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Family dining and races on the side

The multi-faceted venue that’s occupied its expansive Queens Boulevard digs for 16 years comfortably combines a friendly, Cheers-style family environment — complete with...

By James DeWeese

Sidetracks Bar and Restaurant in Sunnyside seems to have all its bases covered.

The multi-faceted venue that’s occupied its expansive Queens Boulevard digs for 16 years comfortably combines a friendly, Cheers-style family environment — complete with wood paneling, polished-brass accents and plush window-seat booths — with off-track betting windows run by the state and a nightclub.

So far, the mix has been pretty successful, said bartender-turned-part owner Dermot Kelly.

“It’s the restaurant that has everything for all,” Kelly said. “It suits families and single people. Even if a guy is baby-sitting he can come in here and sneak a bet.”

On any given afternoon, local businessmen, workers and travelers from nearby hotels amble into Sidetracks where they can choose from moderately-priced bar fare or a full dining room menu featuring a mix of American and international cuisine while whetting their whistle.

Since about a year ago, patrons can also place bets at two betting windows while taking in the horse races at any one of the 45 television sets arrayed throughout the bar and restaurant area.

“It’s for the person who doesn’t want to stand around in an (off-track betting) place all day,” said Kelly, who described Sidetracks as a bit more upscale.

“A couple old ladies might want to bet five dollars on a horse and have a sandwich,” the 44-year-old Irish transplant said. “They can’t do that anywhere else.”

The televisions also broadcast all of the most popular sporting events, including the complete NFL package, Kelly said.

At night, there’s a total transformation, Kelly said, pointing to a floral arrangement that concealed a DJ booth.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, the dining room is converted into a dance floor. Sidetracks stays open till the wee hours of the morning and merengue, hip-hop, salsa and reggae fill the air.

Over its 16-year-history, the Sunnyside venue has constantly tweaked its set-up and offerings, Kelly said.

“We change a little bit every now and then,” said Kelly, who spent six years behind the bar before moving into the administrative offices as a part owner a year ago. “Maybe that’s why it looks newer than it is.”

About five years ago, the owners updated the interior with a mock-up of a train car with customer seating to create a rail-road motif to match its location alongside the elevated No. 7 line.

Sidetracks draws on a wide range of local talent for live music, including a jazz session during the Sunday brunch special that runs from noon to 3:30 p.m. The restaurant also serves brunch on Saturdays.

Beyond the main dining room sits a party room with a retractable wall. The area accommodates about 50 people and is rented out for all manner of events from birthdays and anniversaries to confirmations and funerals. Kelly’s family celebrated their eldest’s confirmation there.

Sidetracks’ Sunnyside location along Queens Boulevard has worked out well, Kelly said.

“The fact that it’s on the boulevard is great, parking is excellent,” said Kelly, who lives in Rego Park with his wife, Flavia, and three kids, Bernadette, Seamus and Nora.

Sidetracks’ proximity to other well-known eating establishments such as Dazie’s is also a plus, Kelly said. “Competition keeps you on your toes,” he said.

Kelly, who met his Pittsburgh-born wife in 1980 in Ireland, has been in the United States permanently since 1983.

After living in a little town just north of Pittsburgh for a time, he said he’s happy to have moved back to Queens despite its occasional hassles.

Before becoming a part owner at Sidetracks, Kelly had been looking around for a smaller place on his own when one of the owners offered him the chance to buy into a portion of the club.

Sidetracks is located at 45-08 Queens Boulevard. The dining room is open from noon to 11 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday. The bar is open an hour later. The nightclub operates Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. Admission prices for the nightclub vary and drink specials are available. For more information, visit Sidetracks’ Web site at, or call 718-786-3570.

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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