I mean, I was all in, and now I’m out.
I mean, gay poker players are vicious.
Every two weeks, 20 pretty men from Halifax gather to play cards and hang out. It’s a butch thing to do, at least in theory.
I’m a one-off attendee, making the crew 21. In the kitchen, a handsome twentysomething is explaining the rules of poker to a group of doe-eyed twinks (while the less dewy chat in the living room). At 9:30pm, we’re divided into two tables.
In No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em, there is no second place. The game is played by eliminating competitors; at the end of the game, one ‘mo holds all the chips.
It turns out to be an irreverent, friendly evening. Among the players, there are a couple of actors, some law students, and a guy working in PR who looks like Emilio Estevez. There’s a cadre of drag queens that threatens to come each week, but never show. At least that’s the joke. I go all in early — bluffing, basically — and get taken out.
The next morning Peter, an actor I met while there, picks me up to take me to the Halifax airport (named after Robert Stanfield, the prime minister we never had) to see me off. Sweet of him, eh? Peter tells me he stayed at the poker game until 3am; when he left, the competition was still raging.
I spent a week in Halifax in September: not during Pride, not during the Tall Ships Festival or the Halifax Pop Explosion. And that’s just fine because it’s Halifax’s day-to-day gayness that’s the port’s most attractive feature. Most gays who visit the city are visiting friends, as I was, and it’s the social network, rather than the city’s formal gay infrastructure or bar scene, that recommends the city. Imagine a kitchen party hosted by Ashley MacIsaac. Or Anne Murray, I don’t know which.
The city acts as a catchment area that sucks gays out of all of Eastern Canada. Some gays stay in St John’s, Newfoundland, a handful in other Maritime cities, but Halifax draws gays from a wide basin the same way Toronto and Montreal do — or the way Ottawa attracts gays from Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and the rest of northern Ontario.
That’s not to say there aren’t must-go gay sites in Halifax.
Rewind to the beginning of the trip. Kevin, the fellow I’m staying with, and his friend, Rob, pick me up from the airport, some miles out of town. It’s Friday night, midnight, but before heading to the bachelor pad I’m staying at, we’ve got two stops to make.
The long, arching highway into the city snakes through Dartmouth and pours out over a concrete mess by the waterfront. From there, it’s up several hundred feet of steep incline away from Halifax Harbour (breathtaking at night) to Citadel Hill.
Citadel Hill is the city’s most well-known cruising park. Originally an embanked fort, the trail’s earthworks double as sex nooks. It’s a park full of cruising potential, although the most common manifestation appears to be of the lover’s-lane-parked-car variety. Welcome to gay Halifax.
Our next stop was the Menz Bar (2104 Gottingen Street), themed with chrome and wood panelling. At 1am on Friday night (Saturday morning?) it is beginning to thin out. The crowd is mostly mixed, but mostly burly, bearded, or balding. Nicola, a leggy straight chick, carries the only XX chromosomes in the bar.
The three-storey building houses a diner — Mollyz — on the ground floor. I was there later in the week for breakfast and the food is good, the atmosphere campy and the staff affectionate. Menz’s main bar area is on the second floor: dancefloor, long bar, stools, motorcycle paraphernalia. There’s a pool table, toilets and a rooftop patio on the third floor.
It’s got a homey feel that’s lacking at the bar’s competition, Reflections (5184 Sackville Street). Not that Saturday at the cavernous Reflections isn’t classic dirty dancebar/warehouse fun — it is. They’ve got three bars to serve mixed-gendered, mixed-age clientele. And since hunky gays from the region flee to Halifax on weekends, the crowd was tanned, toned, and horny.
I was back to Reflections a second time, for Five Minutes of Fame, a Thursday night drag/talent show hosted by Eureka Love, a raucous, bratty queen who invites audiences to judge participants on “autistic impression.” (It’s also a cheap drink night until midnight — an incidental detail that explains why I had sex under the steeple of St Mary’s Basilica on a weeknight.)
Tourists can keep themselves occupied easily enough with the Halifax’s usual traps (see sidebar). But for a town whose gay mojo is rooted so firmly in house parties and dinner dates — where the queer core is a social web — my best advice for travellers is to shack up with someone who can show you the town. Reflections is open seven days a week, but for anyone wanting to get a sense of gay Halifax it’s the entry point, not the end of the path.