By Dale Madison
It is hard to believe that it’s been six years since Laurie Whittaker and her partner of 18 years, Jennifer Morales, took over the space once occupied by the defunct Club Circuit on Wilton Drive. Even more difficult to believe is how they reformed the failed dance club into Sidelines—one of the most popular sports bars in all of South Florida, and into a nationally-known LGBT destination spot.
“Once Circuit closed, we contacted the owner of the property, because we wanted to make a plan [to occupy the space],” says Morales, who in addition to being Whittaker’s significant other, is the marketing guru behind the club.
“We wanted a State of the Art sports bar,” Whittaker added. “Something like no one else would have. We also knew that we were going to be involved in the LGBT community. We were not just going to sit here to serve drinks—we really wanted to serve the community.” That has translated over the course of six years to close to $500,000 that the pair and Sidelines have donated back into the local community.
Those dollars have been poured into local charities and service organizations, including the Florida AIDS Walk, the Smart Ride, The Poverello Thrift Store and Food Bank, Tuesday’s Angels, and many other causes. “The community becomes your family and, frankly, you have to take care of your family,” says Whittaker.
Morales, who, as previously noted, tackles the job of promoting and marketing the concept bar to the outside world, says that her and Whittaker’s efforts have paid off with respect to branding and name recognition. “We’ve been featured on ‘Deco Drive,’ and we’ve had local news anchor Adam Kuperstein, who had a great time,” Morales brags. “We’ve been featured on the Bloomberg Business Report, too. We’ve been very blessed with great press,” she adds.
Whittaker is equally proud of the House that Time and Patience Built. “Do you realize that when we opened, there were only six LGBT sports bars in the country? Now there are more than 30,” she notes proudly. “We sort of set a standard for part of the industry.”
That standard includes providing lots to do for the bars valued patrons, including 16 widescreen televisions, three pool tables, darts, and other amusement activities that keep guests having fun and coming back. Add entertaining bartenders to the mix, and you have a formula for success.
Morales and Whittaker note that it isn’t just LGBT patrons who come to Sidelines to enjoy a “gay old time.” “We have one group of Green Bay Packers supporters whose mix is roughly 70 percent straight,” says Morales. “They come in for every Packers game, and they have a blast. Fred Belgie heads this group—and they pack the place”—but what would you expect from Packers fans? The bar also reaches out to other local groups, as well as to those who are “just visiting.”
“This year during ‘Fleet Week,’ we had at least 12 men in uniform come in, and they commented ‘What a great place,’” Whittaker reports. “Of course, they all took turns showing how butch they were at the boxing machine, which has become one of our most popular amusements,” she notes.
Morales says that hospitality is the key to Sidelines’ warm, friendly, and convivial vibe. “All we really want at the end of the day is for people to come in, relax, talk with each other,” she offers, adding with a smile, “and of course it’s always nice to turn a little profit so that we can continue to support our community.”