Friday just called. She’ll be here tomorrow and she’s bringing the vodka.
Wait, what day is it?
Lucky for you, it doesn’t really matter because you’re in Key West, where there’s no shortage of vodka and everyday feels like Friday.
When the summertime heat gets all kinds of disrespectful, it’s likely you need an adult beverage to quench your insatiable thirst. If you’re nodding your head in agreement, head over to Sidebar, the little sister to Aqua Nightclub. Located at 504 Angela Street, Sidebar is a true hidden gem. The bar has an overall industrial feel to it, with cold concrete floors, black walls and black light-activated neon décor. A pool table welcomes you into the space and offers unlimited free playtime. A large projection screen the size of the back wall plays music videos in the background, while five other large screens surround the bar playing sports and game shows.
The smooth sounds of your favorite ’80s tunes play in the background while your expert bartender mixes up your favorite concoctions. There’s something about hearing Cindy Lauper belting out “Girls just wanna have fun!” that makes you feel right at home. And girls do indeed just want to have fun, which is why when you think of Sidebar, you should think of lady’s night. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday night at Sidebar is dedicated to the dames, with two for one drink specials for the fairer sex.
Ladies, this is the place to meet other ladies, unwind with a cocktail, make friends, find a date — the possibilities are endless. Men are welcome, of course, but Sidebar is committed to carving out a space for local ladies and visitors alike to have their own piece of paradise. “I believe it is important to have a place where all women can meet and feel welcome,” says Sidebar bartender and lady’s night curator Val Edgington. “I am offering that space at the Sidebar. Granted, it is only for Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but it’s a start.”
Edgington, a Michigan native and Key West transplant, is a proud member of the LGBTQ community and has spent the last five years living her dream as a Keys local and serving up liquid courage to Key Westers and visitors who have had the pleasure of finding themselves seated at her bar. Edgington spent years dreaming of living a life in Key West with her partner and was finally able to make the move. When she’s not busy slinging drinks, she’s hosting her own YouTube show, “In Key West with Val,” where she showcases all things Key West. It’s a fun mix of your favorite locations and local characters. She brings a piece of Key West right to your doorstep without ever having to hop on a plane.
You’ll usually find the 5-foot 3-inch bartender with her long curly locks braided and in her “Life is Good” hat behind Sidebar serving up your favorite libations every Tuesday and Wednesday evening. With over 25 years of bartending experience, the Michigan transplant knows a thing or two about an adult beverage. She’s known for her delicious and decadent espresso martinis, but she’s happy to make anything your heart fancies.
“Watching someone take that first sip of a drink I’ve made and the look of pure bliss on their face makes all the other stuff worth it,” Edgington says. “I strive to make each drink that way. I guess you can say I create memories.”
Sunday at Sidebar means Hot Dog Church, hosted by bartender Laurie Thibaud. Think of it as a place for women to come and mingle, bring snacks and unwind, potluck-style. I decided on a Sunday I was going to head to Sidebar to see what the buzz was all about. This particular Sunday, Laurie was out and Val was working the bar.
I took Val’s presence as a sign that it was time to sample one of her famous espresso martinis, especially since it was lady’s night on a muggy Sunday afternoon and, if one espresso martini is delicious, two-for-one espresso martinis must be doubly delicious. Right? There was an eclectic blend of women sitting at the bar with sounds of Bon Jovi lingering in the background. Women of all ages and demographics were getting their fill of alcohol and the energy was infectious.
I parked it at the bar and instantly struck up a conversation with the women that were there. Some were visiting the island for the first time; others were long time Key West residents. There was a good mix of people that was both warm and inviting. It occurred to me that it wasn’t like most bars down here, where you had to ward off the creepy men and cat calls. Sidebar was a place where a girl could let down her hair and just enjoy a beverage in peace.
“We have people from all over the world coming into Key West,” says Edgington. “I love that you can just sit down and talk to anybody here.”
I patiently waited while Val poured the expertly crafted martini into my glass, my mouth watering at the sight of it. It’s no wonder why people flock from all walks of the Earth to try it. It’s truly delicious and everything you’d want in a martini. I was so enamored I ended up sitting at the bar for the next few hours, chopping it up with Val and the ladies and ordering that second espresso martini to make sure it was still good. (It was.) Surrounded by new friends and with the glow of a slight buzz, I decided to make Hot Dog Church a regular thing by penciling it into my weekly calendar.
As if you needed more incentive to wet your whistle, the off-the-beaten path Sidebar boasts a two-for-one happy hour every day from 4-7 p.m. If you’re more of a night owl, the indoor bar turns into a dance club after 10 p.m., with a live DJ and an intimate lounge space equipped with couches and chairs for when you’ve worn out your dancing shoes. Sidebar is also home to Key West Paint & Sip, where every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. you can combine your love of a stiff drink with your creative side.
If you like to drink with a clear conscience, every Friday from 5:30-7 p.m., Sidebar hosts charity happy hours that give back to local organizations in the community, such as the SPCA of the Florida Keys and the Sister Season Fund. During the charity events, guest bartenders from the organization serve up two-for-one drinks and all tips go to the feature organization. The bar also doubles as an event space for groups and weddings as well, so you can experience the many sides of Sidebar any way your heart desires. ¦