NORTH CENTER — A North Center bar owner is asking for the community’s support to keep his bar open in honor of its founder, his longtime friend.
Ali C. Donmez took over Black Eagle Lounge, 1938 W. Irving Park Road, in June 2021, reopening the bar after the original owner, Osman Akgun, died, at the request of Akgun’s family. He’s made changes to keep the spot around, but the bar — like many small businesses in Chicago — has still struggled to navigate pandemic disruptions and rising costs from inflation.
“I tell you what, it was a lot easier being on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan in a combat outpost than it was doing this,” joked Donmez, a veteran. “But the idea of me taking this over was to let Osman’s legacy live on.”
Donmez started a karaoke competition in hopes of bringing in more customers, which takes place on Wednesdays. He’s also planning World Cup watch parties, in hopes of keeping customers coming and the bar open.
Donmez and Akgun met as pre-teens. Their fathers had been friends in Turkey, and Akgun’s family was visiting Chicago, where Donmez lived.
“We were a couple of knuckleheads who would hang out when our families took us to the state fair or other family events and parties,” Donmez said.
They reconnected years later as adults and continued their friendship.
Akgun opened Black Eagle Lounge in 2020, just seven months before Illinois banned bars and indoor dining to slow the spread of COVID-19. Akgun died just four days after the ban went into effect.
Akgun named the business after the black eagle nickname of his favorite soccer team in the Turkish Super League, Beşiktaş J.K., Donmez said.
Akgun’s family, who were overseas, asked Donmez to help them with the funeral arrangements in Chicago, Donmez said. Afterward, they asked Donmez to oversee Akgun’s estate — and to take over Black Eagle because the two had been friends, he said.
“It’s a bit of a sad story,” Donmez said. “I’ve never seen ‘The Bear,’ but I had a customer tell me apparently it’s very similar to that show.”
Donmez had gone to culinary school before joining the Army, but he had never had the chance to use his hospitality skills professionally, he said. He worried he might regret not trying his hand at running Black Eagle, he said.
After considering the offer, Donmez reopened Black Eagle under his ownership in June 2021 while still keeping his day job at a credit union.
To bring in customers, Donmez has revamped the menu with his chef, Othello Harris, and organized events such as the karaoke competition.
Donmez has also hosted fundraisers for groups such as Chicago Veterans, a nonprofit that supports military veterans and their families as they transition into civilian life, he said.
Black Eagle Lounge is open seven days a week. For hours and event listings, click here.
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: