Help save legendary Toronto drag bar Crews & Tangos from becoming yet another condo

Development has already destroyed so much community in the city — but we may be able to stop this one from being another example.

Development has already destroyed so much community in the city, but we may be able to prevent another example

Crews & Tangos. (Francis Andreis)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. It won the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada.

Toronto's LGBTQ community was dealt yet another potential blow at the hands of the city's condo developers last week when it was announced that Crews & Tangos — a Church Street mainstay legendary for its nightly drag performances — might be next on the chopping block. The only good news is that it's not a done deal yet, and there's already a petition with some 30,000+ signatures making the internet rounds in an effort to ensure it never becomes one.

"I believe people mistake it as just a place to grab a drink, but it's more than that," says Francis Andreis, who started the petition. "It is a space for us to congregate and be ourselves. Also, our bars are not just entertainment — it is a family thing, a place for us to congregate and a space for us to feel like we belong and meet people like ourselves. Outside of this space, it's always a guessing game and a safety risk."

Crews & Tangos is located in the heart of the Church-Wellesley Village, Toronto's historically LGBTQ neighbourhood. The area has seen drastic overhaul in the past decade or so, with spaces like Fly, Zipperz, The Barn and Five all closing down.

"We can not afford to lose another LGBTQ space," Andreis says. "Losing this space will not only be taking away a space for LGBTQ folk to feel safe, but will also take away jobs from artists who perform every night and make a living off of it."

One of the many, many artists Andreis is referencing, Toronto drag performer Allysin Chaynes, recalls how much the bar has meant to her as a performer. 

"It was the first drag club I went to as an adult and was one of the places that supported me working in the Village on the same level as everyone else," Chaynes says. "Coming from the west end and doing alternative or 'hairy' drag, this wasn't nearly as common as it is now. The world was different and Crews was willing to take a chance on something different. I'm forever grateful for them giving me a space in the Village to feel seen and reach so many."

"Crews remains a beacon of light for so many young queer people gravitating to the Village for the first time, and I'm proud to be a part of the place that, for so many, is an essential part of their queer lives."

Toronto theatre creator Rob Kempson agrees.

"I think Crews & Tangos might be the first place where I felt the most queer and the most myself," he says of discovering the bar when he was younger. "I felt like I could explore different aspects of my identity without judgment. Like everyone, I'm concerned about the ongoing disappearances of these markers of place in our city. Without weird and special places like this, the city and our neighbourhoods lose their character and we lose who we are."

Andreis says that under the Planning Act — as with all rezoning applications — there will be ongoing community consultation.

"As soon as a date and venue for the consultation are secured, I will post updates on my petition," he says. "But the start is to send a strong message to the city, to our councillor and to the developer that this is an area we are passionate about and that is important to us."

How can we help, besides signing the petition itself? Email the Church and Wellesley BIA, ask and insist on getting dates for consultations and spread the word about these consultations.

"Find out when the meetings are being put in place, and go to the consultations," Andreis adds. "Perhaps see if we can declare this building or this land as heritage and preserve it — anything to get attention about how we are not in support of it being turned into anything other than another LGBTQ space."

Let's do our part to salvage what precious little remains of Toronto's LGBTQ spaces and give the next generation of queer kids the chance to let Crews & Tangos continue to be the beacon of light it has been for so long.

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag and interactive project Superqueeroes, both of which won him 2020 Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.