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Chicago-area gay club burns, fire seen as suspicious

Chicago-area gay club burns, fire seen as suspicious

Updated, 8:30 p.m. CT.

OAK PARK, Ill. — A fire destroyed The Velvet Rope Ultra Lounge, an Oak Park gay nightclub in what the owner suspects as an anti-gay arson early Sunday morning.

The fire broke out in the club at 728 Lake St. around 6 a.m. and ultimately gutted the interior, which can be seen from the street.

Firefighters responded to the scene of the fire around 6:30 a.m. and were able to extinguish the flames in minutes. Businesses on both sides of the bar sustained smoke and water damage, but no injuries were reported, according to village officials.

Oak Park Police initially classified the blaze as “suspicious” and declined to provide any further details as of Monday morning, but later confirmed that there was probable cause to indicate that an act of arson may be behind the incident. They also noted that state fire marshalls were called to the scene to investigate.

While police would not comment further on the cause of the fire, the owner, Frank Elliot, said authorities are calling the fire suspicious after reportedly finding the back door of the bar kicked in and derogatory messages written on the walls inside.

The Oak Park Area Lesbian & Gay Association said they are naturally concerned about reports that the Velvet Rope was destroyed by arson and that they are also concerned about speculating that it was targeted because of its gay ownership and client base.

“We do want to express our concern for the owner, staff and customers of the Velvet Rope and look forward to learning more about the results of the investigations underway,” OPALGA Co-Chair, Greg Raub told Chicago Phoenix. “The Oak Park area has for many years been known for its diversity and welcoming environment and we look forward to continuing to help foster and support that environment.”

Elliot said he intends to rebuild the club as soon as he can, but in the meantime will focus on his new club, Bonsai Bar & Lounge, which is set to open “Spring 2012″ in Boystown at 3502 N. Halsted St., the old Leather Sport store location.

Oak Park, a primarily LGBT-friendly suburb held its 39th annual A Day in Our Village Festival Sunday, which celebrates diversity and community involvement there every year.

By Monday, the nightclub was boarded up.

Police said an investigation is underway.

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