Home Community News COVID-19 and potential condo development create uncertainty for Crews & Tangos community

COVID-19 and potential condo development create uncertainty for Crews & Tangos community

by Manuela Vega

The condo developer’s application is still under review

Blue brick building with painting of woman and rainbow flags hanging
Toronto has numerous iconic gay bars (like Crews & Tangos on Church), but none dedicated to a lesbian clientele. (Leah Borts-Kuperman/Ryersonian)

Reilly Whale had already been living in Toronto for two years before the city started to finally feel like home. It was in 2018, when she attended a RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing party, that she made her first visit to Crews & Tangos.

“I was very new to the scene, but the second I walked into Crews, I felt immediately comfortable,” Whale said. 

Not only did the bar’s community of drag queens and patrons become Whale’s closest friends, but they also helped her come to know her own queer identity.

Now, with precarity for businesses amid the pandemic, the city’s LGBTQ2S+ community is watching for updates on the Gay Village’s cherished nightclub. In November, owner Michael Ramawad started a GoFundMe to help cover bills that included residual rent, hydro and payroll, according to the post. The campaign has raised more than $23,000 of its $25,000 target thus far.

Ramawad did not respond to the Ryersonian’s request for comment in time for publication.

Earlier in 2020, property owner Graywood Developers announced it was aiming to build a condo at 506 Church St. and a few surrounding addresses, including the gay bar — Boutique. 

A petition, which now has almost 32,000 signatures, was launched against the development soon after, and Graywood and Ramawad released a joint statement announcing that the nightclub’s lease would be extended for another two years and that they were “exploring a joint plan aimed at maintaining a presence for Crews & Tangos in the future, new development.”

A preliminary report reads, “a portion of the existing building at 508-510 Church St. is proposed to be retained.”

The developer’s application to permit the construction of a 15-storey mixed-use building would include 173 residential condominium dwelling units at 506-516 Church St. but is still under review, according to city records.

Graywood Developments submitted an application to the city to build a condo in the Gay Village, while “maintaining a presence for Crews & Tangos in the future, new development,” the developer said in a statement. (Screenshot from City of Toronto report)

The report notes the motion adopted last January, “Protecting LGBTQ2S+ Small Businesses and Cultural Space,” which directs city partners to develop immediate and long-term recommendations to support the retention and growth of independently owned and operated LGBTQ2S+ small businesses and cultural space.

The building’s height is also listed as a concern for the neighbourhood, as the report says any development should reinforce the low- to mid-rise “pedestrian oriented main street character.”

Graywood did not respond to the Ryersonian’s request for comment in time for publication.

The pandemic has led to the closure of other establishments in the Village, including Fly 2.0 and Club 120, Ryerson film student Michel Gervais noted.

“As a queer person, it’s scary to lose a space like the Village,” Gervais said. “The Village … was a really accessible space for me as a little queer person new to the city. Obviously, Crews was one of the first places I went out to.”

Gervais began performing in the Village about two and a half years ago, just after her first year at Ryerson in 2018. Audiences could find her in drag as Jenna Seppa at The Drink or O’Grady’s on Church. 

Throughout the pandemic, Gervais has been attending Ryerson classes remotely, from her hometown in West Nipissing, a small Ontario town near North Bay.

“I want to go back to Toronto as a drag queen because I’m able to perform there,” Gervais said. “But I mean, if all the spaces are lost, I’m not gonna come back.”

Jenna Jiang, a fourth-year fashion communication student, said she and friends would often go out to Crews & Tangos, which was only a short walk away from the campus residence where she lived for three years.

“For so many people, [Crews is] such a safe space to dress how they want, to do what they want, just dance, let loose, watch a good show, honestly discover more about themselves,” Jiang said. “I’ve seen so many friends go in and feel so empowered afterwards.”

Whale decided to take her dad to Crews & Tangos for the first time in 2019. She wanted to take the military man out of his element and introduce him to her community.

“Queer people are already at a disadvantage when it comes to places they can feel comfortable in,” Whale said. “With so many businesses and spaces that make Toronto unique closing, losing Crews would not only be devastating to the city’s nightlife, but would feel like losing a second home.”

This article may have been created with the use of AI software such as Google Docs, Grammarly, and/or Otter.ai for transcription.

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