Church street has long been dominated with queer-friendly spaces, but the west end, which has a big LGBT community, seems to be limited in that department. Well, not for long! There is a new Place that opened up that aims to change that, the Less Bar.
Located on Bloor Street, near Ossington Station. This space seems like a perfect date spot during a regular weekday and hosts live music and shows on the weekends.
When you first come in on the side of the wall you will see that there are a few House Asks:
No cell phones. If you want to text through your date, please take it outside. No Racism, Misogyny, Homophobia, Bullying or any other bullshit. Respect the space that includes the bartender, the other patrons and yourself. No fancy cocktails. No cocktails.
We were conforted by them and curious about the cell phone ask. Well, for someone like Carmen Elle, who is the manager of the bar, it was important to have that up. She has a meditation practice and wanted to have a more mindful space. “People are oversaturated with their phones.” she said “It’s just really nice on those nights when you see nobody on their phones. Now you won’t get a slap on the wrist if you don’t listen but it’s really nice of you if you choose to.”
Carmen Elle is also the singer of a local music band DIANA and we had a chance to catch up with her to ask her some questions about the new awesome space:
Q: What made you want to open up specifically a Queer Bar? Apart from being queer yourself.
A: Well, apart from being queer. The west end bars have all closed. The Hen House Closed, The Beaver is limited in the amount of time that they’re there for since their building has been sold. And once the Holy Oak had closed it felt like there was nothing to do. My partner and I on Friday nights would be like “Where can we go dancing?” and there was nowhere because we don’t really go to Church street that often, it’s honestly very far from where we live. We wanted something that had more of an inclusive space. We love queer parties and some of our friends are also not queer, so we wanted a space that was more open-ended. This place honestly kinda fell into my lap and I thought I’d run this place sort of like the Holy Oak: there will be music, there will be dance parties, you don’t have to be gay to come here, you don’t have to be straight to come here. Just be!
My co-programmer, Max is also queer and that’s the community we’re in. So those are the people we started booking, those are the people we want to see and hang out with too. So it worked out.
Q: Toronto is having a trend where its bars are slowly moving away from live music. Being a musician yourself it must be hard to see. How did it come about that you wanted to open up a space specifically with live music?
A: Holy Oak was great and they had great programming that I was really missing. I didn’t have a place to play. My friends did have places to play. I was becoming more and more curious about other people I’ve never seen before. Like for example musicians from the Indigenous communities. I’ve seen some amazing POC nights at the Drake. I wanted to see something like that here. And just so many venues closed, so many. So it seemed like a no-brainer. And we’re getting booked like crazy.
It was a weird blessing we built this place and it was so needed that everybody just immediately reached out. The whole community really built this place. Somebody built the stage out of wood that was donated from an art gallery down the street. Somebody re-upholstered the benches that I played a show with once, just a month ago. My mother and my girlfriend painted and cleaned.
Being a musician really helped with all the practical things from booking gigs to setting up the PA system. And I’ve been a bartender forever. It was a combination of the two things that I already knew a lot about.
Q: Since you are a musician, in a band called Diana, what’s it like balancing the two roles?
A: It’s tough, right now. I had 3 shows this month and I was here every day for long hours. Then in rehearsals as well. It was one too many things. But the bar will get into a place where it runs smoothly. I can’t really do music and run this place at the same time. Which is unfortunate because I was starting to write again. I hadn’t written in a long time. But I’ll go back to it. Music doesn’t go anywhere.
Q: What was it like hiring for this place?
A: It was so easy to hire for this place. I had a lineup of these people who are amazing, who would work here in a heartbeat. I went with the first 4–5 people who approached me that I thought would be a good fit. Max bartends here and he is the co-booker. He is amazing. Our staff is amazing and we can accommodate lots of things. For example, if you want a night where all the staff is POC we can do that. which is really great because a lot of people talk about a safe space and a lot of places out there talk the talk, but they can’t necessarily follow it up with action. We are, so far, I think are doing an admirable job.
Q: On the menu, you have a wide variety of non-alcoholic drinks, which you don’t usually see in bars nowadays. What inspired you to have that?
A: I don’t drink. I never drank. So I have spent my entire adult life in bars, at shows either drinking water out of the plastic cup or a ginger ale from a pint glass. It feels a little embarrassing actually. I always felt that the cooler the drink the smaller the glass. And I thought it was kind of bs that there weren’t so many options for people. All of these drinks are so cool too. There are so many great non-alcoholic drinks that you can have. Like club mate, it’s the Berlin drink of choice. It’s like a healthier version of Red Bull. It’s a carbonated tea with loads of caffeine but it doesn’t have as much sugar so you don’t get the same kind of sugar crash. The non-alcoholic sales are almost 50/50 compared to alcoholic sales, which is really interesting.
Q: Since Let’z is a community for Queer Women. Over the next couple of months, what do you think are some of the events our members should check out?
A: Yea, we’ve got a party called Wimmin that our friend Lana does here. It’s a really fun party, there’s been one so far. And It was great. There is going to be a Halloween edition. It’s not like clubbing, it’s more like women rock and roll sounds with a bit more swagger. They are really fun nights.
We’ve got these dance parties happening pretty much every week. If you come in here on a Friday or a Saturday there’s going to be a smoke machines and a place packed with people. Our weekends have been really good.
If you are curious about the space Lessbar.ca is the easiest way to see the events that are going on there. You can also join the Facebook closed groupcalled Less Bar. It’s open pen every day from 7 pm until late but closed on Mondays.
Let’z will host a get together there soon, so be on the lookout!