History of Edmonton’s Gay Bars, Part 3: The Long-Running

In the years that followed, The Roost and Flashback were in direct competition, sometimes barring staff members from entering the other club. But, eventually, there came an uneasy truce between the owners of the two clubs. 

Read Part 1: The Beginning & Part 2: A Flashback to Flashback.

The Roost

Another important venue in Edmonton’s gay bar scene was The Roost. At the same time that Flashback (in its first location on Jasper Avenue) was filling to capacity, four people who had been influential in the management of Club 70 quietly built a new gay bar on the main floor at 10345 – 104 Street. This new venture was led by Dow Beverly Hicks and George James Valentine Schafer. At the time, they were unaware that just across the street, Flashback was slowly developing its second location. Ultimately, this proved to be a huge benefit to Edmonton’s gay bar scene as people moved back and forth between the clubs.

The exterior of the building once home to The Roost, September 2020. Photo courtesy of the ECAMP Team.

The Cock’s Roost opened its doors on September 16, 1977. A live rooster in a cage greeted those very first guests at the front door. This ill-advised promotional stunt involving a live animal was met with both laughter and concern for the animal’s welfare. Any thoughts of the rooster holding court beyond the opening weekend were quickly dismissed. And it also became apparent that one of the words in the venue’s name was not so widely accepted. So, along with the bird, that first word was dropped, and the place became simply known as The Roost.

The logo for The Roost. Image provided by the authors.

In the years that followed, The Roost and Flashback were in direct competition, sometimes barring staff members from entering the other club. But, eventually, there came an uneasy truce between the owners of the two clubs. Like Flashback, The Roost was also a private club and sometimes cooperated with Flashback when challenging ALCB regulations. The Roost was the first venue in Edmonton where people could go drinking, dancing, and sit on an outdoor patio! An outdoor bar was created in a closed-off space in the alley just north of the building. There, tables & chairs, a bar & bartender, and colourful lighting created a unique, one-of-a-kind experience for a hot Edmonton summer night.

Weena (left) and Ida (right) working a BBQ. Photo provided by the authors, courtesy of Horst Heinze.

Responding to the growing rave scene, the owners and management of The Roost decided to open an after-hours dance club on the second floor of the venue in 1990. The entrance came up a rear stairway from the back alley. Renaming the main floor as The Roost Rumpus Room, the second-floor space became The Underground Upstairs. The back alley entrance to The Underground Upstairs was more hassle than it was worth, and a stairway from inside the club was soon used instead. 

In the words of Pat Ryley, manager of The Roost from 1985 until 1996, “The Roost was home to drag queens, strippers, leather events, theatrical plays, fashion shows, and so much more. We regularly saw… singers like the Village People, Sylvester, k.d.lang, Jann Arden, Buddy Knox… fashion designer Alfred Sung, and so many other stars and icons felt safe within its four walls.”

In 1985, the AIDS epidemic hit Edmonton and began taking the lives of clubgoers from the gay community. On November 11, 1985, the first AIDS benefit in Edmonton was held at The Roost. This event became an annual tradition up until the year the bar closed in 2007. Over 23 years, The Roost contributed tens of thousands of dollars to AIDS research and support agencies.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, Dow Hicks (one of the owners of The Roost) purchased the building the club was in. Over the next decade, he received multiple offers to buy the building and, in 2007, one came that was “too good to resist.” He decided to sell. 

On December 31, 2007, a grand New Year’s Eve closing party was held to end The Roost’s thirty years as a prominent part of the LGBTQ community – and the Edmonton dance scene in general. Though he had initial plans to reopen somewhere else, Dow’s health declined, and he passed away in January 2011. With his death there would be no re-opening, leaving The Roost as a memory on the timeline of Edmonton’s Queer history.

Other Early Venues

Other places entered Edmonton’s gay bar scene in those early years. One practically forgotten place, but for a single file folder in the City of Edmonton Archives, was Club Aquarius. It was open for less than a month. They held their grand opening on October 30, 1971, at 9940 – 82 Avenue. Pre-opening promotional events were held in the weeks prior at a dance club called Pegasus (located on 106 Street, just north of Jasper Avenue) which was owned by Pierre Cochard. Pierre would become well-known years later for his adult entertainment business Chez Pierre’s. 

In early 1970, Pierre had engaged two drag queens to perform at the Pegasus- which was a straight business. Paul Chisholm, known affectionately as Millie, and Duane Shave, known as Chatty Cathy, performed the first public drag show. Pierre’s unfaltering acceptance of the queer community was not widely known but he did occasionally featured drag queens at his business over the years. Chez Pierre remains a welcoming home for Edmonton’s drag scene to this day. 

When Club 70 closed in late 1978 due to the limitations of its rigid entry policy, a lesbian-focused private club opened in its place under the name Cha Cha Club early the following year. Sadly, the community didn’t support it enough to stay viable and they closed, selling the business assets to Cal C., Pat F. and Conrad Dragu.

