Recent news reports in the mainstream media sensationalized Paul Vickers’ plan to open a gay bar with the working title “Options”. This announcement came as things started looking grim for Vickers’ prospects of reopening his infamous bar Cowboys in its originally planned location on 4th Avenue and 5th Street, just north of Five Hotel. Options was presented as an alternative for the space, but after meeting with equal resistance from his opponents, Vickers decided to withdraw his appeal to the City Planning Board.
“They said it didn’t matter what the name is, a bar is a bar is a bar, and when I said it was Options they just hit the roof!” said Vickers in an interview with GayCalgary and Edmonton Magazine on the day of Cowboys’ launch. “They reconvened, had special meetings, didn’t know how to deal with me, called the situation a circus. I had already told them that Cowboys is already opening over here [in the Coyotes space] – do you think I’m just going to come back and open up Cowboys there? This show is over, Cowboys is already done.”
“Opening [Options] at that location was a good idea – too good. The Five Suites Hotel has been a sponsor of the Gay Rodeo and other different events in the past. It would have been a place to have a good networking relationship right there and then with them.”
We asked Vickers if he still had plans for the controversial location.
“It’s hard to say, I’m not ruling it out, and I’m not ruling it in. We’re going to review all of it – I’ve got six months to go through it, I’m going to review my processes and discussions and see the different resistance, and we’re going to scale down in size and see how that runs by the venues. To say in the next while that I won’t open it somewhere else – don’t be surprised if I do!”
Vickers took the time to fill us in on some of the past history that lead to his concept for Options, as well as commenting on past rumors about his sexuality. Today the business man is happily married with children, but attributes the start of the rumors to an incident in Edmonton in the 90’s where, as a bar manager he decided to hire a gay man that he felt was the best candidate for the job. This upset the homophobic views of many of his colleagues.
“I got ostracized from the community by certain people that didn’t like that I did that, and gave me a hard time. They started throwing accusations for the whole time - and still to the day right now - they would call me gay and call me names, and send emails to me saying mean things about being gay that I’m sure your readers can all identify with. …It didn’t bother me but it wasn’t until recently when I had children that people stopped bugging me about it.”
“Over the years in the nightclub business I’ve met tons of [gay] people…and that’s where the history of Options came from – of course I had the gay friends and they said ‘why don’t you open up a gay bar’ and they’ve always asked that of me. And when Cowboys wasn’t going to go there…my interest was then what kind of place to put in there – when they scale me back in size, what kind of venue can I put in there and be successful? I chatted, and [Options] was a perfect one, and I put [the idea] out there.”
Vickers’ announcement sent ripples of discussion through Calgary’s GLBT community. GayCalgary launched an online poll asking the community if they were supportive of the idea. As of press, 77% voted in favour, while 13% were against it, and 10% were unsure. We asked Vickers what kind of support he had seen from the gay community over the past month.
“I had a lot of support from the Gay Community, all emailing me and phoning me, wanting jobs and to talk about the new place – how I was going to do it and what kind of venue I’m going to open. Some competitors didn’t like it very much but that’s business.”
The plan to open a high end gay club puts Vickers in the same business arena as the Twisted Element, who currently enjoy a monopoly on Calgary’s gay dance scene. In two Calgary Herald articles last month, club owner Rayjean Fafard was skeptical of Vicker’s motivations, and the ability for a straight man to properly own and operate a gay bar. We asked what Vickers thought of Fafard’s belief that straight individuals do not have the capacity to run gay establishments.
“I guess we’ll find out, won’t we? …He can have his opinion, that’s the beauty about this country. I know gay guys that own straight bars that are pretty darn good.”
Our research on this matter turned up that currently at least two out of the four smaller Calgary bars are owned or operated in part by straight individuals. In Calgary’s recent past, the Midnight Café and the Rekroom are further examples of long-standing and successful GLBT establishments with heavy community involvement, owned in full or in part by straight individuals. Former Midnight Café owner Debbie Leong remains a prominent volunteer with the ISCCA to date.
Vickers contests that although his many business endeavors have not specifically targeted a GLBT audience, his work with the community in general has overlapped with many GLBT causes. In fact, just last month the Vagina Monologues raved about the success of Femme Fatale Carnivale at Tantra Nightclub – an event with strong lesbian attendance.
“Look around right now, I’ve already had a ton of sponsorships of different gay events. I couldn’t even count how many gay events I’ve held at my different bars that I’ve owned over the last 10 years in Alberta and Vancouver.”
While Vickers cannot yet be certain about the where and when, the cries of support from the GLBT community seem to have strengthened his resolve to pursue the idea for Options. How much does he spend to build a bar, anyway?
“Sometimes even 5-6 million depending on which bar we have and how much work needs to be done. I’m going to put a first-class bar together and it’s going to have the best of the best and the latest and greatest of everything, and it’s going to be front and center.”
He relates that he has seen gay bars rise to the top in their city. “[Options] can be the top bar in Calgary, why can’t it be? …What’s wrong with us having the top bar in Calgary as a Gay Bar? I think it would be a good thing for Calgary, and a great thing for me as a business man.”
In the meantime, he reiterates that his establishments continue to welcome community functions in need of upscale venues. Event organizers need only contact the individual venues, or Director of Sales and Marketing, Scarlet Lee.
“It’s a great business relationship that we’ve had with the community in the past and we want to maintain that and expand upon it when the opportunities are there.”
Director of Sales and Marketing
Penny Lane Entertainment Group
Penny Lane Entertainment Group