On a brisk February evening I’m sitting on the patio at Sugar Daddy’s nursing my usual Wednesday night beer and soaking up the all too familiar atmosphere when Robert Kaiser, aka drag diva Joan-E, joins me at my table for a quick drink and a chat. He asks me if I have any friends who are looking for work in the restaurant industry.
“How come?” I ask.
“I’ve just accepted a management position at the Majestic, the new restaurant-bar opening up on Davie St,” Kaiser says. “We’re looking for staff right now.”
My eyes begin to twinkle as a feeling of bliss washes over me. Oh Robert, I thought to myself, you had me at the words “new bar.”
For years, Vancouver’s gay nightlife has been dependant on a handful of bars and clubs. Such a scene can lose its novelty after you’ve memorized the daily drink specials of every watering hole from Sugar Daddy’s to the Odyssey.
My hunger for close to home entertainment and my lifelong romance with gin has me joining in with the rest of the thrill-seeking public in shouting to the heavens, “Give us this day a new Davie bar.”
It’s not that I’m bored with Davie St entertainment but variety, as they say, is the spice of life. Besides, you can only be thrown out of a bar so many times before they won’t let you back in.
I press Kaiser for more information on the new hangout. He tells me it’s going to be at the site of the old Fresgo Inn and it’s the latest endeavour of Pumpjack owners Vince Marino and Steve Bauer, former owners of the now defunct Doll & Penny’s.
The restaurant-lounge atmosphere will boast a stage that will feature live entertainment from drag shows to live music in a classy yet comfortable atmosphere.
“People used to go to gay cafés and gay diners but when they would go out for dinner, they would go out into the straight community,” Kaiser says. “We aren’t competing with other bars or restaurants. We’re competing with the fact that so many people say there’s nothing out there for them so they don’t go out at all.”
As the winter inches by, I often glance at the space sandwiched between Priape and Stepho’s. The floor to ceiling windows of the old Fresgo Inn are covered over with brown paper as construction workers wander in and out of the entrance, tossing debris into a dumpster in the small parking lot out front. Passers-by try to peer through the tiny tears in the paper to get a look at the inside of the gutted establishment.
With gin-baited breath I wait for the grand unveiling of this new wunder-tavern, which Kaiser originally told me would be in April. However, it isn’t until mid-May that the paper is finally taken off the windows and the large wooden doors are propped open.
When I wander into the establishment, I see Kaiser and Marino walking through a sea of tables, chatting up patrons while servers rush around with trays of artistically presented food.
The maple tables and chairs are spread out over the dark walnut floor and the walls are beige and bare, except for a large mirror that hangs on the far wall.
Bronze chandeliers hang from the high ceiling while a fire burns in a cream-coloured hearth at the entrance. Bartenders scurry around behind the bar mixing drinks and fighting with the new computer system while an old Steve Reeves movie plays on the flat screen televisions over the fireplace. It feels like I’ve walked into an ultra-modern nexus of brown, taupe and tan.
I sit at a table near the windows and peruse the menu, which I’m told is a small sample of Chef Sioux MacLennan’s grand design. I watch as random pedestrians walk through the open door and quickly scan the new establishment in order to satiate their curiosity. A few of them stay for a drink or possibly a meal, but the majority just want to see what happened to the old Fresgo space.
I ask Kaiser when the grand opening is and why they decided on such a soft start. “You only get one real kick at the can and that’s your opening night,” Kaiser says. “So once all of this is set in stone and we actually have a product that we’re completely proud of then we can have a party and say, ‘This is it.'”
There are still things that need to be tweaked and finishing touches to perform. Art has been ordered to decorate the walls and the menu is gradually being expanded.
The uncertain date of the grand opening rests on the arrival of a moveable stage that can be reconfigured for a variety of events from fashion shows to live music. The only scheduled act so far is Symone’s Dressing on the Side drag show that began at Doll & Penny’s many years ago, bringing a piece of Davie St yore into the 21st century. But the Majestic will not be a typical gay bar.
“What Steve and I wanted was to have a comfortable zone,” Marino tells me. “The Village not only has the gay community but a straight community as well. One of our considerations was how do we capture that in a fairly comfortable process?”
“We are half a generation away from a day where anybody who was gay and standing with a drink in their hand was in a basement they entered through a back alley,” notes Kaiser. “So if we’re going to celebrate the fact you can feel comfortable on this street with a drink in your hand, holding hands with your partner and ordering a meal from a server who may or may not be gay, then we need to do that. We need to have those places.”
And I need to have a drink.
I decide to exercise my right to legally imbibe alcohol in a public establishment and choose a cocktail from the Majestic’s specialty drink menu. A concoction called “The Late Queen Mum” catches my eye due to its namesake’s passion for my favourite brand of swill. The drink is strong and burns going down as the aftertaste of gin lingers in my mouth.
For the rest of the evening, it’s me and the Queen Mum sitting in front of the fire with Steve Reeves and some looky-loos relaxing in the brown atmosphere. After my fourth round of the Queen Mama’s brew I decide that I definitely am comfortable and may never leave.