Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/1/2009 (3034 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Then, a watermain burst, and the old bank's basement... which now houses gender-neutral washrooms and a coat check... was awash in three inches of murky water.
And Bev Claeys, manager of Club Desire, watched as the last three weeks of her bar's existence almost didn't happen. "We were really worried we weren't going to be able to open for New Year's or our last party," she says. "It's like there wasn't going to be any closure."
After 16 days of "shop vaccing," staff managed to dry Desire out. Just in time to close it down.
Even before the floodgates opened, the bar knew it would throw itself a goodbye party tonight, then take down its rainbow sign forever. The old bank (which once housed the Liquid Cabaret and Kairo) will reopen later this year with a new name and old ownership, but it will be decidedly straight.
The decision to close the club, which opened in 2003, was made in September, after a liquor law change pulled the plug on the club's famous after-hours parties. "There's no regrets," Claeys says of Desire's five years. "There's a sense of loss, and a sense of mourning. This was a completely different club than any other. It was like Vegas... what happened at Desire, stayed at Desire."
And with that, Winnipeg is left with two clubs with a combined capacity of about 500 to service its entire gay community.
Is it enough?
Nobody knows how many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people there are in Winnipeg. The census asks, but not everyone wants to disclose their orientation to the government. Signs of life: OutWords, Winnipeg's queer magazine, is read by 12,000 monthly, and the Rainbow Resource Centre had 36,000 contacts to its services in 2007. But generally speaking, most statistics find about 10 per cent of people fall somewhere on the queer spectrum, making Winnipeg's GLBT community roughly 60,000 strong.
Obviously, not all of those 60,000 people head to the bar on the weekends. Most are too professional, too married, too old, too young... or just not interested. But with a vibrant queer youth community and blossoming ranks of straight friends and allies, is 500 spaces enough to fill the need?
On one hand, Desire's evaporating dance floor suggests it is.
But Desire may not be the best weather vane for the queer community support. Co-owned by straight entrepreneurs Claeys, Sam Colosimo and Jack Salvaggio (who also run Blush Ultraclub), Desire's "straight-friendly" tagline made some uncomfortable. "Someone who's gone through the process of coming out, and experienced homophobia, they're able to create a space that's personal," says Lauren Bosc, the 19-year-old co-coordinator of the University of Winnipeg's LGBT association. "Not, 'let's read about what gay lifestyle's all about and create a bar for it.' Desire unfortunately became this place for people who weren't out, or weren't queer at all. The atmosphere wasn't as gay-friendly as I hoped it would be."
Claeys shrugs off those concerns, pointing to the club's longevity (five years is an eternity in the bar business) as proof of enduring support. And though the owners aren't gay, most of Desire's staff are (and, as those who saw their Heaven and Hell float at the 2008 Pride parade will attest, sometimes gleefully so). The club frequently hosted drag shows, same-sex wedding receptions and other community events.
Either way, Claeys is right: gay ownership may not have saved Desire, just like it didn't save Ms. Purdy's (1974-2002) or mainstay Happenings, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2003 by shutting down. When those spaces died, they were the oldest lesbian and gay bars in Canada, respectively. "Historically, club life in Winnipeg isn't all that supported," says Rainbow Resource Centre executive director Shelly Smith. "Manitoba has proven difficult for business, and a number of queer ventures haven't done so well."
When Ms. Purdy's closed, the media pointed to "the growth of gay/lesbian community, in which there are now more options" as an explanation. How's this for options: of the two remaining queer clubs, both are generally seen as predominantly male spaces. Gio's holds Womyn's Night once a month, which Bosc and her friends invariably attend; beyond that, Winnipeg's queer scene is a far cry from the gay villages of Montreal or Toronto, where you can find everything from a GLBT jazz lounge to a lesbian rock club.
But it's not just about diversity in entertainment: limited options can make any average twentysomething's social life tricky.
"If I go to Gio's, because everyone who wants to go out has to go there, there's a 100 per cent chance that I'm going to run into someone I don't want to run into," Bosc says with a sigh.
So there is an opportunity for another queer club, especially one that caters to the consistently underserved queer female population. But will anyone take it?
"It's always this dream. People at the LGBT association always say, 'We're going to open a cafe by day, lesbian nightclub by night,'" says Bosc, who is a member of a Facebook group called Winnipeg Needs A Dyke Bar/Pub/Lounge. "Everyone would be really into that. But it's a lot of wishing."
In other words: don't hold your breath.
"We'll support the endeavours people come up with, but nobody has the energy to want to do it," says Smith. "I can't see anything serious happening in terms of a bar-based business."
Club Desire closes tonight with a "drink the bar dry" shindig. Cover is $2.50 at the door; there will be drink specials and a performance by Vancouver female impersonator Lucy Lube.