Memories aplenty at Sidetrack in 2023 – and more expected in 2024

Fri. January 5, 2024 8:15 AM by Ross Forman

photo credit // sidetrack

2023 was a year of celebration at Chicago’s popular video bar

One of the biggest surprises at Sidetrack in 2023 came on the dance floor when a manager spotted Kacey Musgraves dancing with the crowd that Saturday night. She was not being bothered by anyone; she was just hanging out.

Musgraves, of course, is a wildly successful singer who has won six Grammy Awards, seven Country Music Association Awards and three Academy of Country Music Awards.

Yep, as Sidetrack general manager Brad Balof said, “2023 was a great year for Sidetrack.”

“We had an amazing year of events from St. Patrick’s Day to Memorial Day week; Pride was a whole month of events and a wonderful (Northalsted) Market Days. Sidetrack also hosted the annual Santa Speedo Run, which raised over $157,000 for the Center on Halsted.

“We continued to have events benefiting other partners, (including) The Legacy Project, LAMBDA Legal, Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus, Chicago Dragons (rugby), Affinity Community Services, Campaign for Southern Equality, Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS, Season of Concern, Lakeside Pride, Gay and Lesbian Bar Association of Chicago, Gerber Hart Library,  Windy City Cycling, The Victory Fund and The Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame.”

And the documentary film Art + Pep – about the love story of Sidetrack co-owners Art Johnston and Jose “Pepe” Pena – won Best Feature Film at the Toronto Gay Film Festival.

“I think 2023 finally saw Chicago lift out of the fog that (the pandemic) had over people avoiding going out and gathering. People seem to be very much out to have a good time. While COVID is still very much with us, it appears to be much more understood and manageable, so we have been able to continue to welcome people back.”

The party continues in 2024 at Sidetrack, located along North Halsted Street in the heart of the Lakeview neighborhood commonly called Boystown – and the year also has a serious tone too, Balof said.

“We have a presidential election that needs all our attention,” he said, stressing that Sidetrack is driven to find that balance between partying and activism. In fact, he added, “We may need to turn up the activism a few notches in 2024.”

Tequila and soda was popular at Sidetrack in 2023 and, in honor of Taylor Swift’s big year, the bar’s Lavendar Haze also was very popular.

The Froze remains the top frozen drink at Sidetrack in 2023.

And what about Sidetrack Show Tunes in 2023? “Some of our new favorite Show Tunes are from BOOP! The Musical, Alex Newell in Schucked, Ken from the Barbie Movie, Some Like it Hot, and the new live-action Little Mermaid soundtrack,” Balof said.

Sidetrack will be celebrating 42 years in ’24 and the party naturally started on January 1 with one of its most popular annual events.

“We love kicking off the year with one of our favorite parties, the 1/1/Onesie Party,” Balof said.

Balof said 2024 will feature an extra special summer party week when the Democratic National Convention hits the United Center, August 19-24. “We look forward to some big parties around that week,” he said.