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Tapas at the Duff?

Gay institution losing its edge, patron says

IN EDGIER TIMES: The Dufferin's bar manager, Cary Grant, stands behind the bar, two years ago. Now the Duff's new owner wants to upgrade the space and introduce a wine list and tapas-a move some patro Credit: TJ Ngan Photo

Contrary to persistent rumours, The Dufferin Hotel will continue to cater to the queer community and the bar staff has not been fired, says the hospitality consultant working on the project.

“We’re delighted to be catering to the gay market,” says Gerry Barteluk of Barteluk Hospitality.

But “we’re not going to restrict ourselves to one market,” he adds.

And that has some skeptical about the hotel’s future as a long-time fixture in the queer community.

Barteluk says work is ongoing to upgrade the hotel’s lobby and rooms, while the pub is facing some significant upgrading of its own. It will soon feature a wine bar and tapas menu, he says.

“We’re going full-steam ahead. We’re going to re-do the exterior [and] put a new roof on it,” he says. “There’s lots of things we’re doing.”

All this leaves community activist and author Billeh Nickerson worried the developers are going to slowly try and edge the queer clientele out.

But the Dufferin is a unique part of the city’s queer landscape, he argues. In the past, it’s been a place where edgy artists could perform transgressive material, where strippers and hustlers entertained, where different classes of people could come together.

Now where will the Duff crowd go, he asks.

“Where are we going to get our irony? Where are we going to get our mixed groups? Where are the trannies going to go? Where are the folks who a) can’t afford chi-chi and b) don’t feel part of that” going to go, he asks.

The latest developments seem like a slow closing of a queer landmark, he warns.

Already, much of the entertainment is gone, says bar manager Cary Grant. The karaoke has been cancelled and deejay Tim Chisholm has been cut to Fridays and Saturdays, though the Friday dancers and Paige Turner’s Saturday show remain.

The Duff under its new ownership has lost its edge, says pub regular Michael Buehler.

“People used to go there before because it was edgy,” he says. “There was such a vibe about it. It was like walking into the jungle. You got excited. It was an adventure.

“It’s becoming more and more mainstream. There’s nothing going on anymore, the feel is gone.

“Slowly but surely, the Dufferin is creating less of a comfortable environment for its regular patrons and becoming more attuned to a younger, boisterous, mainstream crowd,” Buehler says.

The pub seems to be catering more to straight youth than the mixed crowd which led to its success as a queer venue, he adds.

Recent postings on squirt.org claimed the entire bar staff had been fired.

Barteluk says that’s not so.

“We’ve had a couple of difficult situations in the bar that had to be rectified,” he says.

Grant confirms that several staff members have been let go, but cannot explain further.

Even as changes occur inside the building, city planner Michael Gordon says there have been no new development permit applications for the site.

“There were discussions about a year ago about what would be possible at that site,” he notes. Prior to its sale in mid-2005, the property was the subject of development inquiries at city hall and developers interested in the site have since been meeting with city officials.

The area around the Dufferin is showing strong condominium development and any changes at the site would have to incorporate mixed uses including commercial space at twice the land area, Gordon told Xtra West.

“I would be in the loop if there were developments,” he says.

Gordon finds the change of the pub to include a wine bar and tapas curious. He wonders if it will appeal to the current regulars.

“I’ll be fascinated to see where that crowd goes,” he says.

Dufferin regular Bryan Piche doesn’t think the clientele will be easily moved from their barstools.

“It’s never going to work,” he says. “They can build this place up but the clientele is going to remain. They can try what they want.

“I think it’s bullshit,” he adds. “They should leave it like it is.”

“Even if they are serving the community, they’re not giving anything back,” Nickerson notes. “That’s my despair right now.”

More than a year ago, one of the hotel’s string of recent managers, Marty Walsh, told Xtra West that the hotel’s former owner, Nizar Solehdin, was committed to the community.

Solehdin then sold the property.

For the buyers, the purchase seems to have paid off since property values in the area are rising as development continues unabated.

Two years ago, the property was valued at just under $2.77 million. According to records at city hall, it is now worth $5.3 million.

The Dufferin is now registered as owned by Milgate Holdings of Burnaby, which provincial corporate registry records show as being incorporated in April of last year. Only one director is listed: Nichele Guerrino.

Though a number of queer travel sites still list the hotel as gay-friendly, the hotel’s own site makes no mention of it serving the queer community.