Suburban gay bar mourns, raises funds for Orlando victims

Forty-nine candles - one for each victim killed in the Orlando nightclub shooting last weekend - line the stage at Phoenix Bar & Nightclub near Elk Grove Village, the largest gay bar in the suburbs.

The mass killings early Sunday morning deeply rattled Phoenix's 25 staff members. Since the shootings, they've held moments of silence before shows, launched balloons in memory of the victims and will keep the 49-candle vigil on their stage.

"I've seen all my friends cry this week," said Phoenix Bar General Manager Russ Eplin. "We know that could have been us. It could happen anywhere."

The bar is stepping up security while also raising money for the GoFundMe account for the victims' families.

The Cook County Sheriff's Police have checked in with them, Eplin said, and will continue to patrol the club nightly as they've always done. Meanwhile, Phoenix staff members have done drills to figure out escape routes in the event of a crisis and have been instructed to be hyper-aware of suspicious people or behavior.

"Clubs are supposed to be a safe haven. We want to make sure we keep it that way," Eplin said.

A special fundraising drag queen show will be held Wednesday, June 22, where the bartenders will donate all of their tips. Donations are welcome.

The bar staff also will buy memorial T-shirts to wear during the Chicago Pride Parade June 26 from a company that is donating 100 percent of the proceeds to the victims.

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  Russ Eplin, general manager of Phoenix Bar & Nightclub near Elk Grove Village, stands near 49 candles that line the stage in memory of the Orlando shooting victims. Bob Chwedyk/
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