Hamilton's last strip club will be replaced by condos and a medical centre

Market demand - not gentrification - has led to the decline of strip clubs in Hamilton.

Market demand - not gentrification - has led to the decline of strip clubs in Hamilton

Hamilton city councillors just approved a zoning amendment that would let Hamilton Strip be turned into condos and a medical centre. (Shutterstock)

Walk into Hamilton Strip on any given night and the scene is a predictable one. Men sit alone or in small groups at little round tables. Dance and hip hop tunes thump through the room. A beautiful woman, partially undressed, sways in front of a mirror, the bar's multicoloured lights winking in the reflection. Soon, the clothes will be gone.

Once, Hamilton had at least five strip joints like this, sanctuaries for the wild, the lonely, the working and business class. But with a council vote this month, Hamilton will be a step closer to not having any strip clubs. At all.

Council's planning committee voted Tuesday to rezone 80 and 92 Barton St. E., and 245 Catharine St. N. This irregularly shaped 0.75-hectare lot is mostly empty. In the northeast corner, in an old three-storey building, is Hamilton Strip.

City documents show the building will be demolished. In its place, there'll be a five-storey office building that includes a medical clinic, plus 45 stacked townhouse condos.

"Certainly, this is a transformation here in Beasley," said Jason Farr, Ward 2 councillor. He, along with city council, will cast a ratification vote April 10.

Coun. Maria Pearson of Ward 10 was effusive about the change too.

"This," she said, "is a Cinderella story."

Hamilton Strip is owned by a numbered company, and staff who answer the phone won't say who it is. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Whatever kind of story it is, when the building formerly known as Hanrahan's is demolished, it will be the end of an era for Steeltown.

There's a proposal to turn Solid Gold in Burlington into apartment units. If that happens, the next closest clubs will be Brantford and Niagara. And soon, maybe, there won't be any at all.

Hamilton Strip's story dates back to 1908. That's when a man named Thomas Hanrahan opened the three-storey Hotel Hanrahan on Barton Street at Catharine. The Hamilton Herald described it as "one of the leading hotels in Hamilton."

It's unclear exactly when Hanrahan's became a strip club. Bob Bratina, former mayor and Liberal MP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, remembers it as a gentlemen's club in the 1940s. Billie Holiday performed there.

"I was not old enough to go there," he said, "but I knew what was going on."

Hamilton Strip will be open for at least another year, says the developer who plans to demolish the building. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The evolution to strip club, Bratina said, happened alongside the decline of Barton Street. Once a bustling commercial area, the street became littered with vacancies and increased crime.

By the 1980s, Hanrahan's was getting the wrong kind of headlines. "Tavern staff call 911 after receiving biker death threat," read one. "Father-to-be slain at bar," read another.

Or "Lawsuit against bouncer who killed patron," or "Bank deposit stolen," or "Man not guilty of assaulting drunken teen."

That reputation seems mostly in the past now. Ken Leendertse, the city's director of licensing, was a Hamilton police officer for 35 years, finishing his career as deputy chief.

"Actually, no," he said of whether Hamilton Strip gave him grief. "No more than any other liquor establishment."

The upper floors of the three-storey building, built in 1908, are vacant. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It's tempting to see the death of Hamilton Strip as a gentrification story, said Marvin Ryder, a McMaster University assistant professor of marketing. Really, it's just changing demand.

Strip clubs have been closing across southern Ontario for years, he said. Simply put, people don't have to go to them to see nudity anymore.

"The magical internet delivers prurient things right to your door step. If you want to see naked ladies – or naked men – in whatever way or form, you don't have to drive down there and pay for an overpriced drink. You can just boot up your computer and away we go."

Leendertse agrees.

Bob Bratina says Billie Holiday, shown here in 1958, played at Hanrahan's when it was a gentlemen's club. (The Associated Press)

"Strip clubs have gone the way of the VHS tape," he said. "People can stay home and watch Netflix, or whatever kind of program they want. We don't see a real demand for them in the city."

Bratina went to Hamilton Strip exactly once. He was mayor at the time, he said, and attending an event at the nearby Venetian Club. The club didn't have a bank machine, so Bratina ran into Hamilton Strip – wearing a tux – to use the one there. No one really blinked at it.

Hamilton Strip won't come down for at least a year, said Vince Fulgenzi from John Barton Investments Inc. of Mississauga. The company still needs a long list of permits and approvals. Plus it needs to remediate the land at 245 Catharine, a former industrial site.

The plan includes a medical centre, and stacked and townhouse units. (City of Hamilton)
(City of Hamilton)

When the club closes though, it'll likely be the last one the city ever sees.

'Can't help you with that'

A City of Hamilton bylaw says there can only be two strip clubs in the city at any given time. They're only allowed on three properties — one at Rymal and Dartnall Road, one near the QEW and Centennial Parkway, and Hamilton Strip, Leendertse said. The latter is the only one left.

Ryder came to Hamilton in 1982. He recalls there being five strip clubs then. The bylaw shows how desperate the city was to curb the spread of them, he said. In the end, the market did.

"It was 'this is horrible, it's terrible, we can't have this,'" Ryder said. "Now today, we're talking about the last one."

CBC News tried to contact the owner of Hamilton Strip. A property search shows the club belongs to a numbered company. Calls to the club were fruitless.

"Can't help you with that," said a man who answered the phone, and then hung up.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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