Sidetrack celebrates 30 years of mega-popular frozen drinks

Tue. February 23, 2016 10:05 AM by Ross Forman

sidetrack serves up wildly popular slushie cocktails

photo credit // sidetrack
When Sidetrack opened in 1982, it quickly became common practice among bartenders that, if they found money at the bar, it would be collected in a jar – and they eventually would use those funds for a nice staff dinner.

Soon, bartenders were just adding a few dollars of their tips from every shift to the jar and ultimately there was enough money collected that they opted for a staff trip out of state as opposed to just dinner. They went to Key West, New Orleans and other warm destinations. Bartenders came back from school to run the bar while the regular staff jetted off on a short vacation.

In 1986, a crew of eight went to Key West and enjoyed a Rum Runner – a frozen drink that delighted the Sidetrack staff.

"We had never seen such slushie drinks," in Chicago, said Sidetrack co-owner Art Johnston.

So they wanted to see if such drinks would fly in the Windy City. Initially, the plan was, slushie drinks would be a summertime addition to the menu.

"We had no clue it would be as successful as it has been," Johnston said. "Slushie drinks, or frozen drinks, have been very successful from the start, and just continue to grow and grow and grow (in popularity)."

Sidetrack first had free-standing frozen drink machines that were "monstrosities," Johnston said.

Now, 30 years later, Sidetrack has cooled, underground lines that feed the frozen drinks into all bars at the popular Lakeview establishment – and it cost more than $100,000 to build the lines.

Frozen drinks at Sidetrack went wild when Absolut introduced Kurant, its first of all flavors. Sidetrack bartenders concocted the perfect mix, and the Absolut Kurant Krush was born. Sales "absolutely exploded," Johnston said.

Quickly, other area bars started offering Kurant as well.

"Absolut sales went through the roof," Johnston said.

At one point, Sidetrack was selling the most Absolut products in the city, then the state, then regionally, then nationally, and ultimately, worldwide. More Absolut was being sold in Sidetrack than in Spain and France combined. The president of Absolut has visited Sidetrack twice, just to see what was happening at the Lakeview bar with its incredible sales totals.

Sidetrack has 17 spouts to dispense proprietary slushie drinks, with four flavors in glass bar, for instance. At any time, Sidetrack has four rotating flavors – and the purple version, known now as the Sidetrack Krush, is the most popular.

The always-available Krush has featured Absolut, Ketel One, and is now back to Absolut.

The Effen Black Cherry Buzz also is a popular choice.

Sidetrack always offers four varying colored frozen drinks.

There also are slushie drinks with Effen Vodka, Bacardi Rum and other premium alcohols.

The 10-ounce slushie/frozen drinks ($6.50) are green around St. Patrick's Day, and orange in celebration of Halloween. Sidetrack also is now offering a 13.5 ounce slushie/frozen drink, fittingly called, "Queen Sized."

"Slushie/frozen drinks at Sidetrack are now just a part of our lives," Johnston said. "I'm guessing if you asked people in the community for four or five words that come to mind when they think of Sidetrack, I'm sure slushie will be high on that list."

Many liquor companies have reached out to Sidetrack to have their products included in a slushie/frozen drink, Johnston said.

"The slushie/frozen drinks are truly a testament to our idea of being open about new ideas," said Sidetrack general manager Brad Balof. "Years ago someone said these would be a good idea to try, and we did."

Balof said his favorite frozen drink is the Bacardi Pineapple Mai Tai slushie, while Johnston opts for the Lemonade slushie.