Booze unCanny


Speaking of my life in crime, Rob reminded me of a small misdemeanor I did a few times when working for that notorious Toronto leather bar – I attended after hours Booze Cans.

Back in 1997, close to the second weekend I was working at the leather bar, I was hanging around cash out at 3am, waiting for my cut of the tips from the bartenders when the staff suggested that I tag along to a booze can around the corner from the bar.

“After hours drinking? You can do that?” I naively ask. I had got a 95% on my Smart Serve certificate.

“Erm. No. But it is $5 to get in!”

Even though it was closer to 4am when we set off for the ‘can, I wanted to keep going on my natural high of working a really busy night around the bar. Plus I had a crush on one of the bartenders who insisted I party with him. The promise of a snog from this handsome fellow, coupled with the night was in my veins led me along like Pinocchio off to Pleasure Island. It also didn’t help that I had a fist full of cash in my pocket.

We arrive at the Booze Can – a stand alone house surrounded by vacant trash heap lots, giving the solitary dwelling an atmosphere that it was rejected for location shooting for the movie Se7en. A large metal door greeted us. “There’s a nice door,” I say, the Inner Martha Steward boiling up past my lips.

“It keeps the cops out,” says my Stygian co-worker, shutting my pansy-mouth good. “Don’t give the guy at the door your money, give it to the guy at the top of the stairs. Also, if the doorman doesn’t like you, don’t argue, turn around and go home.” He makes a fist punching a fist motion. Message received!

I really should have given this a second thought, but at 4am, I wasn’t thinking, really. I do know by this time I was eager to see what went on behind that door.

We got in after some slight hesitation – I was a new face and treated with distrust but the cute bartender co-worker vouched for me (sigh! such a cutie!), and paid our fee. Beers were $5 each (at the time, a beer was $3.25 so this was a bit steep) and the music was loud, whatever it was.

Basically it was a John Hughes movie house party come to life. The living room was decorated in a depressed University student style: legless couch, milk crate coffee table, carpet as stained as a Hollywood starlet’s limo’s back seat. The windows were taped over with dark fabric, the reason for which I would learn later. And people were draped over every surface imaginable. Not doing lewd things as the LCBO would have you believe. Just having a good time. Mostly it was other bar staff from the gay village, letting off steam from a busy night. I can say I didn’t see anything illegal other than the beer being sold for astronomical prices.

This night also held another first – talking to my first Drag Queen. I was introduced around as “The New Guy” from the bar and when it came to meeting the towering drag queen in the corner I admit I blubbered a bit. I’ve never actually talked to one before, other than shouting at them from the audience. I decided to speak to her considering her just above “sister” status and somewhere below “monarch”. I asked about performing and the Toronto drag scene and where she got her outfits. Basically I went George Stroumboulopoulos on her padded ass. She loved the attention.

The rest of the evening was spent chatting and drinking. When the money ran out (I bought drinks for my co-workers a couple times) it was time to go home. I discovered the reason that the windows were covered were to keep people partying, despite the inevitable sunrise. And here I thought it was to keep the neighbours from getting an eyeful. Coming out of the house to full sunlight was a shock to the system. The drunken Walk of Shame seemed less shamey, probably because of the alcohol.

Over the next couple years I visited 2 other booze cans within a few blocks of the Village. They lost my interest when I realized that coming home drunk at 8am was really not healthy, mentally or physically.

And the cute bartender moved on from me being fresh meat at the bar and found himself a new bus boy to take under his wing. Meh.

All are torn down now except for the grey metal door house, which was reno-ed into a duplex a couple years back. Now the house has a normal wood and glass front door like everyone else.

3 thoughts on “Booze unCanny

  1. Campbell

    The classic booze cans are just memories now… But I remember 363 Sorauren “Lump of Squid”
    50 Wabash
    there was one on Queen near Ossington
    and there was one beside The Joker nightclub too on Richmond at one point – 3rd floor.

    And there was another good one down on Hanna that was a warehouse and you had to park and walk a long way through derelict buildings to get there… but all of these are gone now.

    What’s going on with The Matador on Dovercourt at College now? because it was a legendary after hours establishment where you had to buy a mickey from someone in the back – the concession stand sold only pop and juice.

  2. SharkBoy

    How very Bright Lights, Big City minus the coke…
    I remember my first booze can, in Montreal, and I was scared enough to never go back to one… let’s just say the Jamaican woman running the place didn’t really take kindly to humour…

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