the Funky Buddha, said surveillance video at the club confirmed that Sunday morning's shooting was spurred by a car accident, not an argument inside the club.

About 2:45 a.m. Sunday, a Funky Buddha patron was retrieving a car from the valet station outside the club. Another vehicle, reportedly traveling westbound on Grand Avenue at a high speed, hit the parked car.

The driver of the car that hit the parked car then got out of his car and began waving a handgun around, police said.

In court Tuesday, prosecutors said the man — identified as 27-year-old Fernando Lopez — was firing into a crowd outside the bar and waving a gun around when an off-duty sheriff's deputy who was across the street saw him.

When the deputy told him he was a police officer and ordered him to drop the gun, Lopez pointed the gun at the officer, and the deputy shot him, police said.

Another man, identified as 27-year-old Mario Orta, then grabbed the gun and fired it at the off-duty officer before running off, police said.

Lopez was taken in critical condition to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said Officer Thomas Sweeney, a Chicago Police spokesman. Lopez and Orta were charged with numerous crimes late Monday, police said.

Stavropoulos said he didn't know if Lopez had been at the club that night. He described the man retrieving his car from valet as "a regular" at the bar.

The bar owner declined to share video footage of the incident with DNAinfo Chicago.

'Unfairly targeted'

Stavropoulos said his bar, which has operated in River West for 18 years, was being unfairly targeted by neighbors. Funky Buddha is a "diverse" bar catering to a mostly African-American clientele, Stavropoulos said, but people of other races frequent the dance club, too.

The 295-capacity club closes at 2 a.m. on Friday and 3 a.m. on Saturday.

"Because we're the only black club in a white neighborhood, of course the neighbors are going to blame us," he said. "The neighbors can keep complaining. We know when it all comes down to it, it has nothing to do with us."

But neighbors tell a different story.

Bob Aiken, vice president of the Neighbors of the West Loop, said River West neighbors are confident that two November shootings stem from the crowd at Funky Buddha. The Thanksgiving weekend shooting was "the straw that broke the camel's back," he said.

"Promoters come in and pack the place with whomever without any regard for the community or the neighbors living here," Aiken said. "It's the kind of place that pats down patrons upon entering."

Stavropoulos confirmed the Funky Buddha started frisking patrons upon entry about three months ago after Illinois legalized the concealed carrying of handguns. But security guards have never found anyone trying to enter the bar with a gun, he said.

The Neighbors of the West Loop group is now working with Neighbors of River West to pressure the city to revoke the club's liquor license. Aiken said he has complained to Burnett about the bar in the past. Neighbors of River West President Sam Martorina couldn't be reached Monday.

'Like war out there'

Dana Ronk, co-owner of Clover Sports and Leisure at 722 W. Grand Ave. next to Funky Buddha, said the bar's issues frustrate other business owners.

Funky Buddha is also neighbors with The Dawson, a restaurant and bar.

"It's like a war out there," Ronk said. When the bar closes "there will be 50 to 60 guys in the street yelling, screaming, fighting each other."

As shots rang out Sunday morning, patrons pounded on Clover's back door, trying to get to safety, he said.

"Until this gets worked out, I'm debating if I even want to open this weekend," Ronk said. "I'm really that concerned."

The shooting woke a neighbor living in the same block on Grand Avenue.

The woman, who asked not to be identified, said the bar had always been a nuisance, but the crowd had become increasingly rowdy in the last six months.

"I awoke to multiple gunshots and looked out my window and saw someone cradling a body," she said. "It was very disturbing, and I was scared to death."

The uptick in violence on the block is noticeable, Burnett said. The alderman said he would work with police and neighborhood groups to make sure concerns about area shootings were  addressed.

If the lounge owners are not good operators, "they've got to come face to fire, and we'll deal with it accordingly," he said.

Stray bullet

A man who owns a condo near Green Street and Grand Avenue said he moved his family out of the area after a stray bullet from an early morning shooting Nov. 9 struck his window. The family is now renting farther south, said the resident, who declined to be identified.

"It's too dangerous to live there right now," he said Monday night.

The man blamed the violence on Funky Buddha's clientele.

"None of the other bars in the area have problems," he said.

Stavropoulos said Funky Buddha was closed for 45 minutes when the Nov. 9 shooting happened.

"I was actually starting my car to leave when they shot, and I ran back in and called 911," he said. "Again, Buddha got blamed."

In July, a man who pulled a gun on bouncers outside the Funky Buddha had his legs broken by them after they tackled him, court records show.

In separate ongoing battles, owners of River North bar Nouveau Tavern and Wicker Park's New D'Vine Bar say they believe they have been unfairly targeted by their respective neighborhoods because most of their customers are black.

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