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Famed Bijou bathhouse closing

Church St’s Bijou bathhouse — the site of police raids in 1999 which seemed aimed at humiliating closeted gay men — will shut its doors for good on Sat, April 14.

Bijou owner Craig Anderson says he’s closing up shop because of declining business since the gay nightclub down the street, the Barn, closed in 2005.

“The area has changed. Since the Barn closed it’s been a disaster south of Carlton St,” says Anderson. “We had a lot of business moving back and forth between the Bijou and the Barn.”

But the closures of the Barn and the Bijou are just symptoms of a growing trend of gentrification, Anderson says.

“It’s not just the Barn closing. This building is being surrounded by a big apartment building,” he says. “The gay village really is shrinking. There’s nothing really left except Alexander to Wellesley St and it’s mostly franchises. It’s a strip mall and we’re not on the strip.”

Anderson, who also owns the Cellar bathhouse on Wellesley, decided to close the Bijou when new building owners demanded a large rent increase when his lease expires this month. He has doubts that the new tenant will be a gay business.

“The market just isn’t here anymore. It’s gone elsewhere,” he says.

Although this Saturday will mark the Bijou’s last hurrah, it’s not the first time the embattled gay joint has shut down.

The Bijou originally billed itself as a porn bar and licensed itself as such until a series of police raids in the summer of 1999 led it to temporarily close its doors. In the dust of those raids, 18 patrons were charged with committing indecent acts and a cashier at the bar was charged with obstruction of justice.

In the weeks and months following the raids, the June 13 Committee, named for the night of the first raids, organized to demand fair treatment for queer men and establishments by the police and better relations between the police and the gay community. (The committee has been inactive for some time.) All of the criminal charges were eventually dropped in a general amnesty; Crown attorney Paul Culver said the charges were dropped because of a lack of understanding of the law in the gay community.

The Bijou reopened on New Year’s Eve of that year, after drastic renovations and reclassifying itself as a bathhouse — a recognized category of business under Toronto’s municipal laws. Police continued to visit the bar during its opening weeks. Although no charges were laid, the raids frightened patrons away and Anderson closed the bar again for several months.