History of Edmonton’s Gay Bars, Part 4: The Expanding Scene

When considering Edmonton’s gay bar history, there were over thirty venues in almost half a century. Some lasted longer than others, but when considered together, they are all part of the rich history of spaces that were safe, fun, and made for us.

Read Part 1: The Beginning, Part 2: A Flashback to Flashback & Part 3: The Long-Running here.

A Kaleidoscope of Clubs All in One Place

Located at 10148 – 105 Street, this two-storey building (originally the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans Club) has been a kaleidoscope of night clubs since the early 1980s. The first attempt was made by a Lebanese family who opened a straight bar called Ali Katz in 1984. After about a year and a half of operation, they decided to rename the business and gear it toward the gay community. Under the leadership of the family matriarch, Club Soda made its entry onto the scene for a brief period around 1986. The venue altered between gay and straight audiences throughout the years. The location was home to Reflexions from 1988 to 1989, Lamborghini’s in 1989, Vicious Pink from 1998 to 1999, and Choices from 1999 to 2000. For reasons nobody could quite put their fingers on, the space just never appealed enough to the gay community for any of the ventures to be successful.

One of the bars that eventually ended up in this particular location did not start there. On August 20, 1993, Option Room 1 opened its doors in a space previously occupied by the popular dance and live music venue called Crackerjacks. It was on the main floor of an office building located at 9707 – 110 Street adjacent to the north end of the High Level Bridge. Its opening weekend was a success, but that came crashing down when the building owners (Triple 5®) found out about it. Option Room 1’s two-day run ended when the landlord bolted the doors.

Left: Option Room logo. Image provided by the authors. Right: Reflection logo, date unknown. Image provided by the authors.

For the second time in LGBTQ history, a queer-based business had been forced out of its space by homophobic owners. For the next several months, Triple 5® and the owner of Option Room, Tony C., battled in the courts, with the court eventually siding with Option Room in October of 1993. Triple Five was forced to hand over the keys back to Option Room 1. After considerable stalling and excuses, it became apparent that relations between the two parties were never going to improve, so a search began for a new location. Eventually, in January of 1994, Option Room 2 opened its doors at 10148 – 105 Street.

The Triple 5® group also owned West Edmonton Mall, which opened twelve years earlier. It took time, but their positions regarding homosexuality eventually changed.  Twenty-five years later, the Triple 5® group and West Edmonton Mall have embraced Edmonton’s Queer community by sponsoring many community events, including the Edmonton Rage LGBT+ Hockey Team. This is an example of a company guided by strict religious teachings in the earlier years putting those aside and embracing difference in a positive and supportive manner.

Left: The exterior of the building that once housed 109 Discotheque, date unknown. Photo provided by the authors. Right: 109 Discotheque business card. Image provided by the authors.

109 Discotheque

One of the more unique gay bars in Edmonton was in a former Howard & McBride Funeral Parlor. 109 Discothequeopened by Pat Ryley on May 19, 1997, after Club Malibu: The Morgue stopped operating in that location. Pat used his experience and background to bring his concept of nightlife to Edmonton’s LGBTQ community. 

Hosting everything from drag shows to punk bands to live music groups such as Painting Daisies and Voice Industrie, the club welcomed a diverse crowd. Occasionally, even celebrities such as Marilyn Manson would drop by! A-Channel TV (now City TV) often filmed on-location at 109 as part of their Friday night dance party. Club owner Pat also hired a production company to film inside the club which later became a show on CFRN. Brief segments of this show can still be found on the 109 Discotheque YouTube page.

Pat Ryley states that “after a year and a half of arguing over the HVAC systems with the landlord and utility bills that were through the roof, I soon realized this was not going to be a viable business.” In September of 1998, they held a closing party attended by about 350 people before closing their doors.

Shakespear’s Darts and Rumpus Room

With most of the gay bars to date primarily catering to the gay male population, the lesbian community felt the need to create spaces that were appealing to them. Though never explicitly excluded (several bars did offer a Wednesday Girls’ Night), it wasn’t until 1996 that queer women had a place they could call their own.

Opening first on the second floor at 10306 – 112 Street in 1996, and then moving to 10805 – 105 Avenue in September of 1997, Shakespear’s offered the lesbian scene a relaxed atmosphere with darts and games. They closed in 1998.

Left: Owners Nicole and Stacy at Shakespear’s original location, circa 1995. Photo provided by the authors, courtesy of Stacy Walker. Right: An ad for Shakespear’s, circa the late-1990s. Image provided by the authors.

Secret’s Bar & Grill

With the closure of one came the opening of another when Liz G. opened Secret’s on the main floor of an older three-storey building located at 10249 – 107 Street. The upper floors had apartments for rent. The bar opened on October 3, 1998, conveniently located immediately across the alley from Boots n’ Saddle. It operated until 2002 when Liz G. sold her interest in the business to Cindy G. and Constance B.; they renamed the business Prism Bar & Grill. One of the memorable aspects of Secrets was Liz’s motorcycle, which she kept parked in the bar providing many a patron with a wonderful photo opportunity.

It wasn’t until several years later that Liz and Secret’s made a come-back when she re-opened in 2005, just up the street at 10341 – 106 Street.  In a small contemporary bar setting, Liz chatted and engaged guests nightly, often with her young son Robin doing homework and helping out. Secrets closed at that location in 2006.

Left: Secret’s owner Liz Gates with Empress Mr. Vera in 2000. Photo provided by the authors. Right: An article from the Womonspace newsletter announcing the closure of Secrets II in 2006. Image provided by the authors.

Prism Bar & Grill

Prism Bar & Grill was forced to move from their 107 Street location in 2003 after their building was sold and scheduled for demolition. They re-opened in a former restaurant located at 10524 – 101 Street where the legendary Edmonton drag queen Twiggy tended bar. Prism regularly held drag shows, pulling in diverse audiences, but their focus was on catering to the lesbian community. In 2008, the owners sold their interest to Tracey Smith and Deborah Chymyshyn. After enjoying a seven-year run, Prism finally closed on August 13, 2010, when the opportunity for a new location arose.

Junction Bar & Eatery

When Jim Schafer passed away in 2010, the historic gay bar location of Club 70 and Boots became available. Deborahand Tracey seized the opportunity, inviting both the clientele of Boots and Prism into a new establishment by the name of Junction Bar & Eatery. Operating a full kitchen and bar, Wednesday Wing nights became so popular they often sold out of wings. The bar also regularly held pool tournaments, bear bashes, and various drag shows and fundraisers, including Dyke to Diva and Save the Tatas (holdovers from the Prism days.)  

After owning the building for decades, the owner finally decided to accept an offer to sell from the Latitude 53 Art Gallery. On September 22, 2012, the Junction closed its doors, bringing to an end forty-two years gay bar operation in that space.

Left: The cast of “Save the Tatas,” date unknown. Photo provided by the authors, courtesy of Karen Hofmann. Right: “A Little Gay Bar on 106  Street,” closing night event at Junction Bar & Eatery, September 22, 2012. Photo courtesy of Ron Byers.

Read Part 1: The Beginning

Read Part 2: A Flashback to Flashback

Read Part 3: The Long-Running

Read Part 5: Into Today

List of Edmonton’s Gay Bars

Ron Byers & Rob Browatzke © 2020

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