A rumour that an old gay haunt off Davie Street — which formerly housed Jupiter Café and J-Lounge — is cursed isn’t enough to spook the new owner, even though he has never run a gay establishment before.
Kush Bhatia says the Bute Street space’s contentious history is the result of management that didn’t know what it wanted and that didn’t want to appeal to the gay community.
“What I’ve heard from people and the managers was that the J-Lounge had a little partnership issue,” Bhatia says. “There were too many people making decisions, so they couldn’t figure out ‘Should we keep this as a venue place or should we keep this as a gay bar?’”
Bhatia says Jupiter Cafe’s longevity at the site proves the curse to be nothing more than a myth, but he condemns J-Lounge for not embracing the Davie Street culture. “They were in the wrong place if they won’t support the gay community in this place.”
The previous owners of Jupiter Café and J-Lounge did not respond to interview requests.
Bhatia, who used to run the Tap and Grill on Seymour and Davie, says he’s not worried about running his first mainly gay-centric lounge.
“I’m trying to do something for everybody. The lesbian group will have a night, straight people will have a night, gay people will have a night.”
He says he plans to focus on using the lounge — now called Heaven’s Door — as a venue for live entertainment. He has already hired two regular event planners.
“The reason I bought this was because I like to go out with my friends or my wife; you know, there’s not too many event places downtown if you want to have a nice dinner or a drink with something to watch or keep you entertained, “ says Bhatia, who bought the space just before Pride Week.
On Pride Day, Bhatia estimates, 700 people came through Heaven’s Door.
Although he says the success of that night was mainly because of people dropping in on a whim, he says that won’t be the case on regular nights. “Because it’s not on the main side of Davie Street, and it’s on the side, on the second floor, I know this place can only be filled up if you have events and entertainment.”
Heaven’s Door’s official grand opening is Fri, Nov 8, but it’s been running shows off and on since its soft opening in August.
One of those shows is a classic from the Jupiter Café days: The Bobbers queer improv comedy troupe returned to the reinvented venue on Oct 28, after a less-than-intentional hiatus of several years.
“We ran for a really long time,” says Bobbers founder David C Jones, “and then the owners at that time said, ‘We can make more money if you weren’t here,’ so they kicked us out, basically.”
Two years later, the new owners of J-Lounge asked the troupe back, only to run into problems of their own. Jones remembers arriving at the lounge one night to find “a big chain on the door and a note saying the place was being seized.”
That was in September 2011. The space has sat empty ever since.
Despite his love-hate history with the lounge, Jones doesn’t believe it’s cursed.
“Whenever someone says there’s a curse, they’re making psycho-babble. Usually the person managing the space is not programming for the neighbourhood. They’re not anticipating new trends,” says Jones, who’s optimistic that the new owner is on the right track with Heaven’s Door.
“I think they see the potential of this great big space,” he says.
“They’re not coming in full of hubris and piss and vinegar saying, ‘We know how to make this place work.’ They actually went back to staff who hadn’t worked there in years and said, ‘What went wrong?’”