Vancouver gay-bar impresario Phil Moon has sold two of his four Davie St bars, Sugar Daddy’s and The Oasis Pub, to straight-bar impresario Vance Campbell. But Moon says he wouldn’t have sold the businesses at all without Campbell’s commitment that both places would stay gay.
“If I didn’t think he was going to be the best person, I wouldn’t have sold it to him,” Moon tells Xtra West. “It’s going to be good for the street. He’s energetic and he knows what he’s doing. If I had sold all four bars to the Hell’s Angels, I could have got more money, but the gay street would be gone. So I found a guy who would carry on what I started.”
Moon opened his first queer space, Luv Affair, in Yaletown in1976 because he thought straight people always had nice places to go and gay people should too. He has opened a dozen bars and restaurants in the last three decades. With the sale of Sugar Daddy’s and Oasis, Moon retains ownership of Numbers, which he opened in 1980 and has run ever since, and a share in the Fountainhead Pub.
He plans to keep Numbers, he says, for five or six more years, but part of his deal with Campbell is that when he does decide to put Numbers on the block, Campbell will get the first chance to buy it.
After a serious health scare last year, the 68-year-old Moon decided it was simply time to take things more easily. “I just want to have a little more time for myself,” he says. “I haven’t had much time for the last 35 years. I’ve done all my own work and it’s been a lot.” Moon says he plans to spend more time travelling and golfing. One of his favourite destinations is Phoenix, Arizona.
When Xtra West asks if Moon has a message to the gay community and his customers at this turning point in his career, fat tears well up in the corners of his eyes and run down his cheeks. He’s a man of few, but deliberate, words. “I hope that they support Vance and all the people on the street,” he sobs. “I’ve spent 35 years building this. That’s something that people have to realize. Vance has spent a lot of money getting into this and I know he’s going to be a good guy. I think they should be supported. There’s room for everybody and the more they do, the more [the] gay community can do.”
For Campbell’s part, he suffered a health scare himself a few years ago and decided then to scale back his career. “I retired in 2001,” he says. “I had a heart attack. The pressure got to me. I decided to smell the flowers. I went through a process of self-evaluation, figuring out what was important to me in my life and did some really in-depth rigorous looking at myself. It really wasn’t my intention to ever work again. The problem is, I lived.”
He’s opened and run dozens of bars, clubs and restaurants over the years including the Roxy on Granville St. He was a lead figure in getting the Granville Entertainment District designation. But, he says, he wants people to know that although he wants Sugar Daddy’s and Oasis to do a brisk trade, he has no intention of turning the Davie Village into a place that’s unwelcoming or dangerous to queers.
“I was involved in the straight bar business. I don’t take anything on unless I jump into it full speed and I wanted to advocate [Granville] as an entertainment zone and it got there. Now I’m at a period of my life I want to put the same amount of energy into [the Davie Village]. What we’ll be able to do is develop this area in [a] way that’s meaningful to the community that’s around it. I’m not going to be building any straight bars here. It’ll be for the community.”
Buying these bars isn’t the first contribution Campbell has made to the queer community. As well as identifying as “a gay guy” himself, Campbell feels passionately about personal safety and says most recently he’s worked with the Vancouver Police Department and The Centre to establish the safegay.ca website to give victims of homophobic violence a chance to anonymously report crimes against them to the police.
So what are Campbell’s immediate plans for Sugar Daddy’s and Oasis?
He says he’s got a deal in place to acquire Sandy’s Café, which is right next door to Sugar Daddy’s. He plans to tear down the wall and expand Sugar Daddy’s inside and the patio in front. As for the Oasis: “We’re going to fluff it up a bit,” he says. “It’s a great venue. It’s a got a great following and it’s got good bones, but we think it needs a lipstick job and we’ll be looking to do that too.”
What about the staff?
“We were really sensitive that after years and years of working with Phil [Moon] that the staff would go, ‘Uh oh. Who are these guys and what are they doing?’ Two weeks before we took over, we were clear with them: ‘Nothing is going to change. You’re all going to have your jobs. We’re going to listen to you. We’re going to listen to the customers and we’re going to listen to the community.'”
Campbell won’t promise that drink prices won’t go up under his management, but he is philosophical about it. “You have to do responsible business things that make sense and still cater to the market,” he says. “What will the market bear and what is it paying now? You have to be sensitive. You have to do your studying and do your research. You can’t sell a $10 martini if the guy next door is selling a $5 one and we wouldn’t.”