That legendary New York nightclub mogul Peter Gatien chose longtime Toronto queer party impresario Steve Ireson to help manage his new monster club, Circa, seems a move calculated to cozy up to Toronto’s queer community.
“I see what you mean and there’s some truth to that for sure,” says Ireson.
Ireson has been a social connector in Toronto’s queer and queer-friendly club scenes for more than 20 years. He has worked in one capacity or another with virtually every queer community group and has earned an excellent reputation for integrity and creativity. He was the general manager of Industry Nightclub from 1998 to 2000. Ask most anyone who was there for Industry’s heyday and they remember the time, the place and Ireson with good-times fondness.
Ireson subsequently launched and managed gaybourhood hot spot Five and was mastermind behind It’s a Boy’s Life, the hugely popular queer party night at It Nightclub. Despite a months-long fight It’s a Boy’s Life ended abruptly at the apex of its popularity in 2003 when its building was razed to make way for redevelopment. The experience left Ireson exhausted and looking for a new direction – one that didn’t involve fighting to keep the doors of a nightclub open.
“I wanted to get out of the business because it left me rather bitter over certain experiences,” says Ireson. “But when you’ve been in it for 22 years you can’t get out of it. It is a treat, a pleasure and an honour to work with Peter Gatien.”
Gatien has reportedly spent more than $5 million on Circa and after a tour of the place you’re left feeling that figure might be low. No expense is spared, no corner is unfinished, no detail is unplanned.
“It totally gives me goose bumps,” says Ireson. “It’s going to be out of this world. We haven’t seen anything like it in the approach to creativity in Toronto, ever.”
Circa is not likely to be a queer club. With a capacity of 3,000 people and an address in Toronto’s controversial entertainment district, queer people will be in the minority almost all the time.
Ireson isn’t worried that inviting large numbers of queer people to an area that has a history of drunken violence among straight people could end badly.
“I think Toronto as a whole is much more accepting than that,” he says. “A lot of people were concerned a year ago that there was a lot violence down in the district. There were stabbings and shootings. The police have done a lot to clean that up and we want to make sure people aren’t concerned about safety and violence down here. By engaging the businesses themselves we’ll end up with a much better entertainment district.”
For those immersed in the queer hipster scene flourishing in the West Queen West neighbourhood, the glitz and glamour of Circa is only a few blocks away.
To the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood It’s a Boy’s Life marked the last high tide in the ebb and flow of the gaybourhood party scene.
“The last couple of years have been a really challenging time for entertainment in the village,” says Ireson. “Doors closing and the amount of drama around the scene has left a lot of people jaded. For huge sections of the community, particularly in the 30-plus range, there’s just not a lot.
“There will always be a need for the village but at the same time gay Toronto is not just Church St,” he continues. “It’s metropolitan Toronto. The village is a community within itself and will always have a major importance to the entire city’s gay population but it’s not the entire city. If we want to be comfortable everywhere we have to engage everywhere. You’ve got queer hubs going on in all these areas and those hubs interconnect.”
Ireson hopes some of that 30-plus crowd he says is missing out at Church-Wellesley will build a new scene at Circa. The off-the-hook quality of the décor and the variety of event possibilities and settings under Circa’s one giant roof should be attractive to a more mature and diverse set than made It’s a Boy’s Life or Five.
“We don’t want Circa to be the sketchy, tweaked-out super-late-night crowd,” says Ireson. “We don’t want to be the eyes-popping-out-of-your-head crowd.”
Ireson says Friday nights in Circa’s third-floor ballroom will be specially geared to the queer crowd with familiar community DJs and acts.
“Drag queens, for example, will definitely be a piece of the puzzle,” he says. “It’s an element that’s part of the community. It’s part of the city, it’s part of nightlife culture, it will be part of Circa for sure.”
Ireson also says Circa intends to support queer community causes. “We’re going to engage and support all kinds of different organizations and community-type groups,” he says. “For example, one of the top ones we want to drive is an arts and artistic design scholarship for a queer student for OCAD [Ontario College of Art and Design].
“The best will definitely be available to queer people at Circa,” says Ireson. “We want to get people enjoying the best and experiencing new things. People are going to grow with the city. Everybody needs to do the same.”