3 min

Can the Davie Village’s dormant Oasis be refreshed?

Assessing the community’s need for gay spaces in the West End

James Steck was at the helm of Oasis from 2000 to 2006, when it was a popular gay destination. “It was a hotel lounge without the hotel,” says Steck, seen here during his Oasis tenure. Credit: Matt Mills

Under new management, Davie Street’s Oasis remains closed, biding its time before revealing its latest incarnation.

The once-gay venue has gone through several incarnations in the last few years. By the beginning of 2014, Oasis had given up on trying to be a gay dance club and transformed into a straight sports bar and restaurant. It’s hard to say who abandoned whom first — long before the bar was remade as a sports lounge it had difficulty amassing a gay following despite attempts by promoters like Peter Breeze to bring in a niche market.

“The biggest struggle is that they wouldn’t decide what they want to be,” Breeze says. “When you walk in, you get this lounge feel, but then there’s a dancefloor and a DJ playing music, so it was conflicting. When I was working there, I was really pushing the dance-party direction, and I thought it could be the place where alternative gays went in the West End. But it didn’t work.”

There was a time in the early to mid-2000s when Oasis did have a solid identity and loyal patrons. When James Steck, now manager of Celebrities Nightclub, was at the helm of Oasis, it was “a hotel lounge without the hotel.”

“It was a martini lounge with a great patio, so it was a great place for people to come after work, have their cocktails, have a bite to eat,” Steck says. “It was also a place they could come to have a full dinner, and then they could come and pre-drink before they went to the clubs. I think that’s still what the Village is missing. Now, hopefully, Jenn Mickey [the owner of 1181 and now Heaven’s Door] may pick that up.”

With bars like Heaven’s Door offering a place for after-work cocktails and bars like Numbers offering a place to dance the night away, what does Davie Street need Oasis to represent? According to Berlin Stiller, who worked the door at Oasis for more than a year, the Village doesn’t necessarily need a new venue, but new life in general.

“The whole time that I worked [at Oasis], nothing worked,” Stiller says. “I feel like all the bars on Davie are tired; they have nothing more that they can offer or come up with. The gay community is a little bit picky with what they will and will not do, and because of that bars are left with less options, and you can only go back and do the same theme or concept so many times before people find it old.”

Breeze concurs. “Apart from 1181 and PumpJack, nothing is happening on Davie,” he says. “Everyone goes to 1181, which is great at the beginning and at the end of the night, and PumpJack is an institution; it will never go away — there are lineups on Monday morning. I think that so much is changing and there are so many options. I mean, it’s Saturday night and there are at least five different parties we can go to. That’s never happened before. They’re all gay parties, some at straight venues, and they’re spread out all over the city.”

“There’s a lot of great spaces in the city. I don’t think it has to be generalized and stuck to one little area when there’s all of Vancouver,” Stiller adds. “You don’t have to leave [a Village bar] at three and then wander to find an after-party. Now there’s parties that go on until six in the morning, and it gives options to stay out longer if you want to.”

While it may no longer be necessary or even desirable to host every gay party in the Village, Breeze, Steck and Stiller all agree that Davie Street is still a place where they feel safe and connected to their gay roots.

However, as Stiller notes, for an increasing number of queer people, “partying and community are two separate things.”

Xtra reached out to the new manager of Oasis for an interview but did not receive a response by press time. According to Instagram, the venue may be renamed Playhouse and reopen as a wine bar. No word yet on whether it will be a gay or straight venue — but in this new age of nightlife, does it matter?