1999. This was Planet Earth at a time when man roamed a lush and fertile gay village. A club just three floors tall changed all that. In 2014, news of its closure hit with the force of 10,000 crying gay men. A million tons of glitter and powder were thrown into the atmosphere, creating a suffocating blanket of dust that the rainbow was powerless to penetrate for a thousand years. It happened before; it is happening again.
This reworked monologue from the movie Armageddon is a bit over the top, but with the impending closure of Fly nightclub, the city’s last true gay dance club, some in Toronto’s gay community have been running around like the end is near. It is not. Instead of an ice age like the one that accompanied the last real end of the world, we are in the midst of a great change. What is happening now has been years in the making and can be better compared to the continental shift of Pangaea. Let’s call ours Pangaya.
Pangaea was the name given to the super-continent that existed before the Earth’s plates shifted and created the smaller continents that we now inhabit. Pangaya is the Church Street gay village. In 1999, when Fly threw open its infamous metal-gated doors, Toronto’s gay community was at its height. The landscape was very different. It was one big mass of thriving gay clubs, bars, clothing stores, sex shops, restaurants and bathhouses. The social and economic climate of the day supported Fly and many other gay clubs, including The Barn, Boots and Five, not to mention countless bars and weekly gay nights in large straight clubs. Michael Schwarz, co-owner of Fly for the last 11 years, remembers those days.
“The market has definitely changed,” he admits. “We aren’t making the money that we once made. I remember when we had 1,200 to 1,500 people through our doors on a Saturday night. And personally, my business partner no longer lives in the city, [and] I have three kids now. Plus, the landlord wants a much higher rent. He’s more interested in [the building] becoming a condo.”
Though part of this shift has been created by outside forces like the booming condo market (Five Condo is currently being built on what was Five Nightclub, Zipperz will soon be replaced with a 45-storey tower, and there has been talk of Crews and The Barn being demolished and turned into condos for years), we as gay men have also helped it along. Just as Neanderthal man became extinct and Homo sapiens evolved, we gay men are changing. Gay rights “normalized” us, while technology altered us. We can be out almost anywhere. We are marrying, raising children. No longer is the gay club the primary social venue and meeting place. Why go out when you can go online and order in?
With this shift, some things (like large clubs) are being lost to the seas of time, while others (smaller clubs, monthly parties) are rising up to take their place. It happened in New York. It is happening here. From one massive Pangaya village, like newly separated continents, three smaller ones are in creation. WAYLA bar and other gay-friendly hangouts have taken root in the East. The Steady, The Beaver, the Gladstone Hotel, Henhouse and gay nights like Big Primpin’ at Wrong Bar and Hotnuts at The Garrison have solidified “Queer West.” And centrally, Church Street, Toronto’s gay mecca, though smaller, is still afloat.
But what will the gay club landscape of the future look like without Fly? Where will the big-name global DJs be heard? Where will the international up-and-coming divas belt out their latest tracks? Where will scantily clad go-go men gyrate on speakers for our amusement? Where will Toronto gays dance into the wee hours of the morning?
Poised to take off, as perhaps an alternative Fly monthly or even a weekly, are Gairy Brown’s Peep Show parties at Coda, which have been drawing large numbers of Fly regulars for months now. And if George Pratt is smart, with a bit of intelligent reworking of its current layout, his Flash strip club and Erotica lounge in the heart of the Church-Wellesley Village could easily become a weekend dance hotspot. Considering that he once owned Club Colby’s (which had an upper-floor strip club) in the late 1990s, this concept should not be foreign to him.
Though the world will enjoy Fly one more time during WorldPride 2014, the actual last hurrah will take place the following Saturday, July 5. It’s only fitting that we party with our community and reflect on days gone by. And to remember those times, everyone will leave with one of the club’s hundreds of mirror balls as a final parting gift — a small, glittery meteor to remind us that even though Fly has fallen, the gay club scene has not. It’s simply shifting.