3 min

The Duff closes its doors

Management says closure temporary; patrons skeptical

Credit: Jacques Gaudet photo

One of Vancouver’s oldest remaining gay bars has closed its doors, this time possibly for good.

Though management denies The Duff is now closed permanently, community fundraising groups received notices saying the bar would be closed until further notice effective Aug 20.

One might call it death by a thousand cuts, says Peter Hanson, who has worked with The House of Just Cuz and The Knights of Malta doing fundraising in and around the bar for the past several years.

The bar’s closure, he predicts, is going to have a severe impact on fundraising work for charities throughout the gay community. It has left a lot of fundraising groups scrambling, he says.

“They dropped the axe. They lopped the head off the queen,” Hanson says. “It took a great chunk of a lot of people’s hearts out.”

It’s not just the fundraising loss that will hurt the community, he continues, it’s the slap in the face to the customers.

“It’s my home bar,” he says. “I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back.”

But bar manager Kevin Van Buren insists The Duff is not permanently closed. Changes to the bar are still in the planning stages, he says.

He can’t give a timeline for how long those changes may take.

“Nobody’s being lied to,” he tells Xtra West before cutting the interview off.

Long-time Duff patron Roger Lee doesn’t buy it.

Lee says the management’s lack of communication with long-standing staff and customers is nothing short of “despicable.”

Hanson says he doesn’t know when or if The Duff will re-open, despite Van Buren’s promises that the closure is only temporary. “We don’t know whether it’s six months or five years,” he says.

“They’re not being forward with us,” he charges. “They’ve been dragging us along.”

Lee too is skeptical about Van Buren’s promises. “If they want to close it, close it,” he says. “They’re just making the bar smaller and smaller. It’s an affront to the community.”

Since purchasing the building in 2005, the new management has progressively changed the face of both the hotel and its resident gay pub.

The changes began slowly.

First to go was the karaoke bar, which is now an upscale wine and beer store. Then much of the gay entertainment was cut.

Then work on the hotel began.

Then the hotel’s name changed from the old Dufferin, with its classic neon sign down the side of the building, to the Moda, more in keeping with its chic new look.

And then the walls began closing in on the bar patrons. Literally.

Renovations to the bar narrowed its space considerably, as its entrance was moved from Seymour St around the corner to Smithe St and its intervening floor space was sealed off. That left the bar about one-third the size of its original gay space.

When the hotel’s name changed last December, then-bar manager Cary Grant assured Xtra West that there was no need to worry. Though the bar would see some significant renovations and shift to a more upscale tapas menu, it would remain queer, he promised.

Now, he says, he can’t believe it’s closed.

“I’m truly disappointed,” he says.

The Duff’s closure is a blow to Vancouver’s gay culture and community, he continues.

The Duff has been a cornerstone of the community, not only as a queer meeting place but also a fundraising venue, Grant says.

“It’s going to create a vacuum for the gay community.”

He says he doesn’t understand why the new management closed the bar.

Grant, who has left The Duff several times over the last few years only to return a few months later, says he gave notice again last week, just three days before the bar closed.

That didn’t stop many regulars from calling him in distress when they encountered the closed doors. “There was a zillion messages on my machine,” Grant says.

Some regular patrons were having doubts about the space’s ability to survive its upscale swing long before last week’s closure.

The Duff under its new ownership has lost its edge, Michael Buehler told Xtra West last year.

“People used to go there before because it was edgy,” he said. “It’s becoming more and more mainstream. There’s nothing going on anymore, the feel is gone.”

Lee wonders where The Duff regulars will go if the old gay space doesn’t re-open.

“Is there going to be a bar in the Downtown Eastside that’s going to take up the slack? Probably not,” he predicts.

From the Moda’s outset, one hospitality consultant working on the building’s renovations said the bar would not restrict itself to its old gay clientele under the new management.

“We’re delighted to be catering to the gay market,” Gerry Barteluk of Barteluk Hospitality told Xtra West in February 2006. But “we’re not going to restrict ourselves to one market,” he said.