3 min

Close, but no cigar

City hall to consider treating gay bars equally

Credit: Robin Perelle

Vancouver city council rebuffed a staff recommendation Nov 18 that critics say would have closed the Odyssey and sent other Davie Village gay bars back to the dark ages.

But customers of the city’s gay bars are not safe yet.

Gay bars may stay open until 3 am on weekends for now. But staff are to report back in six months about permanently designating Davie Street , including the Odyssey site, as an “Entertainment District” on par with three blocks of Granville St. The payoff: gay bars would have permanently extended hours on par with Granville St bars.

Staff are also studying extending the Granville Entertainment District area up to the Yale Hotel at the Granville bridge.

The six-month studies were a compromise crafted by councillors who wanted to be sure that potential noise concerns and neighbourhood opposition is taken into account in the final policy.

Gay councillor Tim Stevenson opposed yet more studies of Davie St bars. The issue has been studied to death , he vehemently told council. Gay bar customers have the best behaviour record in town and Davie St is the entertainment district of gay Vancouver, he told council and a gallery overflowing with supporters of gay bars. Gay bars should therefore have closing hours on par with the Granville Entertainment District, Stevenson said.

Council rejected a staff option that would have capped serving hours throughout the city at 2 am. The Odyssey would have been closed at midnight on weekdays and 1 am on weekends. Numbers and Celebrities would have closed at 1 am on weekdays and 2 am on weekends.

Gay partiers do not come out to bars until after midnight, council was repeatedly told. Extended hours are essential to meet the gay consumer’s needs.

“If this goes through, it will close the Odyssey,” said Robert Kaiser, aka Joan-E, before the vote. Kaiser is one of the hundreds of customers, workers and owners of gay bars to repeatedly descend on city hall in the past decade to protest discrimination. In response, Stevenson and the centre-left COPE candidates promised in the 2002 civic election to allow bars to remain open until 4 am and to address other issues of concern to the gay community and Davie merchants.

If the staff recommendations had passed Nov 18 it would have left a poignant irony: that the gay community’s challenge to the city’s early closing times for bars resulted in longer hours for straight bars but reduced hours for gay bars.

Reduced hours “dilutes our identity and that’s intolerable,” Randy Atkinson, a part-owner of the PumpJack Pub and the president of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA), told council. He spoke with the support of the BIA board of directors.

“By not recognizing the unique elements of the Davie Village area-we have an independent, unique identity in this city-at best it’s a disappointing underestimating of the gay community and at worst a casual disregard of the gay community,” Atkinson later told Xtra West.

Davie Village was repeatedly identified as a special zone or district for the gay community participants at a planning charette held during the Sep 11 Davie Days celebration, Atkinson noted. The gay community and Davie Village merchants have repeatedly voiced the ambition to create a virtually around-the-clock international gay tourism destination. Atkinson says extended bar hours is essential to that emerging plan.

He’s optimistic that full recognition will come from city hall at the end of the six-month study.

“We now can use this as an opportunity to entrench in city hall that we have a gay entertainment district,” he says.

Council also approved a staff plan to seek a transfer of powers from the provincial government. Staff wants the province to allow a two-tier system of bar hours (core “standard hours” in combination with extended hours that need to be approved once or twice a year by staff) and the division of bar hours by city neighbourhood.

Stevenson pledges to the gay community that, “I’ll commit to doing all in my power to ensure the same classification that the Granville Entertainment District has also applies to Davie St bars.”

Stevenson wants the gay community to let city staff know we want official recognition of a gay entertainment district-and send a copy to him.