Queering the Pub


The importance of queer-friendly venues 

Graphic by Sie Douglas-Fish.

In the niche world of Victoria queer-community memes, whenever a new queer-friendly space is opened, there are always jokes about it replacing old venues (cue distracted-boyfriend memes). 

Victoria’s selection of queer-friendly venues has seen two new additions in the last year with the Vicious Poodle opening in June and Friends of Dorothy in December. The one-stop-queer-spot, of Paparazzi’s no longer has its catch-all control over the community. And this is a great thing!

In our feature for this issue, we explore the performative nature of gender and how the isolation of the pandemic has been helpful for people questioning their gender, but there is something to be said about having a safe public space to perform or not perform as well. 

Pubs and bars are great places to meet and harbour communities. But for many in the LGBTQ+ community, some venues can feel intimidating and unwelcoming, or be outrightly so. Most bars tend to be predominantly heteronormative and cis. In these spaces, the gender expectations often lack the fluidity and freedom you can find in a uniquely queer-friendly spaces. Though some traditional bars can be more accepting than others, there is still an important need for uniquely queer venues where the pressures and restrictions of traditional gender and heteronormative expectations can be avoided. Everyone needs a space where they can be themselves. 

As a lover of pubs myself, I find my behaviour differs drastically between an Irish-style pub and a queer friendly space. Growing up in Nova Scotia, pub culture was a big part of my life. From traditional maritime music, a love of English and Irish beers, and a memory chock full of sea shanties, I always found traditional pubs to be a source of homie familiarity — they still are for me. But moving to Victoria from a maritime town with about an eighth the population, I found a new level of diversity amongst the venues I could go to. 

By trying to expand my horizon, I found myself checking out more queer friendly spaces. In doing so, I began to become aware of the performative roles different venues play. In queer spaces, I felt like I could be unabashedly myself. 

In some of the traditional spaces I’ve patroned or worked at, it felt like there were unwritten rules. You couldn’t talk about certain subjects, shouldn’t be too loud, and in many ways, should not be calling too much attention to yourself beyond bar chatter. I felt like there was an air of invisibility that had to be maintained, or at least, like I couldn’t fully express myself in the ways I wanted to. I became aware of a very clear act of performance. We all perform gender in different ways depending on our surroundings and our company, but I began to realize I shouldn’t have to constantly be censoring myself to who I am. 

At certain queer venues, I didn’t feel the same level of restriction. I found the theatre kid inside me was able to come out and say, “helllloo!” I also felt the freedom to explore more feminine aspects of my identity that I tend to repress or push down when in a traditional venue. 

For many individuals, queer or straight, going into a queer venue leads to what a queer friend of mine calls, “cranking up the gay.” And although these moments happen for many people, me included at times, I still felt something different at these venues. I felt a sense of visibility and a sense of affirmation. I didn’t feel like I had to push down any parts of myself, I could be unapologetically me. That opportunity to explore that part of myself and come to terms with it wouldn’t have been possible if I had stuck to the same old dark wooden corners of the maritime bars I grew up in and around.

The maritime drinker and the queer venue patron are both parts of who I am. And at different times, I want to express different parts of myself. The same thing is true about different queer venues. 

The queer community is extremely wide ranging and diverse, and its community venues ought to reflect that. It is not a story of some continual improvement until one venue can be the catch-all for an entire community; it’s about having options and being able to experiment and explore different parts of yourself at different places.

I still love visiting my traditional pubs, and always will, but diversity amongst venues is so necessary in any city. In fact, the recent boom in queer spaces is something to celebrate. It shows in its diversity that there is a culture to the city that is still alive and well despite COVID-19. 

So I urge everyone, once restrictions begin to ease off, grab a drink somewhere you’ve never been before, explore the variety of venues that Victoria has to offer.

Whether you are a lover of the Vicious Poodle, Friends of Dorothy’s, or Paparazzi, or even if you feel more comfortable somewhere like Big Bad John’s or Irish Times, it is important to have multiple spaces where you can explore the different parts of what make you you. That’s what pub culture is really all about.