A few months back, we shared a few stories about my friend Gerry G — better known in some circles as Mrs G. These tales included the founding legend of Hamburger Mary’s and the openings (and closings) of a string of way-too-gay clubs and boozecans, including The Music Room and The Downbeat.
One episode told the story of the conversion of the Adonis Baths into The Downbeat and how that ended badly when the cops figured out that all the booze was hidden in the water tanks above the urinals.
I hesitated about telling the following story in its fullest, but I believe that the statute of limitations has run out on pretty much all the misdemeanours admitted to, so what the hell?
By the time the authorities forced the closing of The Downbeat, Hamburger Mary’s was doing a booming business, featuring flame-grilled burgers with drag shows on the side. In the meantime, Mrs G and her best sister Betty Durette (rhymes with Betty) had noticed a growing interest in roller-skating, imported a couple of hundred roller skates, and set up as High on Wheels roller rentals on Alberni Street.
“So the cash was flowing,” Mrs G remembers. “All we needed was someplace to move our Downbeat customers — we preferred ‘members’ because that’s how we got around all sorts of rules. John and Jim were closing the Playpen North above the sporting-goods store at Seymour at Dunsmuir, so we moved in, gussied it up, and the next thing we knew it was Blondie’s!”
Keeping the burgers flipping at Hamburger Mary’s, opening a new club and overseeing a bunch of Betty’s boys out running the seawall skate patrol in satin lime-green tennis shorts and little bee-striped caps made for a busy workday.
“We’d never have made it if it weren’t for cheesecake speed!” Mrs G says fondly. And that, of course, is yet another story.
Blondie’s wasn’t open a month before the owner of the sports store decided, on the last Friday of the month, that he didn’t like his new neighbours and, having control of the breakers in the basement, turned off the power.
“Well, we opened that night, and Saturday night too, in the dark! A couple of boom boxes, a box of candles, and I had a little party and made a little money. You know I did!”
But Sunday morning, following a little cheesecake speed pick-me-up, Mrs G was ready to clean up the premises and hand over the keys. “I’m thinking, Who needs this hassle? But by the time I get there, I’m on the go-go and I’m pissed off! That little voice I hear now and then said, ‘Flood the fucker.’”
Plugging the drains and turning on all the faucets in the men’s room was a good start. “Then, just to be a little more evil, I did the same in the women’s room. Then I sat down at the bar and did a little more speed. You know I did!”
And then Gerry left to take care of some burger business or some roller business or some cheesecake business. Returning Sunday morning, it’s water, water, everywhere. It’s pouring down into the sports shop and down the stairs to the basement. So Gerry does the sensible thing and turns off the taps and, because he’s still on the go-go, he tidies and polishes and cleans up everything so the place is spotless. Except, of course, for the pools and puddles of water.
Come Monday morning, Gerry and his main man Ron pass by on their way to drop the keys off at the landlord’s office. Well, there’s police and fire trucks and yellow tape everywhere! Mrs G pops into the sports store and innocently asks, “What the hell happened?” and “Where’s all this water coming from?” as the water that’s backed up in the basement pours out the sports shop’s front door.
But the taps upstairs at Blondie’s are all turned off, and if there’s water all over the floors upstairs, Gerry sure doesn’t know where it came from. “You must have had a pipe burst somewhere overnight. It was fine when I left yesterday.”
“I looked completely innocent. You know I did!”