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GayCalgary® Magazine

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One Year Later

New or Improved Bars in Calgary & Edmonton

Business Spotlight by Evan Kayne (From GayCalgary® Magazine, September 2011, page 35)
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Club Sapien - Calgary

A year ago, when Club Sapien opened in Calgary, "...the community was so excited to have another option and...another business that’s really interested in working with our local community groups," Mike Gray, manager of Sapien told GayCalgary & Edmonton Magazine. These local groups (such as ARGRA, Apollo, Pride Calgary, the Sharp Foundation, and AIDS Calgary to name a few) are getting great support from the existing bars, but they just need more. "And we were more than happy to step into that role."

As Sapien has a restaurant side with a full menu, they’ve also seen crowds coming in earlier than what’s typical in most other clubs. "People know that early in the night they can come out and we’ll have a good group that’s here."  Yet Mike is also looking at events later in the night to keep the crowds. "Now we’ve got more events going on later into the night and really focusing on that nightclub side (of Sapien) we’re finding people that are here earlier are staying."

Furthermore, they are making changes to the club layout. "We’re doing some partitions – private rooms. We’re changing some of the layouts and flow of the room to make it feel more nightclubish when we’re in our nightclub hours. We’ve built up some go-go dancing platforms, tonnes of improvements to the dance floor...you can sit from almost anywhere in the room and still see the hot boys dancing up on the speakers and still enjoy the view."

Speaking of hot boys, Mike is happy to see the new go-go boy contest become unbelievably popular. "It goes up by multiples every week, and the boys are sexier every week, and the crowd is loving it more and more." Furthermore, Sapien has some great plans for Calgary Pride this year: "we have a guest DJ here from Miami. We’ve got some of the Ice Cream Truck Boys coming in for our Friday night party. We’ve got Brent Everett who’s going to be here on Sunday of Pride to sign some autographs."

Furthermore, he does encourage couch potatoes to come out – whether it be for the nightclub, or for a bite to eat at the restaurant. Many people are huge moral supporters – which is wonderful. That being said, he’d love to see you show "moral support" in person, which, from the increasing numbers, seems to be happening.

"Overall we’ve given Calgary a choice, and it’s up to them to accept that choice...or not. The more people come out, the more people bring their friends out with them, the more we know we’re on the right track."

The Backlot - Calgary

When the Backlot opened up 15 years ago, Calgary’s club scene was different – Boyztown was two doors down, and Detours was 7 blocks away on 17th Avenue. Both of those venues are gone, but The Backlot continues on as a popular community pub, and celebrates a year under the management of the new owners Mark Campbell and Ward Sobry.

Backlot, out of all the bars in this article, has the greatest continuity. That may be because according to Ward, "both of us have been working here for quite a period of time." Since the change in ownership, the reception has been all good, Mark told me. "Totally positive support...everyone has banded together to help us out." And in return, they’ve helped a lot of charity events going on.

For example, the two recent Drag Queen H2O events have been very successful at helping raise funds. Backlot wants to continue helping local community groups, through fundraisers or even if it’s just booking the upstairs room (if it’s for a group of 15 people or more, they’ll give "Happy Hour" pricing for the night).

Regulars have loved that the boys have kept what made Backlot a great bar. Of course, as Mark mentions, they are doing small things over time to improve the bar. When they first reopened, their major focus was to redo the whole patio. Since then, "...we’ve done a lot of little things...every three months we plan on doing one thing different and upgrading the place. Eventually when we have the bar paid off we’re going to do some major renovations."

As for future events, Mark and Ward were fairly tight-lipped – they prefer to keep those plans secret until they announce it and invite everyone down to party. However, one recent event that made a big impression on the boys was the Backlot to Boyztown Reunion party just before Western Cup this year. The event was so well received that they are considering planning something similar to occur with Western Cup 2012. No firm plans as of yet, so stay tuned.

FAB Bar - Calgary

It has been a year since the old Money-pennies was renamed FAB bar. Owner Jason Wheeler told us that "financially we’re up year over year...we’ve had very good feedback about our new menu and the changes we’ve made to our atmosphere." So the alterations were positively received.

The name wasn’t the only thing to transform. The upper patio deck and roof below it were redone.  While these were essential renovations, they included things (plumbing, electrical, the roof) people don’t usually notice. Renovations to the building are necessary if FAB is to be around for years, Jason says. "I have to do this properly. I’m here for the long haul, not for quick profit and run. I believe to support the community I have to be viable." Yet changing the identity of the bar to start a new legacy was always a crucial part of his goal. Other noticeable improvements include the adoption of a new menu, which has been well-received.

