The future of Winnipeg gay bars

With the opening of a new gay club, some wonder about the fate of the LGBT* club scene

  • Some people view Gio’s Club and Bar as the heart of Winnipeg’s LGBT* community. – Cindy Titus

When a new gay bar opened its doors to Winnipeg’s LGBT* scene this past December, it also opened up speculation about where Winnipeg gays would go to party.

Since Fame opened at 279 Garry St., the other two designated gay bars in the city, Gio’s and Club 200, have felt the impact.

“Gio’s has weathered many storms over the years and, while the loss of business due to the opening of Fame is a factor, other demographics of the community are now stepping up to enhance Gio’s Club and Bar with much more variety in programming,” said Jay Rich, president of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Society, which operates the members-only club as a non-profit organization.

Around for almost 30 years, the bar funds Gio’s Cares, a charity that strives to provide support for those living with HIV/AIDS as well as promote prevention and education of the disease.

According to Rich, the club’s mandate has been key to its success over time.

“I believe that Gio’s Club and Bar has survived for nearly 30 years because it is genuinely the heart of the community,” said Rich. “Any profit generated at Gio’s goes right back into the GLBTT community, a fact which sets it apart from other GLBTT or GLBTT friendly clubs in the city.”

For Barry McLeod, co-coordinator of the University of Winnipeg’s LGBT* Centre, the charitable differences between Fame and Gio’s speak volumes.

“Fame is a business and it’s being run like a business,” said McLeod. “I’m all for them running their business, but I think people need to respect the fact that Gio’s is an institution ... we need to realize that (Gio’s) has been here for a long time and you need to give back to your community when you can.”

For the owners of Fame, including Stephen Hua, who is the mind behind other Winnipeg clubs like Mystique, Rock Bar and Republic, it was a business venture they couldn’t pass up.

“Fame was opened because the owners missed having a gay bar,” said Fame’s general manager, Melanie Mykietowich, noting that the owners previously operated Desire, which closed down in 2009. “It is a very fun and friendly environment. Running a gay bar is the most fun they have ever had.”

According to Mykietowich, Fame strives to provide variety for club-goers in the city. 

“I guess in a way you could say that there was something missing, and we’re hoping to refresh the LGBT nightlife,” she said. “The possibilities in the community are endless and we want to give a selection to choose from.”

Winnipeg’s other gay bar, Club 200, caters more specifically to an older, primarily male demographic than Fame and Gio’s.

This split in the gay community could have a major impact on the success of the establishments according to those who frequent them.

“All three bars are going to go ahead and be by the skin of their teeth until the spring,” said Tony Frost, who has been a part of Winnipeg’s gay community since moving to the city in 1966. “Because you’re dividing three (bars) into the population, you have to keep coming up with new ideas to attract people.”

Frost, a member of Gio’s, cites the lack of allegiance among gay youth as a major financial concern.

“There is no such thing as loyalty in the youth today. They go wherever they have a good time,” he said.

McLeod understands the appeal of a new gay bar, but doesn’t know if it will last.

“I’m going to go where I can have a good time,” he said. “I think ... the hard hit that Gio’s is taking (will pass) because Fame is a new club.”

Published in Volume 65, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 27, 2011)

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