There’s no place like home, except Friends of Dorothy

Culture

New queer venue provides a safe place with great eats

Friends of Dorothy photos.
Photos by Darren Hull.

A new restaurant on Johnston street, Friends of Dorothy, is a space for the LGBTQ+ community with a name that is a special nod to queer history. Back when staying in the closet was the safer option, the question, “are you a friend of Dorothy?”, was a safe way of asking, “are you gay, too?” Dorothy was used because of the 1939 movie The Wizard of OZ, where Dorothy was accepting of all her friends, including the ‘dandy’ cowardly lion. The queer community at the time also saw their experience reflected in Dorothy’s journey to Oz, from the black and white home town to the vibrant, colour-filled world that Dorothy finds herself in, along with other outcasts also looking for a way home and willing to help each other. Judy Garland herself became a gay icon because of her role as Dorothy and many of her fans were older gay men.

So when owner Rudy Tomazic was thinking of a name for his new spot, Friends of Dorothy seemed like a perfect fit. 

Friends of Dorothy was first opened on Dec. 18 and was built with the pandemic in mind. The restaurant has 103 seats but currently uses 60 of them. Tomazic describes the interior as  “Louis meets punk-chic with a little bit of cheeky Marie Antoinette.” Hand-painted art hangs on the walls, featuring an image of Antoinette herself blowing a gum bubble. 

The statement piece of the restaurant is definitely the chandelier glistening in the centre.

 Anyone can come to Friends of Dorothy. Visiting Dorothy’s feels very comfy, like you can take your time with it without having to worry about taking off. You can enjoy your food and the music, settling into the cushioned purple seats as Antoinette looks on.

When asked about the establishing of Friends of Dorothy, owner Rudy Tomazic explained that he wanted to give back to the Queer Community here in Victoria and Kelowna where the first Friends of Dorothy lounge was established. “I was in the land development and real estate business for a long, long time. It’s all I’ve ever done for most of my life, and I decided that I would change my trajectory and I really enjoy what this is giving to the community.”

Tomazic stated that there aren’t a lot of restaurants aimed at queer people exclusively. Most businesses that do focus on queer people are gay bars in a nighttime setting. But not every queer person enjoys the nighttime scene or alcohol, he says. Some just want a place to have brunch and hang out with some friends. 

When talking about the future of the Dorothy brand, Tomazic said that he has plans to expand. The original Friends of Dorothy location is in Kelowna, with the one in Victoria being the second. Tomazic hopes to bring Friends of Dorothy across Canada.

“The goal is to put a place like Dorothy’s in all locations” Tomazic’s goal is to get to the point where if people “google ‘I want to go to a gay bar’ or ‘gay lounge’ or ‘gay restaurant’, Dorothy’s will pop up.”

Friends of Dorothy also gives queer people a safe place to enjoy lunch without being judged.

“I’ll emphasize on safe space. I get challenged a lot from people who say ‘Well why do you gay people need a safe space?’ I get that all the time, unfortunately. I’m like, ‘Well, first of all you know, it’s not about being gay, it really is about feeling safe.’”

 For a lot of Queer people, feeling safe and being open about their gender identity and sexuality is incredibly important. Having a space to be yourself without being judged is something vital to a person. 

“People say, ‘Do you really need a safe space?’ and my answer is  100%, yes.’ Not because I feel threatened, but because I just want to be comfortable.”

Friends of Dorothy is open for morning and afternoon brunches, with a gradual switch over to Happy Hour for the evening. It’s a safe space, and it has some really great food.