HERMOSA — Creative collaborators David Ortiz Jr. and Antonio Beniquez have become a force in the Chicago streetwear scene over the past few years, launching lifestyle brand 1688Lbs and embroidery company ĀCraft Guild.
For their latest venture, the two are opening a boxing club called The Barracks at the border of Logan Square and Hermosa.
The club, 1919 N. Springfield Ave., had its grand opening last week. It’s the first brick-and-mortar business for Ortiz and Beniquez, native Chicagoans who want to build a community around the sport.
“I think boxing can serve as a huge catalyst, not just for youth, but for everybody. It’s a sport that encourages self-discipline. People gravitate to the sport because of those things,” Ortiz said. “Where we separate ourselves is we come from the culture, and we also bridge a huge gap between lifestyle and the sport itself.
“From our roots of being in the art scene, in the apparel scene, and from my background being in these gyms, I think there’s a huge opportunity to bring those worlds together.”
As Puerto Ricans growing up in Albany Park and Humboldt Park, respectively, Ortiz and Beniquez said they were exposed to boxing at a young age.
“Boxing is really big. It’s maybe in the top two sports being Puerto Rican: Baseball and boxing — those are huge sports in our culture,” Ortiz said.
But boxing became an even greater part of Ortiz’s life when his son, Jeremy Ortiz, took up the sport and excelled. David Ortiz coached his son, who is now 18, to become the No. 2 boxer in the nation in his age and weight class in 2019.
“My father was a boxer. I was a wrestler. I just picked it up and decided to learn how to train my son, not understanding how much I was going to fall in love with it,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz said he was struck by the lack of quality boxing gyms in Chicago, which is when he teamed up with Beniquez to launch The Barracks. The club offers boxing training sessions for adults and kids taught by Ortiz and other boxing trainers in a space designed by Beniquez. Personal training sessions will be rolled out next month, Ortiz said.
Down the line, Beniquez, who is also a design engineer, plans to create custom equipment for the club. In addition to boxing training, the space will host art shows and other events curated by the duo.
At first, the two were talking about promoting the club with the slogan “where art and boxing collide,” but they dubbed the club The Barracks as a nod to rigorous military training.
“A place where soldiers are bred — it was fitting,” Beniquez said.
On top of being a boxing trainer, Ortiz works as a national account manager in the consumer packaged goods industry. Beniquez is an artist whose work has been featured in local galleries and public spaces; his giant “Humboldt” mural, painted in 2017, is up at California Avenue and Division Street in Humboldt Park.
The Barracks has been about two years in the making. Like with their other creative projects, Beniquez and Ortiz said they found a hole in the market, so they decided to fill it.
“For some time there were people interested in investing, and eventually it got to the point where it was like, ‘Let’s just stop pitching this to people and just do it ourselves,'” Beniquez said.
Ortiz said, “There are no silent investors. This is David and Antonio’s savings from our families … that we could’ve put toward something else, but we used it to pursue this passion and leave a legacy.”
For more information about The Barracks, go to the club’s Instagram.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: