From the train station Oshawa really does look — as Jann Arden and her little dog, too, quipped — like the “middle of nowhere.” If only she’d travelled a few blocks north, where, in a strip mall amidst the strip malls, there is a rainbow-painted door leading to Out Lounge & Eatery. On a foggy evening that makes The ’Shwa seem even more desolate, the BoylesqueTO boys strut through the door ready to bare more than has ever been seen onstage in Oshawa before.
“We wanted high visibility but no walk-ins. No one by accident,” says Diane Cassidy. Her co-owner, Kim Etherington, adds that Oshawa is not really a bedroom community and that they want to target “the people who live here and work here,” as well as those who venture east from Toronto or from any of the smaller surrounding communities. “We’re the only gay bar between Ottawa and Toronto,” Cassidy notes.
Server Blaise — “He had experience and said his name was Blaze, so we hired him on the spot,” Etheringon says — has been with Out Lounge for only four months. “I passed by several times but wanted to make sure it was going to work,” he says. All the reaction has been positive and the bar is doing well. Even what Cassidy calls “the accidental straight guys” have a drink before leaving quietly. Or staying.
Both owners are active with Pride Durham, the local gay community and women’s support groups, so the dinner hour is crowded with ladies and a raucous birthday party for a trans/lesbian group. “We didn’t want mediocre pub food,” Cassidy says, “because we eat here every day.” While justifiably proud of chef Whitney Kimball’s menu, the owners are a little less sure of how to attract more men to Out Lounge.
“We had a leather night and got one man in leather and 50 lesbians,” Cassidy laughs. “Do you not get what a theme night is?” Out Lounge has a full slate of theme events, with student nights, karaoke, open-mic jams and a Tuesday date night that features a $30 romantic meal for two. There are also performers of a high calibre. Midori has created one of her rope-bondage living artworks, Carole Pope and Lucas Silveira have sung, and drag queens and kings, from ho to pro, have competed in the Drag Race.
Out Lounge exists in three totally different incarnations. It begins with the lunch and dinner crowd, with afternoon drinkers in between. The entertainment follows, but there’s a strict curfew of 11pm because then the tables are cleared and a younger — and more male — crowd arrives to dance. “Certain nights are more geared to specifics, but it’s not segregated like Church St,” Cassidy says. There isn’t room for a backroom, so Cassidy would like to take over the 4,000 square feet of empty storefront next door. She thinks it would be perfect for a bathhouse and for the overflow they expect with the upcoming Jackhammer — loosely affiliated with the very successful Pitbull parties — on Saturday, April 21. The BoylesqueTO troupe have a great time and earn loud applause. Before they can dismantle their stripper pole and pack up, the dancefloor floods with enthusiastic gyrators eager to give the pole a whirl. The mood is infectious, and the Boylesque boys are soon happily shaking their moneymakers in the midst of the crowd.
Cassidy is pleased with the turnout but still sees the bar as a work in progress. “It’s not like there’s a template for this.” Her partner sees beyond the challenges and into the future.“Franchise,” says Etherington, who would like to see an Out Lounge for “every city that doesn’t have a Church St.”
Out Lounge is at 540 King St W, Oshawa. outlounge.ca