3 min

Goodbye Dufferin

Gay institution gets a new look and name

Credit: TJ Ngan photo

The Dufferin Hotel is no longer.

The historic gay landmark, home to one of this city’s oldest and edgiest gay bars, now sports a new look and a brand new name: the Moda Hotel.

But there’s no need to worry, says pub manager Cary Grant. The Seymour St hotel may be moving upscale, but the bar-which faces some significant renovations of its own in the near future-will remain queer, he promises.

Queer but upscale.

In the future, patrons entering The Duff (as the hotel’s bar will soon be officially named) will find themselves standing in an upscale tapas bar. A wall will divide the eatery from the bar itself.

This is in keeping with plans revealed almost a year ago by a consultant working on the project. The pub will be significantly upgraded and feature a new wine and tapas menu, Gerry Barteluk, of Barteluk Hospitality, told Xtra West in February after new owners bought the building.

City records show the new owner of the property is Milgate Holdings.

Like Grant, Barteluk also said the pub would continue to cater to the gay community. But, he said, “we’re not going to restrict ourselves to one market.”

From the outset, the bar’s renovations worried many regular patrons.

The Dufferin is a unique part of the city’s queer landscape, Billeh Nickerson said at the time.

In the past, it’s been a place where edgy artists could perform transgressive material, where strippers and hustlers entertained, where different classes of people could come together. Now where will the Duff crowd go, he asked.

“Where are we going to get our irony? Where are we going to get our mixed groups? Where are the trannies going to go, where are the folks who a) can’t afford chi-chi and b) don’t feel part of that” going to go, he asked.

The latest developments seem like a slow closing of a queer landmark, he warned.

Fast-forward 10 months.

Renovations are now well underway on the Moda Hotel. “The fourth floor is done,” Grant says. “The lobby looks really elegant.”

Meanwhile, work continues on the gutting of upstairs floors so rooms there can be upgraded.

As far as the bar goes, first to be renovated will be the downstairs tavern. Once that is done, bar patrons will be moved downstairs while the pub itself is renovated.

Whether or not the old rainbow sticker from the main door-put there by Grant 12 years ago-will reappear on the new French-style doors that now grace the bar, remains to be seen.

Grant thinks a sticker on a business door is a non-issue.

“It doesn’t mean it’s exclusively gay,” he says of businesses with rainbow stickers on their doors. “It means gay people are welcome there.”

The new owners are cognizant of the place the pub has in the city’s queer history, he maintains.

Though much of the gay entertainment is now gone, Grant points out that the strip shows and community fundraisers remain. “It’s the only bar in town that lends itself to having these community shows,” he says. “It’s the last such place in town.”

By February, the karaoke had been cancelled and deejay Tim Chisholm had been cut to Fridays and Saturdays, though the Friday dancers, biweekly bingo and Paige Turner’s Saturday show still remain.

The Duff under its new ownership has lost its edge, pub regular Michael Buehler told Xtra West 10 months ago. “People used to go there before because it was edgy,” he said. “It’s becoming more and more mainstream. There’s nothing going on anymore, the feel is gone.”

Another regular, Roger Lee, says the pub serves a unique clientele that has made it successful over the years. “Do they have some kind of moral responsibility to these people?” he asks now. “One of the unique aspects of the Duff is its diversity of clientele. That’s one of the attractions of The Duff.”

Many patrons of the bar reside in the Downtown Eastside, Lee continues. He questions what will happen to them if the bar becomes gentrified as the hotel goes upscale.

“Where do they go?” he asks. “Is there going to be a bar in the Downtown Eastside that’s going to take up the slack? Probably not.

“Those people kept that bar going for a long time,” he adds.

Lee feels the pub should have made a greater effort to explain the upcoming changes to its gay patrons. “I think that’s kind of shoddy,” he says.

The Moda Hotel’s new website makes no mention of it being a gay-friendly space; nor does it have a link to the new, independent website it built for the bar.

While queer-friendly signs in the adjoining hotel have all but vanished, the two businesses are still obviously working as one unit. In the bar, a New Year’s Eve special offers patrons a night in the pub with champagne and chocolates, as well as a double-occupancy room in the hotel.

Also vanished from the hotel is the carriage light neon sign with the old Dufferin name that once graced the southwestern corner of its roof.