On Sept. 3, Montreal’s first burlesque bar in decades, The Wiggle Room, opened on St. Laurent Blvd. Cocktails flowed on Tuesday night while a full-house enjoyed a modern vaudeville show with hilarious comedians and burlesque performers engaging an intimate audience.
The bar’s owner is Montreal performing arts guru, Jeremy Hechtman, 42, who was just a wee boy when he saw his first striptease. “I remember being nine years old, sitting at the bar in the strip club, eating a big plate of spaghetti dinner and watching her come out in a little red riding hood outfit,” he reminisced in an interview in his bar on Wednesday.
Hechtman was born in the Bronx to a Russian immigrant mother and an American father who dodged the Vietnam War draft by moving his family to Montreal. Hechtman Sr. became a devout patron of his new city’s notoriously debauched night clubs of the ‘60s and ‘70s, in which playful strippers accompanied comedians, musicians and MC’s in live vaudeville shows. He became close friends with a local stripper, Lindalee Tracey, whose comical performances were some of the last remaining vestiges of Montreal’s golden Jazz Age. Together they organized the Tits for Tots’ fundraiser, a series of stripteases to raise money for the Montreal Children’s Hospital. It was at such an event that nine-year-old Hechtman, already privy to all of his father’s late-night adventures, got his first taste of burlesque.
By age 14, Hechtman was sneaking into clubs such as the bygone legend Rising Sun on St. Catherine St., where he saw Jamaican roots reggae icon, Burning Spear, perform. A few years later, an adolescent Hechtman was noticing that all the pretty girls in high school were joining the theatre club, and so he decided to do the same. This unexpectedly launched a decades-long career in the performing arts sector in which he notably headed the Montreal Fringe Festival and launched the MainLine Theatre.
“If the pretty girls in my high-school had joined the chess club, I would be a chess master by now,” Hechtman joked. “If they had all joined the biology club, I would have cured cancer!”
But in December 2012, Hechtman left theatre and started envisioning a new career. Unemployed and without direction during Montreal’s winter, he often went for drinks with buddy Patrick Charron to figure things out and throw around ideas. One particular establishment they frequented, a fancy cocktail bar on Parc Ave. whose plush decor contrasted with the crumbling theatre venues Hechtman was used to, inspired Hechtman to aim for something fancier. “No more warm beer and plastic cups, I want shaken cocktails,” he decided.
Thus The Wiggle Room was born with its swanky leather booths, vintage cabaret tables, rich red velvet curtains lined with gold, tastefully exposed brick walls decorated with suggestive photos of local burlesque divas and a stage for live performances.
The Wiggle Room has 12 resident burlesque performers, including saucy local talents Miss Sugarpuss and Lady Josephine. In a phone interview, Lady Josephine was excited that Montreal finally had weekly burlesque. For her, burlesque represents freedom, confidence, and helping women to assume the playfulness of their sensuality.
“It’s the ultimate freedom to find yourself naked on stage being whoever you want. Many burlesque artists undergo deep positive personal changes when they start performing,” she said.
Lady Josephine also pointed out that burlesque shows offer a great alternative to the feelings of isolation and lethargy created by television. “Live performances bring people together,” she said.
On his side, Hechtman was content with where his career has taken him. “I haven’t punched the clock or worked an office job ever,” he said. “If you find a way to make a living by doing your hobbies, you never have to work a day in your life. My job now is to sit in a booth with a martini and laugh my ass off all night while watching beautiful women strut their stuff. This is an ideal world,” Hechtman said.
On every night, except Mondays, The Wiggle Room presents a varying medley of comedy, music and burlesque. The bar will also host Sugarpuss Sunday School, where amateurs can learn to shake their moneymakers from experienced performers. Events are posted on The Wiggle Room’s Facebook page.