On February 23, The Calgary Eagle will celebrate two years in business by throwing a party for their loyal customers. Free food, drink specials, a bootblack, DJ RMG as well as two masseuses who will be donating money earned to charity. It’s all a special thank you to the customers who have supported Alberta’s only Leather & Levi bar.
It’s been a great two years for owners Ron Scheetz, Barry Gagliardi and Christine Baker. Gaycalgary.com met up recently with Scheetz and Gagliardi who reflected back on how the Eagle was hatched.
"Christine and I were sitting down talking and thought it would be a good idea. We saw a niche in the market that wasn’t being used since Trax had closed, and we decided to fill the gap," said Scheetz. They chose to target a different crowd from other establishments. "It’s a different attitude and feel. Every bar has to have something different, and the three of us come from that background, so it made sense to do it. As well, I would go to places like San Francisco, Chicago or even Vancouver and see guys from Calgary out in their leathers having a good time, but they didn’t do it here. So I felt it was time to provide a space for them."
They had a daunting task ahead of them. Many businesses gay and straight struggle and fail. Other gay owned businesses in Calgary are well established and have deep roots, but talk quickly spread through the community about the new kid on the block, which helped them from the get-go.
"The Leather/Levi thing caught peoples interest. The fact that we aren’t a dance bar and were going in the L/L direction really got people talking," said Scheetz.
Added Gagliardi "It’s become a "mans man" bar. It is about men who are cruising for other men to socialize and talk with. The music isn’t loud; it is in the background, so we are a very social place."
It is not just the fetish aspect of the bar that appeals to people. The owners have worked hard to create an environment that was comfortable and friendly, truly being a "people bar." The main bar is decorated with eagle sculptures collected from around the world and donated by patrons. As well, many of the posters that decorate the two sides of the bar were donated. Not charging cover also adds to the homey feeling.
"That was the idea Christine and I had when we first started. We felt really offended when we walked into a bar and had to pay to sit down and have a beer. Bars should belong to the people; it’s their space and bar where they come to relax. You shouldn’t feel like you have to pay to go. The idea was to say, ‘This is your bar, and you don’t have to pay to come in.’"
The Eagle is also the only male-oriented bar to have a menu. Standard finger food like chicken wings, nacho’s and pizza are popular as well as their "Get Boned" promotion of two big beef bones with salad & a bun. One Sunday each month they offer Momma "G’s" Dinner, in the summer it is a BBQ, while February 29th will feature a Roast Pork Dinner. Although the license from the ALCB requires them to sell food that is not the only reason why they put in the effort to create their home cooked meals. Food helps people be social; they can come in, grab a bite to eat and talk.
The other big draw is their fetish nights. Changing weekly, it can range from kilts to uniforms, leather to harnesses.
"It shakes things up a bit and adds variety. None of this is compulsory; you can get in regardless," said Ron. "There are guys who dress up every week in the different themes, and guys who have their preferred fetish and only come those nights."
"The Uniform night is very popular. Guys like to dress up, and it is very masculine to dress up in this way. The clientele is often different on those nights. For example we have "Hot Ash Night" for cigar smokers, but they may not necessarily want to dress up in leather," added Barry.
To many in the gay community who may not be familiar with an environment like the Eagle, there may be a negative connotation to the idea of a Leather Bar. Barry and Ron were eager to clear up a few misconceptions.
"Some people may have the concern that we will strip them naked and tie them to a wall or other misconceptions, like if you come you have to dress in full leather. That isn’t the case, and people have realized that after two years. We have a good mix of people, young and old," said Ron.
As well, those looking to meet new and interesting people can do so at the Eagle. There are dozens of independently owned Eagle establishments around the world, so when people hear the name they immediately know where they are going.
"If you have an eagle in your city or know what an eagle is you know what the place is going to be like. An Eagle is a leather/levy bar built for cruising, fun, respect and friendship. All the different bars around the world keep the same attitudes," Sheetz said. Gagliardi enjoys the diversity.
"We see new people come through the door every day. A lot of Europeans come here because they know what leather bars are, and they are a lot more common over there. People from Germany, Australia, the UK and so many other countries check us out to see what we are like."
Community involvement is also a vital part of the Eagle. They have invited the I.S.C.C.A. to hold fundraising pool tournaments. They have several draws a year where patrons can win a leather jacket, and sell a yearly calendar featuring local patrons. The proceeds go to the SHARP foundation, the bar’s charity of choice. Barry expressed the reasons for the choice.
"We feel there is a real need to support SHARP (Shared Housing of Aids Related Patients) since they have faced cutbacks. The Calendar is so important because it is real men from Calgary who come in and do them. They know what they are doing is worthwhile because everyone knows someone who has been affected by HIV." There is a fine line about fundraising that the Eagle is careful not to cross. "You have to be careful because if guys are feeling that there is a fundraiser all the time; they get tired of that. You can overdo fundraising to the point where people don’t want to come anymore."
As Calgary’s gay community grows, and the Eagle grows, they have many plans that could be implemented in the next few years. They are considering adding a dance floor, but are also eager to start to raise the profile of Alberta’s Leather Community through participation in various events.
"In the next few years, I’d like to see us do a Mr. Eagle Calgary Leather and send the winner to the International Mr. Leather competition in Chicago or contest in Vancouver or Toronto," said Sheetz. "We are always trying to get candidates for that; hopefully it will come to fruition."
Like any bar or restaurant, the Eagle’s success boils down simply to it’s clients. Without the support of the community, there would be no Eagle.
"Our customers get the credit for our success. They guy and girls walked in the door the first day and kept coming back. It’s not so much what we have done, but what they have done for us," concluded Ron. "They put a smile on my face. Thanks to our customers and staff for getting us to two years."