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Geek Bar Abandons Lincoln Park, Asks Geeks for Cash to Save Fading Business

By Paul Biasco | July 23, 2015 5:34am
 David Zoltan, founder of Geek Bar, is hoping loyal patrons will help save the business.
David Zoltan, founder of Geek Bar, is hoping loyal patrons will help save the business.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WICKER PARK — The founder of Geek Bar is asking his loyal patrons to open their wallets in a last-ditch effort to save the establishment.

David Zoltan, "Fleet Admiral" of Geek Bar, launched a crowdfunding page Wednesday that is seeking to raise $20,000 to keep the business alive.

The grand plan was to open Geek Bar in a 10,000-square-foot custom space in Lincoln Park in 2014, but setbacks with the city forced Zoltan to open a temporary pop-up shop in Wicker Park.

That shop, Geek Bar Beta, was supposed to be a stopgap measure to make some money while the Lincoln Park location was being built out for a few months.

The beta has been up and running for 9½ months, and it looks like it will be the permanent site if the funding comes through.

 A rendering of what was supposed to be the Lincoln Park Geek Bar location.
A rendering of what was supposed to be the Lincoln Park Geek Bar location.
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Latent Design

Zoltan estimates he pumped $300,000 into the Lincoln Park location, which he has since abandoned.

"It's a huge blow," he said. "Obviously if we could put that into the beta location, we would have a very different-looking beta and lots of cool stuff going on."

Paul Biasco explains what went wrong with the Lincoln Park location:

Wicker Park's Geek Bar Beta is now the mothership at 1941 W. North Ave., and Zoltan needs $20,000 to catch up on payroll, and pay rent and sales taxes that have accumulated.

Zoltan said the "dam burst" and he is no longer able to put off some of the expenses that he was putting off.

"It's a make-or-break moment for us," he said. "I had no choice."

As of Wednesday afternoon 16 people had already kicked in $670.

It's not the first time Zoltan has asked the public to help fund his dream project.

Back in July of 2013 Zoltan launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to open Chicago's first bar and grill that catered to the city's geek community.

The campaign raised $44,538 from 658 backers.

Since then, things have been rocky.

In 2013 after raising the funds Zoltan chose Lakeview for the city's first geek-centric establishment.

The plan was to stock the bar with board games such as Settlers of Catan, TVs showing Dr. Who and a geek-friendly atmosphere that would make anyone comfortable.

The Lakeview lease fell through, and, in 2014, Zoltan unveiled plans for an expansive two-story 10,000-square-foot space at 1960 N. Clybourn Ave. in Lincoln Park that was previously home to Caliente and Lalo's Chicago.

By April 2014 the owner released fantastic renderings of what the interior of the space would be and stated that demolition was complete.

He was just waiting for building permits, but that proved to be a major setback due to what Zoltan says was an unresponsive alderman and a neighborhood group that Zoltan claims didn't want Geek Bar in Lincoln Park.

"We wanted to bring in a business that was warm and welcoming to all people, especially our geek community," Zoltan said. "They were worried about people walking back and forth in cosplay or whether or not we were going to have valet parking."

Diane Levin, planning chair for RANCH Triangle, says that is far from the truth and that the neighborhood group was trying to work with Zoltan to accommodate Geek Bar.

Levin said the group had questions for Zoltan regarding security, transportation and parking as well as specifics on hours of operation.

The neighborhood group wanted to know how out-of-town guests, whom the bar was being marketed toward, would get home at night and where they would park.

"We were really concerned somebody dressed up as Spidey was going to get bludgeoned over there," Levin said.

Levin later said she was joking about an attack.

"There is a really long walk to public transit," she said, expressing concerns that Zoltan was not concerned about how his customers would find their way back to their overnight accommodations.

The group also had concerns about a lack of security plan and how Geek Bar would handle the switch from an afternoon crowd geared toward high schoolers to the nighttime over-21 crowd.

"We felt that we should ask these questions," Levin said. "Believe me, we have asked these questions of Buffalo Wild Wings. We have asked them of Fairways. He wanted us to give him special treatment because he is innovative."

After pumping nearly $300,000 into the Clybourn location, paying the lease and completing interior demolition, Geek Bar was forced to abandon Lincoln Park.

Two city departments would not release Geek Bar's application to get building permits due to concerns over the number of exits and a lack of an elevator, according to Zoltan.

"The city bureaucracy ended up grinding us to a halt," he said. "If we had political support from somebody, we might have been able to get through all of it. We didn't."

The geeks have already come through for Zoltan once. Will they do it again?

Zoltan thinks so.

“These aren't people with fortunes," he said. "These are geeks who believe in the concept, who believe in the mission of celebrating and fostering geek culture in all of its forms."

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