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Winnipeg loses a gay nightclub

But are club-goers mourning the loss?

CLOSED. Winnipeg's Club Desire (the building on the far left) closed in January, but regulars say the bar lost its lustre in recent years. Credit: Sean Robert photo

Although one of Winnipeg’s most popular gay nightclubs, Club Desire, closed its doors at the beginning of this month, it still remains a question whether queer club-goers are mourning the loss.

“Whatever we lost, we lost a year or two ago,” says Mike Law, a lawyer and active community member. “In the first couple of years it was pretty much a Saturday night routine. But in the last year, I’ve gone at most once a month.”

When Desire first opened in 2004, it soon captured the attention of Winnipeg club-goers. Located downtown in the city’s Exchange District, the bar took up residence in the architecturally stunning Imperial Bank of Canada building. The old main floor of the bank was used as a massive dance floor, while two staircases led patrons to second-story featuring another bar and catwalk. “It had this sort of glitz and glamour appeal,” says Law. “I remember bringing people there from outside the city during its heyday, and they were impressed that such a gorgeous bar existed in Winnipeg.”

Providing major competition to the city’s other gay bars, Desire was steeped in politics from the moment it opened up. Vying for the Saturday-night crowd, the privately-own club prevailed over the beloved community-run bar Happenings, which closed months later.

“Desire was the shiny new gay toy that everyone loved,” says Dar Lepine, better known for her drag persona Breyanna Burlesque. “They forget about good ol’ trusy that was back in the closet.” Crowned the last Ms Happenings and the first Ms Desire, Lepine stepped down on the end of one era and rose up for the beginning of another.

In its later years, Desire became increasingly popular among straight club-goers. Open later than most clubs in the area, Desire always experienced an influx of non-queer people in its last hour. This was not a problem until it became apparent the ratio of gay people at the bar was far less than straight people. “It got to the tipping point,” says Law, “it got so overwhelmingly filled with straights from other clubs it would become unwelcome for gays.”

This sentiment was also expressed by a number of the other drag queens in the city says Lepine. “There were only a handful of us that went on a regular basis or would decide to even go do a show there.” But Lepine, who was scheduled to perform every Saturday, says that he never felt unsafe while performing as Breyanna. “I knew what my status there was. I was the queen bitch and everyone knew,” he jokes. “Seriously if you messed with me you were out of there.”

Reflecting upon the reasons behind the bar’s ultimate closure, Law says “it’s not a question of a gay community getting smaller, if anything it’s more of situation where there are more options and the younger crowd is much more integrated. I can go into a lot of venues in Winnipeg with a group of gay friends, or my boyfriend, and not feel at all uncomfortable with showing same-sex affection.”

If Winnipeg’s queer community did lose anything with Desire now gone, Law says the city lacks a Saturday night queer hotspot. With Gio’s holding steady onto the Friday night slot, Law says a new entrepreneur or existing bar will have to rise-up in order to cater to a gay clientele ready to go out.

Law says queer people will always have a desire for somewhere to go. “I think that we will always need places, or should have places, where gay men and lesbians can go and be in the majority in their daily lives.”