Between leaping off a staircase in a Superman suit and landing a role in a Polish blockbuster, nightclub owner Peter D’Agostino has stories that best those of most college students, let alone 70-year-olds. Since 1966, he’s watched his club at 5616 West Diversey Avenue, in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood, morph from a jukebox-fueled lounge to a glittery disco to Jedynka, a dance club with a predominantly Polish crowd.
On April 23, the club will be reborn once more as Stereo, flush with marble bars, LED lights and mock-croc banquettes. Three weeks before opening, D’Agostino is right where he started, meticulously tidying up a 10,000-square-foot space still filled with construction ladders and empty shelves.
A native of Abruzzi, Italy, D’Agostino moved to Chicago at age 16. Over pizza with the owner of now-shuttered West Side bar the Coral Reef, he talked his way into an entry-level gig, eventually teaming with that same owner in 1966 to open Stereo’s first incarnation: 123 Lounge.
“It was just a jukebox,” he says. “All Top 40s. But they would come from all over, from Italian neighborhoods, like Morse Park, Taylor Street, Grand and Ogden, Bridgeport. People would stand on ledges, on chairs—everywhere.”
123 Disco came next, in 1975. But as the tide violently turned against the likes of Donna Summer (manifested in 1979’s Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park), D’Agostino went with the less provocative name 123 Club in 1980. Motorcycle gangs moved into the ’hood and D’Agostino knew he needed a change to attract a fun, not fearsome, crowd. After meeting Polish DJ Kuba Jurkowski, the two transformed the club into Jedynka in 1993.
Over the years, some of D’Agostino’s most harebrained schemes were sparked by loyal regulars. There was the guy who urged him to host Rocky look-alike contests after the movie came out in 1976—prompting bare-chested men to arrive in little more than fighter belts. D’Agostino also recalls the guy who got him the part as a mafia member’s bodyguard in RH Plus, a Polish cult drama. “He says to me, ‘Pete, I’m gonna make you a movie star.’ ” His vacation buddies inspired him to start an annual Acapulco night in the ’80s. “I was the first guy in a Speedo. If you wanted to wear a bikini, I’d give it to you for free. Guys, too. By midnight, we’d have 100 people in Speedos.”
As bottle service replaces bikini nights and American pop blends with Euro beats to try to attract new crowds, Stereo seems like it might be at home in River North. But the D’Agostino’s nightlife legacy lives on.
“People met [here], they got married, and now their kids are coming over,” he says. “They say, ‘Pete, Pete, my mother and dad, they met here. You know my mother, you know my father.’ ”
Stereo (5616 W Diversey Ave, 773-889-7171) is slated to open April 23.