British Columbia’s last small town gay bar is no more.
On Feb 25 the staff at 70 Below in Nanaimo came to work to find the doors boarded up, and the locks changed.
This comes in the midst of a long dispute between the bar, which is located in the basement of the Best Western Dorchester and the property company which owns the hotel.
Mayfair Properties, a member of the Gay and Lesbian Business Association of BC, alleges the bar violated the terms of its lease and had petitioned the BC Supreme Court to terminate it prematurely. The lease was supposed to be valid until Mar 31, 2009.
In affidavits filed with the Supreme Court, Mayfair alleges 70 Below has served alcohol to minors and intoxicated persons, served alcohol outside the specified times of its liquor license, and “conducted, condoned, or failed to stop” the consumption and sale of marijuana, and the consumption of cocaine, on the premises. Mayfair also claims 70 Below has interfered in the operations of the Dorchester through “excessive and unreasonable” noise.
Mayfair terminated the bar’s lease a month before the scheduled court date on Mar 25.
“The Lease was terminated as a result of 70 Below’s numerous and flagrant breaches of the Lease and its refusal to remedy those breaches, despite being provided with numerous opportunities to do so,” Mayfair alleges in a press release issued by its lawyer Jeremy West.
“Mayfair Properties Ltd has, for a number of years, received numerous complaints about 70 Below’s noise from its guests. In those circumstances, given the 70 Below’s refusal to reduce the noise or address the issue, Mayfair Properties had no other option but to terminate the Lease.”
70 Below co-owner Dave Ashbach describes Mayfair’s actions as “gangster lawyerism.”
“They came in and locked the door within about an hour’s notice. Under the lease they are forced to provide seven days notice and they didn’t follow of any of that,” Ashbach claims.
“They were also well outside the landlord tenant law in British Columbia and they ignored that,” he alleges. “They didn’t go to court, they just locked the door.”
Ashbach claims the hotel put a cease and desist order on the door at 10 am which instructed the bar owners to relinquish possession of the premises. Ten minutes later, he says, they boarded up the doors and changed the locks. At 12:30 pm Mayfair informed 70 Below’s lawyer.
The community is already feeling its loss.
Bill Bard had provided karaoke at 70 Below for over 10 years. For him it means the loss of a livelihood.
“I live on permanent disability and need the money I made there to survive, ” he says. “This was my main source of income.”
He believes the hotel’s motivation was fuelled by homophobia.
“I have read parts of a PI’s report that implied lewd behaviour between two men that were kissing. Let’s face it, I think the owners are homophobic and decided when they bought the place to shut it down,” he alleges. “Fortunately, our laws and their apparent morals conflict, and they will lose in the end.”
Bard is referring to a report written by private investigators George and Trudy Harding of Harding & Associates of North Vancouver to determine whether the bar was complying with liquor laws and if any illegal activity was going on. Mayfair hired the investigators to see if any illegal activities were taking place. They filed the report in BC Supreme Court last June.
Included in Harding’s allegations of illegal drug use, is an incident he highlights as a “bizarre encounter,” described as a “male security guard wearing yellow security jacket sitting inside the club embracing and kissing male bartender.” The term “bizarre encounter” is listed in the same capitalized, underlined heading font which he uses for allegations of criminal activities.
The report also contains notes about 70 Below’s fetish night.
Outraged by Mayfair’s actions, bar patron Les Campbell circulated a petition in August to keep the bar open. In eight nights he collected 430 signatures.
Campbell is stunned by the sudden closure.
“It angers me that [Mayfair] thinks that it can get away with this kind of action without consequences, that they feel that they are entitled to treat others like a piece of crap,” he says. “I for one would like to see justice served and that Mayfair Properties get their due in this matter.”
A Facebook group dedicated to saving the bar had already accumulated over 370 members by press time.
“This was a great place to go in the city and the only alternative club of its kind in the area for straight and gay alike,” says group member Sherry Carter who planned to hold her daughter’s 21st birthday there. “The other lounges in Nanaimo do not welcome alternative lifestyles and we don’t want to spend our evenings with rednecks, hookers, and crack heads. What’s left for us?”
Not everyone within the gay community is lamenting the bar’s closure. Vancouver Island Rainbow Association board member John Lee says 70 Below has turned into a college bar and the closure means very little, if anything, to the gay community.
“The gay community wasn’t supporting it the way they should have. And [owners] Dave [Ashbach] and Patrick [Edwards] started allowing more people in and really turned it into a young person’s bar, a college crowd bar. It got to the point where they gay community doesn’t feel comfortable and they left.”
Lee insists that the gay community is still going strong in Nanaimo.
“The Rainbow Association has started doing monthly socials in town. On the last Saturday of every month we rent a room with bartenders and put on a party. I would say the majority of the gay community comes to that rather than the bar.”
“We’re in limbo,” says Ashbach. “We don’t know what’s coming next. They are just trying to get us to spend the money to take them to court because they want to drain us dry. Spend as much of our money as they can. I will not back down.”