One of this year’s Pride themes is “allies,” which you certainly qualify as — how does a straight guy wind up in the gay nightclub business?
It’s a long chain of events…. The guys that owned Goliath’s originally also owned the Night Gallery building, and my sister was the manager at the Night Gallery. They asked her to help with their books, and she asked me to help her, so I started working with them through that. They owned quite a few properties in the Beltline as well as the bathhouse, and then the police decided to raid the bathhouse and pissed them off — extremely. They sold all their business in Calgary and moved to Victoria. So they offered me to be one of the new owners.
We should give some love to your business partner, who I understand got married this weekend.
Allan Owen… he’s getting married today. Yup. We’re having the reception at Texas Lounge. He had been a manager and bartender there for a number of years, and they (previous owners) just wanted it to go to people who had been there.
When did you take over?
About six years ago.
There’s a lot of history in that block — 319, Victoria’ — What makes that location such as hotbed of similar businesses?
Yeah, and this year is actually Texas Lounge’s 25th anniversary. The location is good because with the bathhouse, some people do want discretion, so having a back-alley entrance out of sight but in an area where a lot of people go…. And it’s historic — Calgary has been a tougher town for gay communities, but it’s a really active community and the location is perfect for it.
I think the bathhouse concept is pretty self-explanatory, but what makes the Texas Lounge unique?
To me it’s kind of the Cheers of the gay community. You go and the same people are there, everyone is really nice and welcoming — everybody buys each other drinks.
The bathhouse is the only business of its kind in Calgary, and a lot of gay clubs have been shutting down. Why do you think there’s such a scarcity of public places for the community in a growing city like ours?
What I’ve found is the younger generation doesn’t necessarily need that segregation. People are way more accepting — nobody really cares if you’re gay. Before it was really…. A lot of these guys dealt with gay bashing and all that, so they really needed somewhere they could go and not be bothered. I think as society evolves that’s becoming not as necessary for the younger generation.
How’s your relationship with the authorities these days? Has that improved?
It has. We’ve been really open with them. Essentially once the court case went through and got thrown out, the police have had no problem with it. I think they realize that the bathhouse is an essential part of Calgary’s community in general — it’s somewhere safe for people to go.
What other challenges have you had to face?
The biggest challenge has been getting the younger generation to come down — creating new customers is a problem. Our bread and butter is the older gay community, and also we get a lot of tourists — a lot of people go to where the bathhouse is, that’s where you know you’re going to meet the gay community; you’ll find out where to hang out in Calgary.
But generally getting a strong, younger base of clients has been our challenge.
How do you go about that — special events?
Yes. We do drag shows and a lot of charity events. My partner Allan is also a drag queen. His drag name is Dynamite and he’s really big on charity — he does a ton of fundraising.
Any big plans for Pride?
We’re doing a bunch…. I just went through it with my manager — what are we doing Friday? I forget [laughs]. Saturday there’s a Pure Pride event and anybody who attends gets a discount at the bathhouse; Sunday we’re doing a flashlight party in the bathhouse where we darken it right down and everyone who comes in gets a flashlight. We’re actually doing an event at Broken City — I’m involved with them as well — my partner and a few friends from Texas Lounge are doing a drag show and an auction, and we’re doing a patio party as well.