3 min

It really is a gay thing

Barn booze cops smitten with homo sex

Credit: Paul Baik

When I heard that the Barn’s fight for survival was going before a tribunal of the Alcohol And Gaming Commission Ontario (AGCO), I decided to drop by the hearing, which could result in one of the city’s biggest gay bars permanently losing its liquor licence.

My first alarm bell went off the minute my friend and I walked into the waiting room to find out where the hearing – which started on Feb 9 and which will continue later this year – would be held. The staffer told us to fill out a little green information card that required anyone attending a hearing to submit their name, address, phone number and the reason for attending.

I’ve attended many trials in my days as a reporter and I have never been asked to provide such information. It’s exactly the kind of list-making big brother intimidation that makes members of the public avoid supposedly public proceedings for fear of being turned into targets themselves.

When my friend and I took a seat in the waiting room, I realized that the lawyer for the AGCO and her police witnesses against the Barn were sitting only a few feet away.

As I sat there staring out the window, pretending to be minding my own business, the group chatted.

First the tall detective talked about undercover work at the Black Eagle leather bar on Church St, and then began teasing the female OPP officer: “She’s quite taken with him,” he said.

The AGCO liquor inspector asked what he meant. “The owner of the Black Eagle is quite a good-looking guy,” the detective answered. “She’s quite taken with him.”

Then the liquor inspector started talking about his first visit to the Black Eagle: “I mean you have your stereotypes… but I walked in there for the first time and these guys are six foot tall, muscled supermodels,” he told the group.

“One night we were in there and they were leading guys around on leashes,” the tall detective said, and then looked at the small-bodied inspector. “You’d make a good undercover – we could lead you around on a leash.”

Once it was time to go into the hearing room, my friend and I sat down and realized we were the only observers in the whole room amongst rows of empty seats. We stood out like sore thumbs.

The first witness to be called to testify was Const Ricardo Clayton. Clayton testified that he was working plainclothes out of 52 Division last summer and the gay district was part of his turf.

He testified that on one occasion last year he showed up at the Barn at nearly midnight on the Friday of the Pride Toronto weekend with his detective constable partner, as well as the female OPP officer and the liquor inspector I had seen in the waiting room.

He says that because he was “going to be in the area,” he was told to serve the bar with routine paperwork. It could have been served at anytime, but the officer testified it was simply a matter of convenience for them to do it then.

He testified that while serving the manager with the paperwork, the liquor inspector claims that he observed a drunken patron exit the bar. The group of officers then went inside to do a complete inspection.

Clayton says he observed two patrons carry their beers from the second floor up the stairs to the third floor. A visual inspection of the premises showed clearly the bar was not overcrowded despite the holiday, but because the stairs are not a licensed area, the officer charged the bar with permitting liquor to be removed from the licensed premise and for serving to the point of intoxication.

The next witness was AGCO inspector Ka Ng, who had accompanied the group of officers. He echoed Clayton except he did say it was “all right” for patrons to bring their liquor up and down the stairs as long as they didn’t loiter and drink in the stair wells.

The rest of the afternoon was spent with the lawyer for the Barn and the lawyer for the AGCO arguing about what the defence would be allowed to ask the inspector about the rules for carrying alcohol in the stairs. The defence obviously wanted to demonstrate the contradiction between the two witnesses; and the AGCO lawyer wanted to shut him down.

That was the first day of testimony. It took the tribunal the rest of the week to decide it needed more time, so the case was adjourned.

Afterwards, Barn owner Janko Naglic was reluctant to tell me much about his take on the hearing.

“You can figure this out for yourself,” he said. “It’s a conspiracy to shut me down.”

After what I saw that day, how can I argue with him?