Home CommentaryStudent Life The Queen is dead; Long live the Queen!

The Queen is dead; Long live the Queen!

by Archives September 29, 2009

When it first opened in 1972, Le Mystique was unremarkable, it was just one of many gay bars in the Gay Village between Peel and Atwater Sts. Located at 1424 Stanley St., between de Maisonneuve Blvd. and Ste. Catherine St., it was neighbour to Hawaii Lounge, Babyface, the Apollo (built where the new JMSB now stands), Limelight and Four Corners.
But anyone who knew Le Mystique back then will tell you this area no longer qualifies as Montreal’s Gay Village. Our own then-Mayor Jean Drapeau used pressure and incentives to lure the gay nightlife out east, in a bid to clean the area up for the 1976 Olympics.
As a result, Le Mystique is now remarkable because it is the last standing gay bar in Montreal’s West End.
“When they first opened this place, it was just one other gay bar, but because of time and history, it’s become something else,” says Velveeta Spandex, a drag queen.
“Bartender George,” as he’s called, has worked here the longest. When he started, the place was packed with elegant businessmen. He recalls a lot of the men who came in were in the closet in their regular life, but open when they arrived.
Now, Le Mystique is literally a hole-in-the-wall. The decor, with wood panelling and rock-embedded walls, speaks from another time. Magazine and newspaper clippings rest on a bulletin board, under which there are bowls of free condoms. Photos of clients and bartenders past and present dot the walls, and are reminiscent of other landmark restaurants such as Schwartz’s or Ben’s.
This is fitting, because after months of uncertainty, Le Mystique is folding fast just like Ben’s – the legendary deli formerly located on Metcalfe St. and de Maisonneuve Blvd., as well as other establishments like Dominion Pub, and The Cock and Bull bar. Bit by bit, the grimy, yet historic parts of the downtown core are being effaced by sleek, new buildings and eateries.
So, until ownership switches hands on Oct.2, Le Mystique will remain the longest-standing gay bar in the West End.
Rumors suggest Le Mystique will be transformed into a dance club, and the upstairs Stanley Tavern will become a Mexican restaurant.
At the bar’s final bash on Saturday night, the room was a mix of men young and old, with a few women as well. The mood was sad yet celebratory, especially when speeches were made and photos were snapped. Patrons expressed sadness, and some reminisced, but everyone seemed out to have a good time.
Following performances by drag queens Shaquanna Jackson (“You can never have enough glitter”) and Velveeta Spandex, a few words were spoken by Stephen Wells, manager and longtime fixture at the bar, and George. After, a white-haired man in his sixties or seventies, stepped up to share a slice of Le Mystique’s history.
He spoke about a raid in 1977, when police swooped down on a number of gay bars on Stanley St., and rounded up over a 100 men.
“I was one of those people who got busted. I spent the night in a police cell. I’ll never forget those sob’s in blue. It was a humiliating experience for many men, some of whom were not openly gay,” he said.
The events of that night, known as the Truxx raids or riots, are notorious. Police were accused of using excessive force and held the men overnight. They tried to charge the owners with operating a bawdy house.
By the next evening, a group of protesters had gathered on the corner at St. Catherine St. to protest the raid. Stemming from this event of solidarity, Bill 88 was enacted in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights, making discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal. The province was second only to Denmark in taking that step. In 1979, Montreal held its first gay pride parade.
“It was our Stonewall,” said Wells, referring to the famous 1969 riots in New York City against police raids on gay establishments, and the beginning of the gays rights movement.
“It does play a really important role, says writer Matthew Hays. The backlash to those arrests by police led very directly to gay rights legislation in Quebec, the first place in North America to have it.”
Towering in an iridescent blue ball-gown, Velveeta Spandex is a Concordia student by day, and says she started coming to Le Mystique to relax after classes.
“A lot of bars … are very large and cater to whoever walks in the door … There’s this generic feeling to them. And this place is like a home and that’s the uniqueness of Le Mystique and that’s what we’re losing,” she said.
For her, there’s also a sense of loss for the younger generation. “The most depressing thing about it is that in the past couple of years, students from McGill and Concordia were starting to come here and do fundraisers and hang out after class, starting to have a sense of the place. And now, this place is going away.”
Joseph Donnelly, a Canadian Irish Studies student at Concordia, and a member of the Queer Concordia executive, was present Saturday night. His student club has held a number of events and fundraisers at Le Mystique in the past. During the last few years, the bar has been reaching out to Concordia and McGill student groups like Queer, in an effort to attract a younger generation.
Hays, a film critic and author of a book on queer cinema, discovered the bar as a Concordia student 20 years ago. He has also had a hand in bringing younger people to the soon-to-be defunct bar. Not only did Hays write about Le Mystique for the Globe and Mail, The Mirror, and Xtra, a queer magazine, but over the years, he invited students in his winter semester queer film studies course at Concordia there to socialize after class.
When I spoke with them on a slow Thursday night, bartenders Wells and George pointed to a number of reasons why Le Mystique is closing: the anti-smoking laws, the removal of the profitable video lottery terminals, the AIDS crisis (which supposedly claimed 25 per cent of the community) and overall, a dwindling client

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