How Toronto’s Gay Village Has Evolved Through The Years

Welcome to the Gay Village. (Photos courtesy of Mitchel Raphael)

Toronto’s queer village, known simply as The Village or by its famous intersection, Church & Wellesley, has been a longtime source for LGBT nightlife. Pillars of the community, those who guard the doors to debauchery and pour the drinks for dykes, dandies, daddies and drag queens, have witnessed the scene morph over the decades.

Bar manager Patricia has worked at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre even before it moved to its home in The Village 25 years ago. The space at 12 Alexander St. started with their Saturday club night originally called Sissy Saturdays. That epic night was created by DJ Daniel Paquette. Since then both the name and night have greatly evolved.

Patricia provides the spirits, love and wisdom at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

The cabaret space it’s held in is called Tallulah’s, named after legendary screen actress Tallulah Bankhead. Most people don’t know that is what it’s called, notes Patricia. Often on a Saturday night people just say, “Let’s go to Buddies,” and it’s known as a super fun night out.

Originally the Buddies crowd was mostly creative types. They were what would be today in Toronto called the Queer West scene, the artist folks who cluster on Queen St. West at bars like The Beaver or The Gladstone Hotel.

“It’s expensive to live in the Village,” says Patricia, adding, “Many Millennials can’t afford to live downtown.” Back in the day, many of the Saturday partygoers lived in or near the area.

One of the drag shows on the infamous stairs at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Patricia says the drinks of choice at Buddies are vodka and gin. “Always has been, always will be.” But the shots have changed to tequila whereas before they used to be Peppermint Schnapps, Sambuca and Butter Ripple. The drinks are always a deal though:

“We are a theatre always filled with artists.”

Saturday nights now include three sets of drag queen shows. Before there was just one. Most performers still choose to enter the space from the famous staircase.

As things evolved from the night’s early days some of the gay men brought more of their straight female friends. Patricia wanted to make sure the place stayed comfortable for the queers, so she started playing hardcore gay porn on the TV behind the bar. “I wanted to weed out the ones who couldn’t stand it.”

The spanking paddle wall at The Black Eagle.

But things changed again. In a post-same-sex marriage Canada, gay Millennials complained about the porn and so the XXX went O.U.T.

The hardcore porn is still going strong at the Black Eagle, although one of the TV screens is often dedicated to local news channel CP24. “It’s nice to know when it’s -12 Celsius outside,” notes Chris, who has been working gay club doors, security and coat checks for decades.

In 1988, he was at the legendary Toronto gay bar Chaps. He also spent several years in drag performing as Crystal Lite. He is now at the Black Eagle, traditionally referred to as Toronto’s leather and denim bar. For over two decades the crowd tended to be older and for some was seen as quite an intimidating space.

Much effort went into renovating the Eagle a few years ago. The space at 457 Church St. now has a great dance floor in the back. A wall of spanking paddles lines the staircase which leads to the second floor where a spectacular patio can be found. “There isn’t any cheap shit here,” notes Chris. If Martha Stewart was a dominatrix she would say, “It’s a good thing.”

DJ Sumation at Fly 2.0.

The average age at the Eagle has dropped drastically. Folks looking “for something with a little edge find a home here,” says Chris. Incredible nights happen there like DJ Dwayne Minard’s Daddy Next Door, a Sunday ’80s retro night, human puppy fetish nights, underwear appreciation evenings and a naked night “with all body types,” says Chris. “It’s incredibly non-judgmental. People who are in the pup world or underwear world have a place to celebrate and have a little social intercourse.”

The bedrock of gay dancing can be found at Fly 2.0, which resurrected itself a few years ago when it was just fly (with a lowercase ‘f’).

Sonia, the current head of security, has been there for all of its 19 years. She has watched as the club evolved from mostly muscle men into a much more diverse crowd. That said, one can always count on a good chuck of shirtless Adonises sweating on the dance floor.

The focus of Fly 2.0 is now on the incredible local DJ talent Toronto has to offer. Such legends as DJ Sumation, founder of the night AsianXpress, as well as DJ Mark Falco and DJ Geoff Kelleway, drive the packed crowds into a frenzy. International DJs will come in for special events and sensational Australian drag queen/DJ Kitty Glitter spins a few times of year in full drag.

Drag queen Mona Moore in the dressing room at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

In the early days, the few women who came to the club at 8 Gloucester St. were always accompanied by their posse of gay men. According to Sonia women will now come on their own. There has even been the odd stagette. Some women try to hit on the gay men. But they are told, as Glinda said to the Wicked Witch of the West, “You have no power here.”

Another major change is that more gay couples come to Fly 2.0, which has its pitfalls when Security Sonia must become Social Worker Sonia. Tears have literally been shed on her shoulder when guys would say their boyfriend was making out with another guy. “Better you find out now you are not exclusive,” Sonia would note with a sympathetic tone.

As the tears dried up, she would point inside and then say, “Honey, you have 500 other boys in there to pick from.”

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