A late-winter festival is coming to Vancouver’s gay village, thanks to the inspiration of one Davie St bar manager.
James Steck, who directs operations at Numbers, The Oasis and Sugar Daddy’s, first had the idea for a gay Mardi Gras celebration years ago, but felt that 2006 was the right time to bring his idea to life.
“When I was on the board of directors for the BIA [Davie Village Business Improvement Association], this was something I pitched,” he recalls.
Steck says the BIA let the idea fall “by the wayside” after he left the board last fall. Undeterred, he decided to move forward himself. He called Celebrities manager Ross Pascuzzo. “We got together and said, ‘Okay, what do you think we can do? We should do this ourselves.'”
The resulting event will take place on Fri Feb 24 in all the Village’s gay bars and clubs, and will feature special wristbands that can be bought in advance at Little Sister’s and Priape for $10. All proceeds raised from the sale of the wristbands will go towards The Centre on Bute St.
“Anyone wearing a wristband on that day can go to any of the locations and receive something,” Steck says. “So if you go to Oasis, Sugar Daddy’s or the Fountainhead, you’ll get 20 percent off of your food. If you go to Numbers, Celebrities and Odyssey, you don’t pay cover, and anyone with a wristband will get line privileges, they get straight to the front of the line. Go to the PumpJack and get line privileges.
“So, no matter where you go, there is some sort of benefit value. If you’re smart, you’ll go have dinner somewhere and then you go to the clubs and you’ll probably get more value than what you spent.”
It’ll be fun, Steck enthuses. “People are always looking for something fun to do. All they need is an excuse. This is the perfect excuse.”
As for the unprecedented level of collaboration among the community’s gay bars and clubs, Steck says, “It wasn’t very difficult at all. It was making a few phone calls, pitching the idea, and asking if they wanted to be involved. Everyone was like, ‘sure, we’ll do it.’ It was basically just having each bar plan a day because I’ve given you a concept-it’s Mardi Gras, GO!”
Steck says he and the other bar managers considered closing the street for this year’s event, but decided to start smaller for its inaugural run.
While the idea of closing the street has been nixed for this year, Vancouver’s director of special events says it could happen next year with sufficient planning and notice, if the organizers want to try to turn Mardi Gras into a street festival. Certain procedures would have to be followed, but it’s a distinct possibility, says Muriel Honey.
“It takes a lot of planning, it takes time to get all the businesses on side,” Honey warns. “The businesses not involved with the event might have a problem with the closure.
“A weekend is much better than a weekday,” she continues. “Davie St is a major arterial for rush-hour traffic. It would have to be after rush hour, or on a weekend. They couldn’t start set-up until 6 pm if they were closing Davie.
“We would have to talk to traffic management,” she adds. “What impact the road closures would have. We have to look at the bigger picture and we still have to run it by council because they have the final say. It takes four to six months for full approval.”
Steck hopes this year’s Mardi Gras will not only bring some much needed business to Davie St in what is an otherwise slow part of the year, but will also help bring attention to The Centre and its need for charitable dollars.
“I think The Centre is a worthwhile cause,” Steck says. “People in our community go there, they have medical facilities there. The hard part is, The Centre isn’t as highly profiled as some of the other Davie organizations. I think The Centre loses out on a lot of fundraising because they are volunteer-based.
“Being that they are in the centre of the Village, I hope that, through them, this event does build community,” Steck continues, “and makes the community more aware that, yes, we do have a Centre.”
Brian Lin, secretary of The Centre’s board of directors, has worked with Steck on previous fundraising efforts, so the idea of the two working together for a gay Mardi Gras seemed natural.
“We had spoken to James before on a couple of one-time fundraisers where they were generous enough to designate The Centre as the beneficiary of their proceeds, so when they came up with the idea of a gay Mardi Gras they graciously thought of us, and obviously we’re thrilled to have the chance to raise money for The Centre,” Lin says.
“The reason why fundraisers like this are so important to The Centre is close to 90 percent of our funding comes from the government,” Lin explains. “Most of that funding has strings attached. There is a very strict reporting process on how the money should be spent and where the money should be directed to, and it’s usually types of programs. We have money to run the programs and hire staff, but we don’t have money for infrastructure, or repairs or general administration costs, so what the board does is raise money that doesn’t have strings attached to it that we can spend for operational costs. That’s why fundraisers like this are so important, it’s how we keep The Centre running.”
While a one-time event like a gay Mardi Gras is important, Lin notes that the Centre needs help from everyone in the community throughout the year.