Twiggy performs at Boots ‘n Saddle, circa the mid-1980s. Photo provided by the authors courtesy of Horst Heinze.

Boots ‘n Saddle

When Conrad Dragu and his partners took over the now-closed Cha Cha Club in 1979, they completely revamped the space with a western theme. They built a horseshoe bar, and installed swinging saloon doors; wagon wheels and other cowboy decor were on display throughout.  

Boots ‘n Saddle operated as a more open-door gay bar, as opposed to being exclusive to queer folk. The bar was open regular bar hours with the daily happy hour quickly becoming the place to gather after work for a few cocktails. Over the next couple of years, Conrad bought out his partners leaving him as the sole owner.

Later on, Conrad opened the Garage Burger Bar in the tiny space at the front of the building. With only about two dozen seats and a small outdoor-patio, the roll-up garage door at the front served some of Edmonton’s best burgers. Consistently voted the Best Burgers by See Magazine and Vue Weekly, the idea of a public eatery joined with a gay bar was a novelty that was met with general acceptance by the busy lunch crowds downtown. The Boots ‘n Saddle patio holds the distinction of being the very first restaurant patio licensed to operate in Edmonton.

Wanting to slow down and focus on his other business (Conrad’s Sugar Bowl on 124 Street), Conrad sold the business to a former partner in The Roost, George James (Jim) Valentine Schafer in late September of 1996.

Boots ‘n Saddle owner, Conrad Dragu (pictured centre), and friend. Photo provided by the authors, courtesy of Horst Heinze.

Boots Blue Room/Boots

Jim Schafer, like Conrad before him, chose to completely redesign the space after buying the business, adopting a cobalt blue colour for the walls. Schafer was a genuine character who sat on his barstool at the end of the bar and, with a booming voice, offered his views on almost anything that came up. Many times, his controversial views were concluded with his boisterous “Is that right?” followed by a round of sambuca shooters.

Club 70 Reunion poster, date unknown. Image provided by authors.

Boots n’ Saddle continued to be a place to go for a few drinks with friends. Many regulars could be found in the same spot, slowly sipping on a glass of beer. Just past the bar, a table of after-work regulars gathered to share the news of the day. Some of those can still be found at new haunts carrying on a tradition that lasted decades. Boots often hosted shows and fundraisers by many of the community groups including the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose.

Following Schafer’s death in 2010, surviving owner Ross C. opted to close the business that spring. In its final years, Boots’ business had declined with many of the old regulars now frequenting Woody’s Pub.

Buddys Pub, circa the late 1990s. Photo provided by the authors, courtesy of James Ross.

Buddy’s Pub/Buddys NiteClub/Woodys Pub

In 1995, Jim Brown and Pat Ryley purchased Boyztown Café. Located in a two-story building at 10116 – 124 Street, they also catered to the gay and lesbian crowd. Seeing an opportunity for a new gay bar, Jim Brown began renovating the second floor into a licensed space. On June 1, 1996, Buddy’s Pub held its Grand Opening. The space was styled as a pub and featured a bar lined with stools and personalized mugs for the regulars. Buddy’s Pub held many shows and events but, perhaps the most remembered were the occasional “Dairy Queen Shows.” Directly across the street from Buddy’s was a small Dairy Queen with concrete stairs leading up to its door. One night, James Ross, also known as Twiggy, decided to venture down the stairs and across the street to continue their performance from the stairs of the ice cream store. The pub had large windows running across the entire length of the bar, looking right out onto 124 Street and the Dairy Queen. Customers that night ran to the windows, and hooted and hollered with glee at this daring move. With the help of wireless mics, many more performances were held on those steps over the years until Buddy’s Pub closed at that location on June 15, 2000.

In the early years of operation, Pat Ryley decided to sell his interest in the pub to Jim Brown who then became the sole owner. Jim saw a need to reshape the business to one which had more of a focus on the dance crowds looking for new places to party. On July 22, 2000, Buddys Niteclub opened in the basement at 11723b Jasper Avenue, making this the third time a gay bar would be situated in a basement (and certainly not the last!).

Buddys very quickly took off, with lineups often extending down the stairs and onto the street, and it continued to be a popular place. Two years after opening Buddys Niteclub, Jim saw room for another pub-style business in that location and opened Woodys Pub on the second floor in March 2002. Woody’s Pub had large windows running the full width of the pub, letting patrons watch people as they walked down Jasper Avenue. Jim Brown also owned Steamworks Bathhouse in the building next door. However, he decided to retire once his various leases were up. Buddys closed on November 21, 2015, followed by Woodys on July 30, 2016. As of September 2020, the Steamworks Bathhouse is still open and operated by Jim.

Ron Byers & Rob Browatzke © 2020

Read Part 1: The Beginning

Read Part 2: A Flashback to Flashback

Read Part 4: The Expanding Scene

Read Part 5: Into Today

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