For the last 25 years, Ottawa’s Centretown Pub has been a hub for organizing events, fundraising and, well, mingling, hooking up, and partying.
Hintonburg resident Richard Lafleur knows Centretown Pub (CP) well. He has been coming to the bar for a drink nearly every day since it opened for business. He laughs at the idea of being called the “fair-haired Norm”. He also says he’d rather travel a few miles out of his neighbourhood to CP because he has a good time when he does.
“There’s nothing fun going on in Hintonburg. The only gay people who go to bars around there are closet cases,” says Lafleur.
Further down the bar, Beacon Hill residents Roger Proulx and Neil Offrey chat away. They met at CP 12 years ago and have been together ever since. They both come to CP so often they have beer coasters with their names on them, courtesy of CP management.
Sitting outside reading a book is Centretown resident Ray Morrison. He says he frequents CP regularly to “unwind after work.”
“It’s really the only good neighbourhood gay bar to go in Centretown. And it’s a nice summer day to have a beer on a patio,” says Morrison.
But CP wasn’t always that way. When the bar opened in 1984, it was during a time when there was significant resistance to queer gathering and visibility, says owner Ed St Jean.
“For safety reasons, we couldn’t sit outside the bar. We couldn’t have patios. People would drive by and throw eggs at us,” says St Jean.
Before coming to Ottawa in 1984, St Jean worked in uranium mining in Elliot Lake, Ontario. As a motivated young man, he worked a second job as a vacuum salesman. When he began making bigger sales, he quit mining and moved to Ottawa to make a better life for himself.
“The gay scene in Ottawa was dull…nothing happened in Ottawa back then. There were one or two bars, and they were straight-owned,” says St Jean.
Not only is CP a means to make a living for St Jean — it also holds a special place in his heart because of what it’s brought to his life.
It was at the bar in 1985 that St Jean met his partner (in both the romantic and business senses) Wayne Cave. Both worked there part time, working full-time jobs elsewhere.
When CP founder Charlie Block died of AIDS in 1990, Cave and St Jean took over the bar and became its owners. During the 1990s, St Jean and Cave took part in transforming the sleepy Ottawa gay scene into somewhat of a party place. For years, the pair ran CP, Steamworks and the now-closed Icon on Cooper St. Then, in 2003, everything changed.
“Wayne died from cancer when he was only 43. He is still missed here. We were among the pioneers of Ottawa gay bar owners,” says St Jean.
When Cave died, St Jean decided to give up Icon, which was still a popular place for barflies, drag shows, and late night parties.
“[Running Icon) just wasn’t the same. I lost my best business partner,” says St Jean.
Over the years, CP has fared its set of challenges yet it is still going strong. The Ottawa Knights still meet there every month and drag shows happen each Friday, upstairs. There’s often live music or karaoke downstairs. And there’s never been a cover charge — something St Jean says with pride.
Located at 340 Somerset W at Bank St, Centretown Pub is celebrating its 25th anniversary all week:
Tues Aug 18: pool tournament, starting at 8pm
Wed Aug 19: aloha summer BBQ, starting at 6pm
Thu Aug 20: karaoke, starting at 10pm
Fri Aug 21: Deedee Deelite show (at Cellblock) and Dan and Sherri (at Silhouette), both starting at 10pm
Sat Aug 22: Dan and Sherri (at Silhouette), starting at 10pm
Sun Aug 23: Sunday Draft, happening throughout the day until 8pm