GayCalgary® Magazine [copy]

The Calgary Eagle

Calgary’s only leather bar talks about their closure and plans for the future

Community by Rob Diaz-Marino (From GayCalgary® Magazine, August 2012, page 14)

Shortly after the Rodeo long weekend last month, the owners of the Calgary Eagle officially announced the news that the bar was being forced to vacate its perch of nearly 11 years, at 424a 8th Avenue Southwest.  At the time, the owners were still deciding how to deal with the situation.  Out of respect, GayCalgary Magazine held off interviewing them until now so that they could get further along in finalizing plans and decide on the details they wished to share with our LGBT readership.

GayCalgary Magazine sat down to talk with one of the Calgary Eagle’s original founders and owners, Ron Scheetz, and his partner and fellow owner Johnathan Finlayson.  The two were still talking excitedly about their recent trip to San Francisco for the International Leather Sir/Leather Boy competition.  The Calgary Eagle had held a feeder competition for the title of Western Canadian Leather Sir/Leather Boy last year, and the two of them were out supporting those title holders in the greater competition.

"These guys represent the leather world down in San Francisco, they represent Western Canada, which is Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and BC," explains Finlayson.  "Sir Marc and Boy Daniel/Pup Hoover...they were so incredible in San Francisco.  I wish more people from the community could have come down and seen these two.  All we get from there is you Canadians, in how we respect each other and how they displayed their skill sets...we were so proud."

Then the conversation turned to the more serious issue – the closure of the Calgary Eagle.  With so many LGBT bars, clubs and businesses failing across the continent, the owners were quick to explain that their situation was exceptional.

"We’re not closing because we went broke," Scheetz clarifies.  "...We’re fine and we’re making money.  I don’t want people to think that another gay business went broke, because we didn’t and we’re not."

"Calgary Municipal land management bought the building and said we are terminating the lease," adds Finlayson.  "End of story.  That is as much as we’ve been able to pull from them.  ...The whole building is being vacated."  This includes the residential tenants on the upper floor, and the Song Writer’s club in the basement.

Scheetz says the City would not disclose to them directly what they intend to do with the building once it has been vacated, however, the City’s plans to revitalize the East Village, where the Calgary Eagle is located, have certainly not been a secret.  Patrons to the Calgary Eagle have needed to divert around obstacles caused by construction that sometimes changed daily.  Late last year, 8th Avenue was cordoned off for their whole block, making the back entrance the only way to access their business.

"We knew it was going to happen.  We knew that they were trying to buy the building and the landlord was saying no.  But we all knew that if you put enough zeroes on that cheque, that he was going to go," states Scheetz.  "We were surprised because I didn’t think it was going to happen for another two years...but I guess they finally came to him with what he wanted and off he went with it."

Ron says they did consider their options to keep the bar alive, but decided not to pursue them.

"There’s no use fighting with a landlord that doesn’t want us here in the first place.  That just means 3 or 5 years more of them fighting with us and us fighting with them, that’s not going to work."

While the situation is not ideal, Finlayson says the arrangement was still conducted in a way that was fair to them.

"It’s all been above board and respectful on both sides.  ...They were respectful of us and things that were already set and in motion.  ...It’s disappointing and sad, just because of our investment of time and energy and what we believe in."

Publicly available city planning information isn’t clear on exactly what will become of the building, however it appears that it will be right in between two major projects: the new Central Library which will straddle the C-train tracks to the west, and the Hilton Hotel in the empty lot to the north.

"This is going to be a high-end neighbourhood; they don’t want a gay leather bar," Ron concedes.

"Not even the hottest leather bar [in Calgary]", Finlayson jokes.  "We don’t seem to fit the vision of the East village, which is fine."

Coming to terms with this complication triggered a lot of thought on the part of the owners.

"It’s been a great 10+ years.  ...We sat back and had a lot of reflection after this and the amount of money that was raised with the community and for the community is astronomical.  The Bar prides itself on being part of the community, thinking outside the box at times, being inclusive and evolving as best we can.  When times were tough, we still stuck it out."

However, not all is lost.  Soon after the news was first announced, rumours emerged that the bar might be seeking a new location.  We asked Ron and Johnathan to tell us as much as they could about their plans.

"We’re still looking at our prospects.  It came fast, furious, we dealt with what we had to deal with and we’re still looking at our options," says Finlayson.

They hinted at the possibility of reopening the bar in a new location, if a reasonable option presents itself.  Otherwise they say they may put the franchised name out to tender for another party to carry the torch.

"We’re not giving [your readers] a whole lot of information but we’re trying to be respectful to the people that are looking to move the bar or the name somewhere, and I don’t want to give their bag away," Scheetz states.

Only one thing is for certain:  "If there is another Eagle...I won’t be there," says Scheetz.  "Unless I could pull a shift or two just for the fun of it.  But I’ve had my moment and I’m done.  ...[I want to] just relax, take life easy, spend some time on the other side of the bar for a while."

No matter what the future holds, Finlayson and Scheetz explain that the bar has created a legacy that will live on in the community.

"Ronnie’s vision of this bar when it first came about ... was about a bar with integrity and forward thinking.  I believe that we’ve tried to carry that forward over the years.  I think the bar has evolved.  I’m very proud – I think the community can be proud of themselves as well.  We’ve got to thank everyone through all the years for coming here and supporting us.  We hope to continue to be representing the community in some way in the next while.  We want to protect and support SHARP and AIDS Calgary and the Court and ARGRA...we feel we have an obligation."

Scheetz adds, "Whether or not there is an Eagle next year, there certainly will still be a Calgary Eagle Rodeo Team."

The Calgary Eagle has planned for their last day of operation to be Sunday, September 2nd, during the Labour Day long weekend.  This date coincides with the Calgary Pride Parade and Street Festival.

"...We want to go out on a nice day, which will be Pride," says Scheetz.

On that day they will be having a Pancake Breakfast at 9am, open the bar at 11am, and party through until 2am.  This will be the last opportunity for customers to enjoy the space.  Those wanting to own a piece of the Calgary Eagle will have the unique opportunity to purchase the remaining copies of the original Calgary Eagle souvenir poster for a donation to charity.

"I feel pretty confident that there’ll be an Eagle again," says Scheetz in his closing thoughts.

Adds Finlayson, "I personally look back and go wow, what have we accomplished as a small business, and just some guys in the community.  We as a small family have really rallied to do what we could.  Without the support of the community and without the support of each other, a lot of things wouldn’t have happened.  So all we can do is tip our hat to the community and say thanks, and we all go forward."(GC)

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