Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Kicking back at The Henhouse

The Organ at the centre of the newest west-end homo hangout

NEW HANGOUT. Henhouse bartender Vanessa Dunn (left) and owner Katie Sketch at the new homo hangout The Henhouse. Credit: John Caffrey

I have been spending several cold winter evenings at The Henhouse, a warm and cozy bar at Dundas and Dufferin. It is a great place to kick back and catch up with friends. The jukebox is full of gems, the service is really friendly and sexy women serve the booze. The bar draws a mixed crowd of west-end gays and straights and has a laid-back vibe.

Katie Sketch and Jenny Smyth, the brains behind the operation, played with the Vancouver-based band The Organ. The band broke up in 2006 but an EP of unreleased material, entitled Thieves, came out in 2008. Things blew up for The Organ when they guested on an episode of The L-Word. The band’s beautifully written and catchy-as-hell music earned international attention. They opened up for The Cure in France and toured widely until it all became too much and the band broke up.

Now Sketch and Smyth are living in Toronto and nesting in their new and increasingly popular homo hangout, The Henhouse. I sat down with them in January.

John Caffrey: The first time I saw The Organ was at the Toronto party Vazaline.

Katie Sketch: That was great because Will [Munro] was the first person to ever fly us anywhere. We were so pumped. I honestly felt like a rockstar. I think we had 10 songs at the time. I got wasted. We were getting flown into the coolest gay party in North America as far as I’m concerned.

Caffrey: What made you decide to throw down roots in Toronto?

Sketch: My girlfriend lived here at the time. We were touring through here and I was coming here in between the tours and I was like, ‘I might as well move here.’ I wanted to get out of Vancouver.

Caffrey: How do you like being in the city full-time?

Sketch: I am so done with Vancouver. This is just a way better city, there is so much more to do. In Vancouver you would be hard-pressed to find something to do in a month.

Caffrey: You’re living and working is in the Dundas and Dufferin neighbourhood. 

Sketch: I think it’s really central to everything I like on Queen, College and Bloor and it’s still not mainstream at all. It’s not filled with people from the suburbs every Friday and Saturday, screaming, hooting and hollering and whatever. It’s totally low-key and it’s cheaper. The rent is cheaper.  It is still one of those untapped areas. I know people are saying it’s changing and I would like it to change a bit, but not too much. I really like the way it is right now. I wouldn’t change much about the area. There are a few bars that are pretty sketchy, a lot of drug activity in the area. But I spent all my time in the downtown east side of Vancouver. All my work was there, a lot of my shows were there and I am really used to it.

Caffrey: Tell me about opening the The Henhouse.

Sketch: We thought, ‘Let’s open a bar. What do you want to do first? Get some chairs.’ All the stuff is off Craigslist.

Caffrey: Who hangs out at The Henhouse?

Sketch: People I don’t know. I think most of them are neighbourhood people.  I lived here and thought there are no bars to go to.

Caffrey: What do the neighbours think of the bar?

Sketch:I think they like it, I think they do. We get a lot of good feedback and people keep coming back. 

Caffrey: Quentin Crisp said, “For flavour, instant sex will never supersede the stuff you have to peel and cook.”

Sketch: I agree. I don’t know who wouldn’t agree, maybe a 14-year-old or someone in a stale relationship.

Caffrey: Do you consider The Henhouse to be a queer establishment?

Sketch: Yeah, I do.  I don’t even really know what that means but I would say there are a disproportionate amount of gays that come here. Way more than 10 percent of the people here are gay. I think there are a lot that live in this neighbourhood. I don’t know. The queer community to me is The Beaver, The Gladstone and Wrongbar on Wednesday nights.  I’ve never even gone to a gay bar on Church before.

Caffrey: Really?

Sketch:I work on Church St at my day job but I never go out there at night.

Caffrey: Is The Henhouse a party for you or is it work? 

Sketch: Both. It is a party until the doors close and then it is work. It’s the same with a band, you’re on stage and you’re like “this rocks,” but then you’re loading gear for an hour and it’s work.

Caffrey: The first year for a restaurant or bar is notoriously difficult. What do you do to ease your stress?

Sketch raises her beer and laughs.