Ten years ago, the gay bar in Saskatoon was one of the few places queers could go to meet one another and comfortably be themselves. Today, it’s more acceptable to be openly queer at straight establishments than it used to be, says Skipp Anderson, owner of Saskatoon’s newest gay bar, 302 Lounge and Discothèque.
“I met my last boyfriend buying groceries,” he says. “It’s not like the old days when [the gay bar was] the only place you met people.”
With so many queers frequenting straight bars and restaurants nowadays, Anderson will open an inclusive gay nightclub and lounge on Aug 6 that offers the same services as Saskatoon’s straight hangouts.
For years, Diva’s has been the only gay bar in Saskatoon, but it doesn’t have a food menu. In 2004, a gay lounge called Headquarters opened, but it lasted for only a few years.
“My goal is to offer the same atmosphere and quality of food and service as the other high-end lounges, so they [queers] have a choice,” says Anderson.
His theory? If given an option, queers will choose 302 over places like Earl’s.
“Unless I’m going to Toronto or Vancouver, you never get the same services that a straight bar would have,” says Anderson. “You don’t have waiters, you don’t have shooter people, you don’t have a kitchen. It’s always baffled me. I’m like, ‘Why?’ Gay bars are rockin’. They’re always full. Why don’t they ever have the same services?”
Saskatoon’s first gay bar, Numbers, opened 30 years ago on 22nd St. It changed its name to Diva’s in the early ’90s and moved to where it is now, the historical Avenue Building on 3rd Ave and 21st St. Kelly Faber, general manager and owner of Diva’s, has been with the bar for almost 29 years.
“I got hired as a bouncer a month before I turned 16, which was illegal, but it was a different time back then,” says Faber.
When Numbers opened, it was licensed as a private club, so staff could regulate who entered. Diva’s has retained this. In order to get in, you have to hold a membership, which can be purchased for $25 a year, or be accompanied by a member. Faber says the club sells about 300 memberships a year. The entrance to Diva’s is in an alley, and to get into the club, you have to be buzzed in by a bouncer.
“It was a safety thing back then,” says Faber. “It’s nice to have it still in place.”
But Anderson says times are changing and that you won’t need a membership to get into 302.
“Ten years ago, it was very hush, hush. People had a lot of trouble coming out, so you’d go down those back alleys, you’d get buzzed in, because it was all about privacy. Nowadays, being gay isn’t a big deal,” he says.
Faber disagrees. She says it’s true that some straight bars are more gay friendly than others, but some queers, especially the older crowd, still feel more comfortable in a gay bar and value the privacy that Diva’s offers.
Faber welcomes 302 and hopes the two bars can work together. She wonders, though, why 302 will be a nightclub and not strictly a queer lounge, which she says is needed in Saskatoon.
“Why have another nightclub, because the community that doesn’t go to the bar currently loses out,” she says. “You’ve still got the over-35 group — their needs aren’t being met.”
Anderson says 302 will fill this gap by providing a broader range of entertainment, like dinner theatre nights and dance lessons. The space will be available for private bookings when the bar is closed from Sunday to Tuesday or if the queer community wants to hold public events, like acoustic music nights and poetry jams or lesbian dances, and so on.
“My goal is not to steal people or shut down Diva’s,” says Anderson. “It’s to offer something new to the city.”
The new bar is located in a 19th-century warehouse at 302 Pacific Ave. The space is 6,500 square feet with a capacity of 385 people and is being marketed to “upscale, urban and sophisticated men and women,” according to its Facebook page. Anderson describes the design of the bar as “slick and modern.” It has three in-house DJs and a dancefloor.
The hall is almost entirely booked for the next six months, and the lounge is no longer taking reservations for its opening night in less than two weeks. 302 was originally scheduled to open in early July but was flooded with four inches of rainwater when Saskatoon was hit by a major storm. Aside from that, everything is going well.
“I have had amazing feedback,” says Anderson. “I thought it was going to be mixed, but I have not heard one negative thing. Everyone is incredibly excited with our philosophy and the concept we’re providing.”