Foolscap Oral Histories and Gay Bar Culture in Toronto and Mexico City

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For the past few weeks I have been reading transcripts of the interviews that John Grube conducted in the 1980s with Canadian gay men born in the first half of the twentieth century. One of the most interesting topics in the interviews is the experiences that these men had with the gay bar culture in Toronto during the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Going to bars or “beverage rooms” was instrumental in their coming out experience, in their coming to terms with their sexuality, or in dealing with the difficulties of being queer at that time. As one of the interviewees stated, “before there was any kind of organization, the counseling […] went on in pubs […] with everybody who was there, there was a lot of talking a lot of mutual support.”

St. Charles Tavern in 1955

St. Charles Tavern, 1955. Photography by James Victor Salmon. Toronto Reference Library, Baldwin Collection

Aside from my concerns as a historian, one of the reasons I have felt so interested in this topic is because it reminds me so much of my own experience with the gay bar culture in Mexico City between 2007 and 2012. I remember fondly those alcohol-free parties organized every Friday afternoon, from 5 to 8 pm, at bars in the gay village for underage queer folks that wanted access to the gay scene in the city but were not yet 18. The first time I went to one of these parties called “tardeadas” I was 16 and had just begun to come out as gay with some close friends. Going to these bars was my point of entrance into Mexico City’s gay world, and enabled me to find the friendships, support, and security I could have hardly found anywhere else at that moment in my life. Years later, every time I go to a gay bar at night and run into one of those gay folks of my generation who I met at the “tardeadas,” I smile and think about how important those parties were in my coming out experience, in my finding of long-lasting friendships—both gay and straight—, and in my dealing with my sexual orientation in a time in which I was still afraid of my homosexuality.

I am really looking forward to find more insights into the Toronto gay bar culture prior to the gay liberation movement by looking at the stories that took place at the St. Charles Tavern, Letros, the King Cole Room at the Park Plaza, the King’s Plate Room in the King Edward Hotel, the Quest, the Parkside Tavern, the Red Lion Room in the Westbury Hotel among others.