Sidelines Sport Bar Brawl. Owners take it to the streets.

 

Wilton Manors bar keepers continue their fight for control.

Wilton Manors bar keepers continue their fight for control.

(Reprinted from The South Florida Agenda)

WILTON MANORS — When he was diagnosed with colon cancer in September 2010, Marty Kildea still considered himself a lucky man. His cancer was operable and curable, and he had the support of a gay community that had grown to know him through his involvement with Sidelines Sports Bar, a popular Wilton Drive club recognized for multiple flat-screen TVs airing football, soccer, tennis, and baseball as well as mixed martial arts, boxing and wrestling.

Sidelines opened May 12, 2006 in the former location of Circuit Bar, and was an immediate hit with a gay clientele that mixed easily with the occasional lesbian and heterosexual sports fan.

During its first years of operation, Kildea was featured along with lawyer Laurie Whittaker in publicity releases and published articles listing them as “co-owners,” celebrating the success of what was an obviously well-run and appreciated Drive destination.

With Whittaker handling the financial transactions of the business and Kildea managing the bar, Sidelines drew much-needed traffic to the south end of Wilton Drive, and benefited many other businesses along the route.

After Kildea’s cancer surgery, however, he says that his ability to continue his day-to-day obligations was impacted by his ill health, which took a second hit when further cancer surgery and treatment was required in July 2011. It was then that things began to unravel—amid the bowls of peanuts and freshly made popcorn—inside the once happy Sidelines.

And allegations began to fly.

“On a Tuesday in July, Laurie [Whittaker] came to me and offered to buy me out of the business for $50,000.” Kildea told the Florida Agenda. “Wednesday, Laurie had to have surgery on her throat for polyps, so she couldn’t talk. Her brother started to call me, demanding to know if I was going to take the offer. He said, ‘You need to just accept this because you’re not going to win on this.’”

Kildea claims that he was blindsided by the offer, particularly given that the bar had grossed $7 million during its first five years in business.

“I told him that I wasn’t accepting the offer. Thursday night, I received a text from Laurie saying, ‘Do not come back to the bar. I’m changing the locks on the doors, and you’re not welcome there anymore.’ Friday, I went and found a lawyer,” Kildea said.

On legal documents, Laurie Whittaker is listed as the sole owner of Sidelines Sports Bar LLC and holds the liquor license to the club. According to Kildea, despite the fact that they went into the business relationship together, and he is a co-signer with Whittaker on the lease, he was told that he couldn’t “officially” be listed on any documents because of an arrest for cocaine possession prior to the opening of the bar. He was eventually convicted of the charge on August 8, 2007.

“After we had opened the bar, and were still getting things in order, [Laurie] brought me a piece of paper that she had printed out that said because of the Florida Division of Alcohol, Beverage and Tobacco rules, with my pending drug charge, I could not be listed on anything,” Kildea said.

“We worked it out that I would get a bi-weekly check for my services, with a larger amount in cash.” Additionally, Kildea says that Whittaker split the cash take from the dart games and pool tables with Kildea on a 50-50 basis for the entire time he was connected with the establishment.

Kildea alleges that Sidelines Marketing Director Jennifer Morales was being paid in cash, as well.

“We were paying Jennifer under the table because she was getting SSI (Supplemental Security Income)” for a diagnosed case of pulmonary hypertension, as well as ataxia, a progressive neurological disease. In his suit, Kildea alleges that Morales, whose real name is Jennifer Mojica, was paid $750 a week “for her marketing efforts despite the fact that she is collecting disability and Medicare,” a claim that Whittaker denies.

Complicating the ownership issue, in printed releases from Morales’ own office during the first five years of the bar’s operation, Kildea is referred to as a “co-owner” along with Laurie Whittaker, Morales’ longtime girlfriend.

Articles in both the Agenda and South Florida Gay News referred to him as co-owner as late as April 2011. Three months later, Kildea was out.

In his court case, originally filed July 27, 2011, Kildea alleges that Whittaker knowingly misled him about the liquor license and their partnership. Additionally, he claims that Whittaker, by “taking $10,000 per month more than agreed to, misappropriated assets of Sidelines for her own personal gain,” and that she took “travel advances, expensing lavish parties and dinners,” and “personal vacations, which were paid with credit cards” issued in Sidelines’ name. Whittaker denies that allegation as well.

While “respectfully” refusing to comment for this story, in her sworn answers to Kildea’s lawsuit Whittaker takes the position that his allegations “are based upon and completely emanate from an alleged oral contract that is illegal and against public policy in the State of Florida.” She further denies his right to examine the corporation’s bookkeeping records.

To further complicate the Sidelines’ saga, Whittaker announced last August that she was moving the bar from its current location at 2031 Wilton Drive in Wilton Manors to a new location in Fort Lauderdale at 2104 E Oakland Park Blvd, the former location of the Jib Room.

In making the announcement, Whittaker noted that the new location will have nearly double the square footage of the current 3,600 square foot club, plus have kitchen facilities the present location lacks.

A story in the December 17, 2012 edition of the Agenda reported that, “Sidelines Sports Bar broke ground last week in their new location,” with the anticipated opening “in the early part of Winter 2013.” A visit to the site that once housed the Jib Room shows no sign of activity, and a thick blanket of dust covers unused kitchen equipment and duct work. Furthermore, the City of Fort Lauderdale has only a single open building permit for the site—one that has been active since 1998 for the construction of a dumpster enclosure.

Whittaker and Kildea’s landlord Tony Dee described an encounter with Whittaker while she was eating at the popular Tropics Restaurant and Piano Bar, which he owns.

According to Dee, he asked Whittaker about her plans to move out of his building, which houses the current Sidelines location and was told that she “hadn’t made up her mind what she was doing.” In that conversation, which Dee says took place within the past two weeks, Whittaker claimed that she might have two locations or might move.

“I hadn’t heard a word from her before that,” Dee said. “And I wanted to know about all the rumors I had heard, just like everybody else.”

Dee, who owns more than 40,000 square feet of space in Wilton Manors, added: “Laurie Whittaker is an excellent paying tenant.”

He said that he’s had multiple enquiries about the space and has tentatively agreed to lease it to “the guys from Bill’s,” if and when the property becomes available. The current lease runs through April 2014.  Kildea has also expressed interest in the property.

Regardless of the outcome of the suit or the eventual move of Sidelines, Dee told the Florida Agenda that there would soon be a sign advertising “3,600 square feet for rent” posted above the currently empty space next door to the bar.

As for Whittaker and Kildea, they are due back in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court this month.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *