On slow nights, Kelly Faber would look out onto the near-empty dance floor and think how packed it would be if she hadn't lost so many of her customers and friends to AIDS.
But now, when Faber recalls the three-plus decades she spent working at Diva's Nightclub — and its predecessor, Numbers — it's the resilient spirit of the city's gay and lesbian community that's foremost in her mind.
"It was all hugs. It was all high fives," said Faber. "Everybody watched out for each other. It was a big community."
'I don't think she can help but smile all the time.' - Bruce Garman, Diva's patron and Kelly Faber's friend
And as members of that community celebrate Pride this week, they'll likely notice one big difference at Diva's: Faber won't be milling around the club.
After 32 years, Faber — who started as a bouncer and worked her way up to manager — has decided to hang up her bartowel.
When Faber started working at the club, it was called Numbers and was located in "a little shoebox of a building" on 22nd Street. She was only 15 when she got the gig as the club's bouncer — partly because, in her spare time, she was a weightlifter.
Faber told Saskatoon Morning's Leisha Grebinski that, in those early days, clubgoers were frequently harassed and threatened.
Sometimes the abuse went even further.
"Quite often there'd be smoke bombs and Molotov cocktails thrown [into the club]. People would just dance, pick them up and throw them back out. It was amazing."
In the 1980s, the AIDS crisis took its toll on Saskatoon's gay and lesbian community — and on Faber, too.
"I literally quit counting at a hundred friends that had died," Faber said. "There's not a week that goes by that I don't think of somebody."
A "den mother"
Bruce Garman frequented Diva's shortly after Faber began managing the club, and got to know her well.
Faber was a welcoming, calming presence on the bar floor, he said — especially for young gay men and lesbians still coming to terms with their sexuality.
In fact, Garman said Faber was something akin to a "den mother."
"You looked at Kelly and you relaxed," said Garman. "I don't think she can help but smile all the time. It comes naturally to her."
Keeping history alive
Faber said she's proud that Diva's was able to provide a safe space for the city's LGBT community to let loose.
And she hopes the club's storied, and at times turbulent history doesn't go forgotten.
"I hope people do take interest in learning about the people who came before them, as we did back in our day," Faber said. "Because it's important."