Chester Street at a crossroads

Chester Street at a crossroads

CHAMPAIGN — A longtime downtown nightclub that welcomed LGBTQ people has been sold and is being renovated.

Chester Street Bar, 63 E. Chester St., was a pioneer nightclub for people of any sexual orientation to drink and dance. As The Bar, it goes back to about 1978.

Owner Ed Piraino, an attorney, said he had owned the bar for 35 years, "and it was time" to sell.

The sale closed 10 days ago, he said: "The right offer came along."

He sold the bar to Scott Cochrane's Cochrane Enterprise, which owns several establishments in the area, for "a seven-figure number."

Cochrane did not return calls for comment.

If the new bar doesn't keep to the format, it will be the first time no LGBTQ-oriented bar has been in Champaign for about 40 years. First Street's upscale Emerald City Lounge closed in 2013.

A sign on two sets of doors says only "closed for renovations."

No city permit is needed for "cosmetic" changes, a Champaign public-works employee said.

Piraino said times have changed, and perhaps there's no real need for an gay bar here anymore.

"Nowadays, gays can go to a lot of places," he added. "Probably 60 percent of our business was fraternity parties."

Piraino said he won't miss getting only four hours of sleep a night.

He said he gets up at 4:30 a.m. to prepare for his law practice, and often stayed at his nightclub until midnight.

Amy Beth Myers worked at Chester Street for 25 years, both as a bartender and host of Sunday-night drag shows.

"It's going to be missed by the community," she said. "That place was my home. For some gay people, it was family. It was a great place to work, and I met so many people."

One of the performers she hosted, Jherrion Bates, who goes by GiGi, said Chester Street had come to be the only place left for drag shows.

"I just started drag last September," GiGi said. "With C Street being closed, there's no place to go anymore."

GiGi said the drag community was looking for a new home: "We're trying to get our own thing started to get a shot at getting our names out. We're reaching out to other establishments."

Julie Pryde, administrator of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, said she was sad to see Chester Street go.

"It served a role as a safe gathering spot for lots of young people," she said. "They always cooperated with us in getting information out about public health issues."

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RatDog wrote on July 09, 2017 at 7:07 am

You'd think Cochrane would give it up & find another job by now. Just about all of his ventures have failed. He paid 7 figures for this old building? Fool.