Meet Berwyn’s Entrepreneurs: Kate FitzGerald of FitzGerald’s Nightclub & Sidebar

Meet Kate FitzGerald of FitzGerald’s Nightclub & Sidebar (6615 W Roosevelt Rd), est. 1980
Hometown: Oak Park, IL
Current Residence: Oak Park, IL
All About Kate: I grew up around the midwest, moved to Oak Park at age 8, majored in English in college and then got my Master’s in Medieval Lit from Marquette. I bounced around jobs mostly having to do with writing or teaching and moved down to South Carolina for about five years to work in advertising. Around 1990, I came back and have been here ever since.  I’m married to Bill FitzGerald with a blended family of six and when I’m not at the club, I like to sit in comfortable chairs and read books, do a bit of street photography and spend time up on the Mississippi River with Bill.

The Business Side: FitzGerald’s probably needs no introduction. The business was started in 1980 by my husband Bill and his family as a place to enjoy and promote his love of live music, particularly from New Orleans and Texas.  Over the years the club has gained a national reputation for its bookings and  we’ve met and befriended hundreds of great musicians and fans. People like the sense that it’s basically an extension of our living room—comfortable and fun.

Describe yourself in three words
Flexible: Not physically, I’m too old, but I’m always ready to take on a challenge, be it managing people who need taming, fixing broken things long enough for them to work until the repair people get here and willing to park my ego and let people who are good at what they do tell me how they want to do it.

Decisive: I think I’m good at making decisions without a lot of dithering around and wondering/asking what everyone thinks.  That’s partly from having been at the club so long that a lot of things seem obvious to me and partly from not being particularly interested other people’s opinions.

Good Under Pressure: I never panic, even when I probably should panic.  When things go wrong, somebody has to be the one who makes everybody feel like it’s all going to turn out fine. Having played several sports through high school, college and beyond, I have that sense that whatever just happened, happened and it’s the next play that matters. I always tell the staff, “Let’s solve the problem first, and then we can all talk about who’s to blame.”

What inspires you?
In business, what inspires you is seeing how happy people are with your product. People are always telling us they love us, which is pretty rare in any job, and when they want to get married here or have their relatives’ memorial services here, that really inspires us.

What is something people might not know about you?
I am a pretty serious true crime freak.  Ever since I read my dad’s book about the Lindberg kidnapping at age 11, I’ve been hooked.  One of my great pleasures on long rides is listening to the many true crime podcasts that are available now.  It’s funny, for a long time I was a bit of a weirdo for this interest, but now it seems like a national obsession.

Why Berwyn?
Well I can’t take credit for making that choice.  My husband started FitzGerald’s because he and his friends used to come here in the 70’s when it was The Deer Lodge, and since it had been a music venue in the past there was a stage, and Bill just loved the feel of it and immediately started dreaming about reviving it’s music roots.

If someone made a movie about your life, what kind of movie would it be?
It would definitely be an absurdist comedy.  I went to school and got a Masters in Medieval Literature, and my career concerns center around how many cases of Lite to order this week and whether I need more Bev Naps.  I still live pretty much like a college student and even after 40 years out in the world I am completely lacking in ambition or direction.  Also I would like to request that I be played by Frances McDormand. I think she gets me.

What job would you be terrible at?
I would be, and in fact have been, terrible at any job that involves long division by hand, retail sales involving having to falsely compliment people on their fashion or makeup  choices in order to make a sale, any job that involves spending a lot of time in traffic, and customer service.

What song or artist do you like but rarely admit to liking?
Well now, that’s a funny question because I think you’ll find, as I did, that once you tell your peers that you loved, say, THE BEST OF BREAD or Menudo, a shocking number of people will come out of the woodwork to say that they also loved that.  It has a lot more to do with where you were in your life than music appreciation, so don’t hesitate, you’ll probably make new friends and they’ll think you’re cool for having the confidence to admit it.

What’s the worst hairstyle you’ve ever had?
When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with sports, was taller than most of the guys in my class, dressed in jeans and t-shirts and had a pixie cut, so I got mistaken for a boy pretty often.  I call them the “son” years, as in “Can I help you, son?'” Yet I never even considered growing my hair out, and these days my hairstyle consists of what my hair looks like after I run my hands through it twice.

What do you bring with you everywhere you go?
My trusty Nikon D90 is always in the car.  I really enjoy taking photos of people who are just hanging out on the street, and have particular collections like roadside crosses, hand painted hair salon signs and cool old neon.  As we’re getting closer to retirement, Bill and I are spending more time in the Driftless region of Wisconsin on the Mississppi River and the fantastic scenery there is a favorite subject, too.

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