Has it really been 10 years since Fly first opened its doors? It doesn’t seem so long ago that you could buy glowsticks at the bar along with your $4 bottle of water. Remember how outrageous that price seemed at first? Remember how it didn’t matter once you hit the dancefloor?
“The idea behind Fly was you could only go four times a month, 52 times a year — that was it. It was meant to be that special-event destination club. And it worked perfectly,” says general manager Gaelen Patrick, who’s been with the club almost from the beginning. “It came on the scene when the circuit party was exploding and there were plenty of different things keeping people going. Since then it just kept going and going and going and 10 years later here we are.”
Patrick has been a part of the Fly family for eight years, starting off as a bar manager and working his way up. Hailing from Hamilton, he got his start at a local club called Crush. But small-town life wasn’t enough. Packing up, he headed to the Big Smoke and sent out a stack of resumés. Fly was the first place to call him back.
So what exactly does Patrick do to make your not-so-typical night out memorable? “Can you just put in big capital letters ‘everything,’” he says with a laugh. He works closely with hosts Charles Pavia, Walther and Gairy Brown and with resident DJ Shawn Riker, who’s been with the club from the beginning.
Indeed, Fly was conceived of by Riker, who brought his dream to life with the help of original owners Carmen Sebastian and Diamond Dave (who once ran the all-male strip club on Yonge St, Fantasies). At the height of its halcyon days Fly was bought out by power couple Michael Schwarz, Keir MacRae and circuit-boy-gone-good Ian Malcolm.
“One of the reasons I love my job is I really have a complete and open door to do whatever I want with the venue,” says Patrick. “I meet with the owners once a week and the last thing on their minds is the bottom line. Of course they want the venue to be a financial success, but believe it or not — and this is not true for most night clubs — the owners are more concerned with the guests’ experience than anything else.
“When I see the club packed and I see people dancing with smiles on their faces and their arms in the air and guys are making out, I love it.”
The party scene has gone through many changes; Fly has had to adjust with the times. “It was insane in the beginning. We started with the shirts-off crazy circuit guys where the club was so packed,” Patrick recalls. “Now it’s nothing like it used to be, but it’s still going strong.”
The club used to pack in 1,200 people every Saturday night; now the number is closer to 800.
“That’s probably the most frustrating thing about my job and I’ve really had to develop a thick skin and just do my best,” he says. “The club is still fun, but it’s not the wall-to-wall people we once got. So by us opening up on Fridays and doing a different twist — like Dance Camp, Grapefruit or Besharam — it’s allowed us to cater to more than just one crowd. Before we started our DiverCity Fridays there was a section of the gay scene that didn’t go to Fly because they thought it was a just a ‘drug’ bar.”
And that transition has been wildly successful. Dance Camp, what many consider Fly retro (because you can year the tunes they used to play when the club first opened), is now three years old, while the über-popular Grapefruit just celebrated six years.
Most of the original “Fly guys” have since settled down with a partner, bought a condo and moved on. Over the last 10 years more and more gay party options have developed in Toronto — the west end has exploded and the east end seems to be following suit. All this choice has certainly diversified the audience.
“For Toronto to still have its main gay club — that’s not falling apart and instead still going strong — I think that’s a huge thing and I think in part it’s because we keep giving back to our clientele,” says Patrick.
Be sure to join superstar Sofonda and her hot go-go boys, Brazilian mega-DJ Ana Paula, veteran resident DJs Riker and Mark Falco and of course Patrick as they celebrate a decade of decadence. The party goes until 8am, so be sure to bring your dancing shoes.