Ian MacLeod and Nicholas Close think Halifax’s gay community needs its own bar, somewhere to hang out, feel safe and have fun.
“There is a sense of ease and a sense of safety when you walk into a community that is filled with queer people,” Close said in an interview. “I think queer-owned spaces grow the queer community, and make sure it is a safe, comfortable area to live your life in.”
The two say something important is missing since the city’s last gay bar, Menz and Mollyz, closed in April 2020 just after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province, so they are hoping to fill the gap through a fundraising campaign.
In August, MacLeod, 39, of Halifax and Close, 27, of Lower Sackville, launched a GoFundMe campaign to help them with their dream of opening a new gay bar.
When Menz and Mollyz closed at the height of the pandemic, queer people were left with no spaces of their own.
Having a gay bar didn’t seem like such an important priority during a global crisis. But now, MacLeod and Close feel differently.
“It’s about connecting,” MacLeod said. “We want to provide a space that we can share with a community to come together. We want a space we can celebrate in, or, if something tragic happens, a space that can be there for people.”
Preliminary data from an ongoing study led by Karen Blair, a psychology professor at St. Francis Xavier University who also runs the KLB Research Centre, showed young queer adults felt isolated during the pandemic. The study emphasized that queer people felt disconnected from one another because of how COVID stifled queer life.
KLB researcher Bre O’Handley said in a phone interview that a common theme in the data was disconnection from the community and a lack of social support.
“People were talking about how they were genuinely upset because Pride had gotten cancelled,” O’Handley said. “How they couldn’t connect to queer people in a direct way, or how they couldn’t go to LGBTQ resource centres, or even how they couldn’t connect with their friends who understood their identity.”
As determined as they are, opening a gay bar does come with challenges. The most obvious is money.
To open a bar with a bank loan, both MacLeod and Close need 30 per cent of the total operating cost, or $250,000, towards the total amount of nearly $750,000. The GoFundme page has raised just $930 as of early November.
“Our idea needs more attention,” Close said. “I think part of the reason why we have not managed to collect as much money is because people are still a bit hesitant on investing in a bar post-COVID.”
MacLeod and Close have a conditional offer on a lease downtown, but to sign it, they need to prove they have money. Rent in a place like the one they are after ranges from $8,000 to $10,000 per month.
The numbers do not keep the duo from having a vision of what their place could look like.
“We’re going for an industrial look,” Close said. “But we’re still going to keep it classy, and cosy and inviting for people.”
“We have exposed bricks,” MacLeod said. “Concrete floors, intimate seating with cosy chairs, maybe even benches. A place you can disappear for a bit and have a martini for one or three hours.”
Their bar would be roughly 3,500 sq. ft., with a restaurant-like area at the front. In the back, there would be a wider area that would work as a dance floor, but also as a stage for trivia nights, circuit parties, drag shows, karaoke or events for the queer community.
MacLeod has business experience. He owns and runs Hold Fast Café in the North End, a business he kept afloat during the pandemic.
Close, on the other hand, presses on by focusing on what a gay bar could mean to people.
“When I was in high school, one of my best friends was commenting on how short my shorts were,” Close said. He found that comment unsettling, as he was feeling exposed for exploring a part of himself that had been dormant.
“I did not have freedom of expression in my sexuality. You cannot express yourself without getting looked at, or having a comment or two. I want my queer bar to allow younger queer people to have more freedom.”
MacLeod said the freedom a gay bar provides goes beyond a comment or two. It’s also about the way queer people get to feel normal.
“I’m nearly 40 years old,” MacLeod said. “I’ve been with my partner for 11 years, and without a gay bar, I still feel weird holding his hand in public.”
MacLeod hopes other queer people will find the same safety he experienced before the pandemic closed the few queer spaces in existence.
“It is great that you see Pride flags everywhere in Halifax, and it makes you feel safe,” MacLeod said. “But even then, you are not 100 per cent safe in the same way that you would be in a queer-owned, queer-run place. It just makes you feel differently.”
MacLeod and Close say the new gay bar will have inclusive policies for everyone. Some of these include all-genders washrooms, and queer-women dance nights, as well as Musical Mondays.
“One thing I need people to understand,” MacLeod said. “We realize that we are two cisgender white males doing this, but we want to make people aware we are going to make this space a real queer space for everybody, whether it’s through employment, or events, or live shows. We want this place to showcase everybody. We want to give back to the community.”
About the author
Abel Rangel is a screenwriter and journalist working and living in Halifax, N.S. He earned a master’s degree in transgender studies at New...