Club 8×6 survived its first year with a winning strategy: plan carefully, keep your head down and know the rules. The result: a rare and coveted zoning permit and an ambitious plan for Vancouver gay nightlife.
A German flight attendant is the first customer to wander through the club’s unmarked industrial-brown side door on Haro Street one Friday night in mid-October. Zoll Ruskin, one of 8×6’s owners, is behind the bar, slinging Coke and ginger ale in a fleece jacket, his impish ears poking out from under a black ball cap. There will be no liquor sold tonight; a selective system of liquor licences is part of Ruskin’s delicate strategy for the club.
Ruskin has deliberately avoided a primary liquor licence, which would prohibit the club’s main function: uninhibited sex. Instead, he acquires individual liquor licences for busy events, allowing him to welcome public sex (which bars and pubs cannot, because of their licences) while also selling booze (which saunas cannot, because of water hazards). This niche allows him to pull in groups, such as the Pacific Canadian Association of Nudists and rubber fetish society Rubbout, that nearly fill his 200-person club.
Club 8×6 is a simple, immaculately clean, black concrete box — a refurbished parking garage where the old Denman Station club hid decades ago. It is decorated only with red and black curtains and a few flat-screen TVs, on which plaid-shirted lumberjacks are enjoying a threesome as Ruskin shows me around. His co-owner, Peter Pavlovic, a taciturn Serbian, guards the door, where visitors have to buzz in through the fortress-like front entrance. A social room with chairs and tables extends past the bar, followed by a dancefloor, play rooms with swings and a wooden cross on wheels, and a hallway fitted with glory holes. In the back corner, the club has a medical station where a nurse does free STI tests on busy nights.
When 8×6 opened in summer 2013, city hall didn’t know where to fit Ruskin and Pavlovic’s application. The club ended up with a licence for a fitness centre. Ruskin knew the licence didn’t fit but kept his head down, strictly enforced the rules, made sure city hall and the police were happy, and waited for his patience to pay off.
Then, in September 2014, the National Post published a pearl-clutching story about 8×6, gasping at its proximity to a library and a community centre, and challenging city hall for its permissiveness. The city, however, stuck by Ruskin, telling the National Post that it was none of anyone’s business what was going on in 8×6 and that there was no licensing problem.
Just a few weeks later, the city’s licensing office handed Ruskin and Pavlovic a private members’ club licence, a privilege held by only a handful of other clubs in the city. The licence not only gives 8×6 a tacit stamp of approval, but will allow Ruskin to serve drinks later, host dancing all night, and advertise both liquor sales and sex parties at the same time.
Spokespeople from the city’s licensing office declined to comment further to Xtra but reaffirmed what they told the National Post: what goes on inside 8×6 isn’t the city’s business, and Ruskin and Pavlovic are free to run the club as they please.
Ruskin thinks the negative attention in the National Post, ironically, was partly responsible for a surge in support, from the city and his customers. “It was the best thing that could have happened to us in the end,” he says with a laugh.
Since then, the club has been busier than ever.
After a few more customers wander in, the German flight attendant and some new friends wander toward the back rooms to don leather gear, giving Ruskin time to sit down and explain his vision for the club. He would rather not call 8×6 a “sex club,” he says, but rather a “sex-positive play space.”
That’s strangely delicate language coming from a 55-year-old man, but Ruskin — a globe-trotting ex-furniture salesman — thinks that’s the direction his audience is moving. The days of gay-men-only steam baths, he says, are over; the future of gay sex spaces will be more inclusive, more complex and more flexible. Some of his best client groups, like nudists and fetishists, consist of almost as many straight or bisexual people as gay men.
He recalls a fetish party at 8×6, where he watched a woman give her boyfriend a neck massage as he received a blowjob from an unknown man through a glory hole. In that moment, Ruskin, a pragmatist to the last, saw business opportunity.