Carmen Elle remembers a time a few years ago when it seemed like a good thing that queer bars were disappearing.
“We had evolved to this point where you could just go to a bar and you’d see straight people there, you see queer people there and everybody is just mingling,” she says.
But that feeling was short-lived for her.
“Now it seems like we’re sort of swinging back to an era of queer bars once again,” she says.
And she’s helping lead that swing. Elle, along with Max Mohenu and Kevin Kennedy, the owner, recently helped launch Less Bar, a new queer space in Toronto’s west end. Elle was hoping to fill some of the gaps left behind by the Holy Oak’s closure in February 2017.
“If you’re a band and you’re established and you’ve been touring the same record for a year, you don’t have to play that record here,” she says. “You can do a weird ASMR set.”
The erosion of queer west accelerated in October, when The Steady Cafe announced it would also be closing. But Less Bar is a potentially new bright spot for queer west-enders who don’t want to trek to the Church-Wellesley Village.
Elle, who doesn’t drink, wanted to create a queer space that, while still a bar, would also have options for non-drinkers.
“I’ve always hated going to bars, not because I don’t like going to bars, but because there’s nothing for me to drink there,” she says. Usually, the only options are a pint glass filled with soda and ice, which feels a little infantilizing to her.
Less Bar has a number of non-alcoholic drinks that don’t feel like they should come in a sippy cup.
“There’s been a huge turnout most of our weekend nights of people who just want to drink Club-Mate and dance,” she says.
Less Bar has also placed an emphasis on safety and creating a welcoming atmosphere.
“We have a dialogue with all of the talent that comes in the door right away, we ask what pronouns they want to use, if they want an all POC [people of colour] staff that night, which we can accommodate,” she says.
In the last month, Less Bar has hosted a sober Halloween dance party, a DJ set hosted by JD Samson and danger karaoke, where singers don’t get to pick the song they’re singing.
Less Bar also has a number of recommendations it asks its patrons to adhere to, including a no-cellphones rule. But the rule isn’t vigorously enforced.
“For the most part, we are attached to our phones all day every day, so I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we had these guidelines,” Elle says. So people who are looking to shoot off a few text messages will often end up joining the smokers outside.
Most of all, Elle wants Less Bar to be a space where everyone feels welcome.
“I’d just rather my staff and clientele feel comfortable than make $7 off of a lager,” she says.