Jason also has the advantage of a new C-Train station being constructed almost directly behind his establishment. The area will see more bus traffic, which will drastically increase walk-by traffic. Consequently they’ve made some changes to security, but also gayed it up a bit with the lights and the gay flag to identify FAB as a gay bar. "Anyone else is welcome to join, but it’s going to be in our space on our terms."

Future plans? FAB will be starting their own in-house gay dart league this year to get something different going. Additionally, "I’ve got someone working on a speed-dating program...just trying to offer the community different things." Yet a lot of what has been successful will remain.

Furthermore, "we’re working closer with Pride...we have signed on as a Platinum sponsor with the rodeo (ARGRA), so we’ll be sponsoring all the rodeo dances with our food...give people a sample of our FAB food."

The biggest thing for FAB will be this year’s Pride festival. "I’m really determined to help our community get Pride spread out so it’s not just condensed into one day." FAB’s own Pride celebrations run over 4 days: September 1st to 4th. They will have live bands and they really want to have people make a weekend of it.

Finally, Jason thinks that while we shouldn’t limit ourselves to the community, we should try to support it. "The amount that we eat out in Calgary and in Canada...just go on the percentage of that 10%. Just go to a gay place to eat [at least] 10% of the time."  If you do that, you will have community support and these bars in turn can help the community to exist and grow.

FLASH - Edmonton

It has been over a year since Flash opened their doors. I spoke with Larissa and Ross from Flash about their experience. "On a Saturday night, we have a really good response," Ross says. As for Friday, well...even after all this time, there’s still the Friday/Saturday 2 bar split, as Larissa told me: "both of us used to work at Play, and it was the same thing there...everyone was at Buddy’s on Friday and at Play on Saturday." According to them, if you go to the wrong bar on the wrong night, you’ll be the only one there. Yet, FLASH is appreciative of the loyalty of the existing crowds, Larisa said, telling me that "Saturday nights are still the same hugely fun nights."

However, their Fridays have picked up recently with their "Triple Threat" promotion, so there is hope people will realize it is possible to live in a city the size of Edmonton and support two nightclubs. And it’s not like they haven’t had some successes. Recently they held the Pure Pride kickoff party, and in the past they’ve hosted some events for the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose, and other fundraisers.

Larissa told me they want to continue working with the community. They’ve always made the space available for groups to come and use; they want to strengthen that so more groups consider FLASH in the future. "Our game plan for next year is to develop a stronger relationship with the community in general."

Another great event FLASH does well, Ross told me, are their fashion shows. "The last fashion show we did here was a huge success. Every three months I’ll continue to do fashion shows here." In the future they’re looking to get more designers involved. In fact, the next show on September 23rd will be targeted at students as a "Back to School" Fashion show.

Finally, like other clubs, Ross and Larissa didn’t want to spring too many details about upcoming events, but they did want everyone to know FLASH will be doing some renovations in the Fall. "The bar will be under major renovations," explained Ross. "Our dancefloor here is small...I will admit it, but with the renovations we’re hoping to more than double our dance floor." At this point they’re waiting on the okay from the City of Edmonton to make the updates, but if all goes well, it will be a bigger, brighter FLASH than before.

The Junction – Edmonton

Former Prism owners Deborah Chymyshyn and Tracey Smith took over the space that was occupied by Boots n’ Saddles and the Garage restaurant. In the year since, Deborah told me, "we have gotten a great response...very very positive."

Regretfully, she admits she has heard some complaints: "We have heard comments like Oh, it’s just Boots with a new paintjob." Which isn’t necessarily true. First off, as a wood frame building which has been under continuous use for 30-40 years, Deborah discovered there were some issues.

"What happened is that we ended up spending most of our budget that we had earmarked for doing some really nice renovations...we ended up having to do a lot of behind the scene maintenance and repairs." That has been hard for Deborah, because people don’t outwardly see these kinds of improvements.

The Junction is a work in progress, and as such we’re asked to be patient, Deborah says. "The more people in the community that come out to our establishment and support us, the better chance we have to increase our budget and make those changes." Remember it is a gay heritage site to a certain degree – it was Boots n’ Saddles for 30 years. Sometimes with an older building, time is needed to rebuild.

Happily, they do want the Junction to succeed because they know the space gives back to the community. "The Junction has always been a space we want to offer to the community to come and use...in the way they see best. There’s a lot of community groups we have welcomed and invited to come and have their meetings and their social gatherings at the Junction."

Which is evidenced by the fact the Imperial Court in Edmonton has made good use of the Junction, along with other groups like the Pride Center, Womonspace, HIV Edmonton, MacEwan Diversity Project, and Team Edmonton among others.

For this, Deborah wants to recognize, and thank. "We’re really all about the community and we’re all about creating that space where everyone can come together."(GC)

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