The owner of one of Toronto’s newest LGBT nightclubs in Toronto’s gay village says high rent and a lack of support from the community led it to close just eight months after opening.
Blyss Nightclub, located at 504 Church St, had its grand opening on Oct 28, 2016, but shut its doors for good following Toronto Pride Month in June 2017. Blyss is the latest LGBT bar to close as rising rents push businesses out of the Church-Wellesley Village.
Harry Singh, the club’s owner, says Blyss wasn’t receiving the support it needed to thrive.
“I tried to bring something new to the community but I was not getting that support,” he wrote in a Facebook message to Xtra.
“People have a lot to say but don’t put their money where it’s needed,” Singh says. “They need to talk less and do more. Business needs support from the community to exist.”
Before opening Blyss, Singh owned the bar and dance club Zipperz, located at the corner of Church and Carlton streets, for 16 years. The club closed in July 2016 after its building was sold to make way for a new condo development.
Singh estimates that his volume of business has declined about 50 percent in the last decade, while rent and other costs such as insurance and payroll continue to increase. It all takes a toll on small businesses, he says.
Blyss, which opened three months after Zipperz closed, was formerly the home of Church on Church. In November, after the grand opening, Singh told Xtra that there was a need for a new LGBT space in Toronto.
“The more I look around, it seems that everything’s being squeezed out,” he told Xtra at the time, adding that he had considered stepping away from the industry altogether due to the financial difficulty of operating a business, especially with the recent condo boom in the Church-Wellesley Village.
“Maybe in seven or eight years I’ll wrap it up,” he said. “For now there’s still a need for spaces like this.”
According to Blyss employee and performer Adam Weinmann, Singh did an “incredible thing” by opening Blyss and giving a platform to queer artists in Toronto. Weinmann had worked alongside Singh at Zipperz for five years as a pianist prior joining Blyss.
“Blyss was a bar with a great stage and a dance floor,” he says, lamenting that it “went under.”
“Harry always supported live performers and there were drag performers, singers, DJs and other acts onstage at Blyss every night of the week,” he continues.
Weinmann says hookup apps such as Grindr have displaced the need for traditional brick-and-mortar establishments as gathering spaces for the community. Coupled with increasing rent and property prices, LGBT establishments in Toronto have had a tough go at sustaining themselves.
“My generation doesn’t have the same need for a neighbourhood watering hole, but there is an older generation that created a community for themselves in the Village, and still need space,” he says.
He maintains the closure will have a negative impact on queer culture in Toronto.
“There are still so many incredible queer performers in the Village — drag queens, singers, DJs — but as venues in the Village close one by one, there are fewer and fewer stages for all this amazing talent,” Weinmann says.
“I believe it’s a fabulous and glittering culture we should fight to preserve, even in the face of condos and skyrocketing rents.”