Chuck Hyde, dead at 55, helped Sidetrack bar become a Boystown standby by Maureen O'Donnell
In the 32 years he worked there, Chuck Hyde rose to be general manager of the Sidetrack bar on Halsted Street. He helped the Boystown institution become known as one of the world’s top gay bars and a second home to members of the LGBT community.
Amid the fun of show-tune nights, slushie machines, lip-sync contests and viewing parties for “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” he also used his high profile to raise money for LGBT projects and causes.
Mr. Hyde, 55, died April 6 after quintuple-bypass surgery in Fort Lauderdale, where he and his husband Randy D’Agostino moved last year. A native of Gloucester, Massachusetts, he had wanted to live near the ocean again.
He started at Sidetrack just after it opened in 1982. It was an 800-square-foot room then, people hadn’t yet begun calling the area Boystown, and nobody could be sure what would happen as they walked to their cars.
“When someone would leave, the doorman would ask them to please not go by themselves,” said Sidetrack co-owner Art Johnston.
He started out stocking beer and liquor. He also worked security and as a V.J.
“He wanted to learn everything,” Johnston said.
After putting in a full day, “He’d work another six to seven hours building decorations for Halloween,” he said.
Mr. Hyde also designed Sidetrack’s floats for the annual Pride Parade.
His management of employees, customers and suppliers contributed to the bar’s evolution into a 14,000-square-foot space with multiple video screens, outdoor decks and recognition from Out magazine as one of the 200 best gay bars in the world. The bar became such a big consumer of vodka, according to Johnston, that “the president of Absolut came from Sweden to find out how we were selling so much.”
Mr. Hyde sensed the economic power of Sidetrack and Chicago’s LGBT citizens.
“Chuck became expert at convincing liquor companies to spend more of their promotional dollars on the community,” Johnston said.
Instead of accepting advertising swag, Johnston said Mr. Hyde’s feeling was, “Keep your ugly T shirts — send a representative for your company to the Equality Illinois gala.”
If beer distributors offered sports tickets to the staff, he said, Mr. Hyde suggested instead that they donate the tickets — and beer — to raffles for fledgling LGBT organizations.
He helped produce successful fund-raisers at Sidetrack for dozens of organizations, including the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, the Howard Brown Health Center and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus, according to Chicago’s LGBT Hall of Fame, which inducted Mr. Hyde in 2001.
When someone approached him to host an event, “He would say “Yeah, but I can do more,” said Tico Valle, CEO of the Center on Halsted, an LGBT community center.
At Sidetrack, he embraced employees and patrons whose families rejected them for being gay, said D’Agostino, a former staffer. He invited them to their home each year for a big Thanksgiving dinner.
Every week, he checked in with employees by asking, “What’s going on in your life?” Some said they were trying to finish college or attend medical or law school. D’Agostino said he made sure their work schedules accommodated their aspirations.
Young Chuck spent his early years clamming on Gloucester’s beaches, his husband said. For a time, his parents ran a bakery. “Whatever bread was left at the end of the day, they would bring it out to the fishermen,” he said, “and barter it for lobster.” Mr. Hyde attended Valparaiso University.
The couple lived in an Albany Park bungalow where Mr. Hyde designed a beautiful 24-foot-long backyard koi pond and waterfall. They hosted benefits there for Equality Illinois and had mariachi bands entertain guests. When raccoons gobbled down their fish, Mr. Hyde dug the pond deeper so they could hide.
On Sunday mornings, he called his mother and worked on The New York Times crossword puzzle.
He loved wine and wanted to be certified as a sommelier but “didn’t get a chance,” D’Agostino said.
They moved last year. Fort Lauderdale’s weather beckoned, as did living in a quiet community that seemed like a “gay Mayberry,” D’Agostino said. Mr. Hyde worked for a time at Hunters Nightclub in Fort Lauderdale.
“Running a nightclub is about experience,” said Bruce Howe, general manager of Hunters. “Having somebody like Chuck on board with us was extraordinary.”
A memorial is planned for 1 p.m. Sunday at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted, followed by a gathering at Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted.
“It’s going to be a disco party because that’s what he loved,” especially disco queens like Donna Summer, said D’Agostino. “He would just dance up a storm.”
Mr. Hyde is also survived by his sister Robin and brother Andrew.
- Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, IL) Friday, 19 May 2017