Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Can one party welcome bears, club kids, hipsters and leather folks?

Why Pitbull Events refuses to be another niche party in a sea of Toronto’s sexual subcultures

Steve Palmer and Francis Gaudreault are the producers of Pitbull Events. Max Lander/Daily Xtra

“We try to be as all-inclusive as we can be. We welcome everybody to the party,” says Francis Gaudreault, who co-produces Pitbull Events with his business partner, Steve Palmer. They’ve been hosting parties throughout Toronto for the last six years and expanded to include cruise vacations, creating a new niche within the party scene by not being “niche” at all. 

“Toronto is actually a giant melting pot of cultures, races, sexualities and everything. You see that reflected in the city that we live in and you see that reflected at the parties,” Gaudreault says. “You have people from every single background going out. It provides this really cool vibe where you have different types of people just wanting to kind of go out and have fun.”

Launched in March 2010, Pitbull parties strive to bridge the gap between various communities in the city, seeking that sweet spot where bears, leather folks, club kids, hipsters and circuit queens can dance together for the night.

They’ve featured some of the biggest local and international DJs and live acts, including Chris Cox from Thunderpuss and Big Dipper. The events have attracted different ages and races — and various amounts of body hair — while promising a packed dance floor and great house and techno music, all without the pretensions found at other club nights. 

Prior to their Pitbull days, Gaudreault and Palmer felt there wasn’t a scene in Toronto that spoke to them. They’d frequent Woody’s, bear night at O’Grady’s and occasionally Fly, but they wanted to go out and dance at a place where they could identify with the music or crowd. The clubs in the city seemed much more exclusive, catering to either the youngsters or circuit queens, they found.

“We were talking about it with a friend who told us to stop complaining and do something about it,” Gaudreault explains. “So we decided to start Pitbull, which would be a night to go out and dance — which wasn’t a circuit night — and guys of every age and creed could come and feel comfortable.”

Pitbull started small in the upstairs space at the now defunct Fuzion at 580 Church St. It began as a predominantly bear dance party, although there were no criteria for who could attend. As the party evolved, they found that different types of guys were showing up and the crowd grew to be quite eclectic.

“We have students, we have drag queens — a lot of people who might not identify with the bear culture who just really enjoy the vibe of the party, who enjoy being able to dance on a packed dance floor with everybody from the community rather than being very ‘niched’ in,” Gaudreault says. “There are still a lot of beards in the crowd but now there’s also a lot of variety.”

They’ve hosted events at The Courthouse, The Opera House, The Phoenix Concert Theatre, Fantasy Farm, Fly , and Liberty Grand. They’ve also held parties in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Montreal and Chicago, as well as an annual boat cruise and a weekend at The Point, a gay campground in southwestern Ontario. 

In a world where people are increasingly divided from one another through politics or fear, Pitbull breaks these barriers in the most Canadian way possible — by uniting gay folks.

“That was kind of one big thing that we realized: we want people to be able to come into the party and see themselves reflected within the party,” Gaudreault says.

“Our go-go dancers, I think, are a great reflection of who parties in the city because we have Muslims and Hindus, Southeast Asians and Asians, African-Canadians — we have everybody represented on stage because these are the people who are coming out and enjoying themselves.”