After more than a decade on Hubbard Street, controversial nightclub El Hefe has closed its doors. The River North bar, owned by Scottsdale-based company Riot Hospitality, has been erased from the brand’s website.
The duration of the closure, however, remains in question. The company has “suspended operations” at 15 W. Hubbard Street, but would not confirm whether or not El Hefe will return, according to Block Club Chicago. Though the bar developed a bad reputation among locals, River North tourists continued to give the venue business.
A self-described “super macho taqueria,” El Hefe made its Chicago debut in 2013 amid the notoriously bustling nightlife strip in River North, operating as a Mexican restaurant during the day and an adults-only spot for dancing and drinking at night. But as the years passed, troubling incidents began to accrue, culminating in two women filing lawsuits against the club in 2019.
A Florida woman, whom attorneys dub Jane Doe, alleged in a suit that while visiting Chicago in October 2019, she was drugged and raped in an alley behind the bar while security guards stood about 100 feet away. Doe also alleged her attacker was known to El Hefe’s staff. The incident was recorded on a security camera and paramedics went on to transport an unresponsive Doe to the hospital.
That footage inspired a second plaintiff to file suit weeks later with allegations that she was also drugged and sexually assaulted in 2014 at El Hefe and that staff failed to intervene. At the time, according to the suit, a toxicology test and rape kit taken at the hospital confirmed the plaintiff was raped and drugged with Acetone.
For its part, El Hefe released a statement on social media in 2019 responding to the first lawsuit, claiming that its security guards did not witness an assault and promising to cooperate with police investigations. At the time, one of the women’s attorneys called the statement “absurd” and alleged that club management was withholding evidence from law enforcement. A spokesperson for Riot Hospitality later issued a more contrite statement, asserting that “reports like these are unacceptable in any part of our city... Any incident that tears at the reputation of the City of Chicago impacts all of us.”
That tone, however, didn’t extend to a January 2020 court filing in which the bar’s attorneys leveraged a common legal tactic: claiming that Jane Doe “was more than 50 percent of the proximate cause of the injury” — essentially, that Doe was responsible for her own assault.
The move was met with near-immediate criticism, and in the same month, more than 5,700 Chicago hospitality workers signed a petition calling for city officials to suspend El Hefe’s liquor license until police completed their investigations. The petition specifically pointed to the club’s policy of removing overly intoxicated customers through a back door, precisely as alleged by Doe in her suit, thus perpetuating a “dangerous workplace culture.”
Protracted legal battles followed. The second plaintiff’s lawsuit was dismissed for want of prosecution in March 2021, while Doe’s case was dismissed “by stipulation or agreement” (which could mean a settlement) in early January 2024.
Originally founded in Scottsdale in 2010, El Hefe also operated another outpost in Tempe, Arizona, which has also closed. The Scottsdale location remains open. Reps for the company have not yet responded to a request for more information.