Toronto

Another casualty of COVID-19: LGBTQ bar The Beaver closes for good on Queen Street West

The west-end dive bar The Beaver, known for drag shows, trivia nights and karaoke, won't reopen after initially closing due to COVID-19 in March.

Owners opened iconic venue in 2006 to prove LGBTQ spaces could thrive outside gay village

Many patrons loved the cramped conditions at The Beaver, but its size would have made reopening a challenge due to the physical distancing restrictions made necessary by the novel coronavirus. (Ramy Arida/The Beaver Facebook page)

The west-end dive bar The Beaver, known for drag shows, trivia nights and karaoke, won't reopen after initially shutting down due to COVID-19 in March.

"We are a small, cramped bar," a staff member posted on the bar's Facebook page. "Some hate it, it's also what some of us like about it. Now it's a big hurdle."

Numerous shops, restaurants, bars and performance spaces have been forced to shut down in Toronto during the pandemic. Many will be allowed to reopen when the city moves into Stage 3 of the province's reopening plan in the coming weeks, subject to certain restrictions to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But others. like The Beaver, won't be able to serve enough patrons to be profitable under physical distancing rules, because they're too small.

Owner Lynn MacNeil said he couldn't see a future, given the threat of COVID-19.

"I'm very sure it wouldn't have closed if the virus hadn't hit us in the way that it has."

MacNeil and the late Toronto gay icon Will Munro opened The Beaver on Queen Street West in 2006. They set up shop in the location just east of Dufferin Street to show that LGBTQ spaces could exist far from the usual spots along Church Street. 

The late Will Munro, right, one of The Beaver's founders, with his brother Dave Munro during Pride in 1999. (Bennett Philips)

Munro wanted to open along Queen Street West "to make people reclaim spaces that they lived in," his brother Dave Munro said in a phone interview from St John's, Nfld.

'Refusing to be relegated'

"You're laying down your roots and staking your claim and letting people know exactly what you are," he explained, adding that his brother, who died of brain cancer in 2010, used to live above The Beaver. 

"It's a matter of being comfortable and not being ghetto-ized into one area," Munro said of his brother's thinking at the time.

"Refusing to be relegated." 

"It was really joyous," MacNeil said, recalling when they first opened the bar.

"You really felt like you were a part of the burgeoning subculture."

He's now 64 and said he's "made peace" with letting the space go, but said current staff members are searching for another spot that's larger, "something that's a little more sensible for the current health climate," to re-invent the venue.

MacNeil, who also works at live music venue Lee's Palace, says the closure represents a loss in culture happening due to the novel coronavirus.

"It's not just sweaty dance clubs and live rock venues," he said.

"It's opera and dance; we need to come up with some inventive solutions." 

About the Author

Lorenda Reddekopp

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Lorenda Reddekopp is a news reporter for CBC Toronto.

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