Sunday, October 30, 2011

Prism Bar and Grill

Prism Bar and Grill
Prism Bar and Grill

Location: 10524 101st Street,  Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Opened:  2003

Closed: August 15, 2010

Back in January 2007, Prism was proud to call herself a lesbian bar--even though she was careful to assure any potential male customers that she was male-friendly as well:

Prism Bar and Grill
The term “lesbian bar” has at times been used almost as a dirty word – made so by the various stereotypes people have unfairly, and unfortunately attached to it. Edmonton’s Prism however, doesn’t shy away from the term - they embrace it.

”We are never going to refuse entry to a guy, gay or straight. …But predominantly it is women who attend this bar, and we know that. It is a predominantly lesbian bar, so we and our clients are quite happy with that label. But we also have quite a few regular men who step in and have a drink. We love them all to death,” bar manager Natasha told “Everyone - whether gay, bi, transgendered, straight - is welcome here as long as they know it’s a lesbian bar.”

Natasha and partner Jo sat down with GayCalgary and Edmonton magazine to chat about the bar and its history. Four years ago, owner Cindy Goodwin purchased the former bar Secrets on 102nd Avenue, renamed it “Prism” and moved it to its current 101st street location. Since then, the bar has become a haven for regulars while continuing to evolve and draw new people in its doors.

”We are trying to get more young ones in, and get us to be the place that the lesbian crowd comes before they go to a nightclub. We can’t compete with a nightclub, but we want to let the young lesbian crowd know that we are here, as they don’t know we are here. Our regulars know about us, and we’d like to keep them while inviting new customers to come down. It’s a nice relaxing comfortable atmosphere. You can play pool, chat and have a dance, and then go from there. We are Edmonton’s only ’lesbian bar’. Presently it’s a 30+ crowd which is cool, but it would be nice to have a bit more diversity and make it an everyone bar.”

Prism features pool tables and arcade games, but check out the monthly events calendar on their website to see what else is going on. From Karaoke to leather nights to dancing, there is always something to do.

”Two Fridays a month, DJ Gnaw-T spins here. We do karaoke now and again but it hasn’t been a huge draw card. We may start doing open mic nights and jam sessions. People can check the website to see what events we have going on. I really am looking to get some acoustic talent in. For a crowd to see someone with a good voice doing cover songs is a cool experience. That should start in January and if it takes off we are looking at getting more bands and live music, and make Prism a live music location for the gay scene. It would be great to support local talent and let them get their feet wet in front of an audience.”

”We have special events such as, during the playoffs we had the Oilers games on. For Birthdays and special [occasions] we will decorate the bar, and the party is shared with everyone in the bar. When there is a special occasion we try to go all out for it. If someone wants something from this bar, they just have to let us know and we will try our best to accommodate it. We don’t have an attitude of ‘this is our bar and this is what we provide, like it or leave it.’ If you have an event or get-together and you want us to stock certain food or drinks for that occasion, we can do it.”

Prism is also heavily involved with the gay community, participating in the annual Edmonton Pride parade and opening its doors to community groups for fundraisers. In addition to drag shows, one of their most popular events are “Str8 2 Diva” and “Dyke 2 Diva”. They are also a restaurant with a daily menu: all you can eat chili on Mondays, all you can eat taco bar on Wednesdays, and Sunday brunches.

”We don’t have a set menu, it changes as to what we are cooking on that day, but we are going to work on making it more routine. At the moment we are trying to get a fire suppressant system so we can get a deep fryer and offer things like ribs, wings and chips. We are a few steps away from getting there but that is the main thing we are aiming at. We are selling Prism calendars for a ten to fifteen dollar donation to get the money to put that in. All the money goes to making their bar a better place, so customers are getting behind it.”

One of the unique things about Prism is its use of the back door as its main entrance. This used to be a common practice – back alley doorways without clear marking – to protect the privacy of patrons going in and out. In the case of Prism however, it’s a matter of convenience.

”Everyone parks out back so they may as well come in that way, its safer than walking all the way around, and is more convenient. If it is really cold we will open it up for people to go out and smoke. People thought it was because we were ashamed, and so that people couldn’t see our customers coming in. It was really just about the fact that people parked out there, we have rainbow flags out front and out back so its not like our bar is a secret.“

Prism is a “lesbian bar” that means a great deal to both its hard working staff and its loyal customers. Whether a first time visitor or a long time patron, Prism offers something to keep you coming back.

A lot of the same points are reinterated in this venue description from FunMaps:

The scene is primarily lesbian, although the club doesn't frown upon men entering the premises. Hey, they even hold regular drag king and drag queen contests at Prism. For folks who aren't into the costume contests, there's a DJ spinning tunes on the weekend. The dance floor fodder ranges beyond the usual disco; the music mix will also include rock, pop, and country.


Prism also has a wide range of events and promotions. The best way to check these out is to peruse the in-house calendar; it will give you the skinny on all the happenings. But regular events are a New Year’s Eve Party, brunches, Gay Pride Week events, and musicians dropping by to play. This is a fun scene to hang out with friends, and be just be comfortable in your own skin.

What’s For Dinner?

For folks who want a bit of nosh on their night out, there's a menu of pub type favourites like the Homemade burger with chips and salad, a veggie burger, or ‘Loaded’ Nachos. There are also heart healthy choices like veggies and dip, among a good selection of appetizers. There is a pool table for post dinner games and Tuesdays there are Happy Hour Highballs.

However, in this description from travel channel, we seem to be backtracking off the lesbian identity bit--despite being (or formerly being) the "only lesbian bar" in Edmonton. Suddently, we're "gay and lesbian":

With its special events, small but tastefully selected food and drinks menu, quirky entertainment, and eclectic crowd, PRISM Bar & Grill is growing as an increasingly popular gay and lesbian entertainment venue in Edmonton. Besides the fun events that include drag shows, all you can eat nights such as the Taco Tuesdays and Burger Bar Bashes, free pool nights, and karaoke events, this club also features excellent music belted out by some top notch bands, soloists, and DJs, as well as a dance floor specially designed to help you unwind with ease. Although this venue attracts the usual gay and lesbian crowd, it is not averse to letting almost anyone in. Visit this bar only if you love to mingle, as the people that frequent this bar are usually very outgoing. Call for event timings and additional information.

As this little undated item at gay2go suggests, this new reticence apparently came down from the new ownership. This appears to have come around June 2008:

Welcome to PRISM Bar & Grill…the Place to Be!
Where the new owners, management and staff are friendly and welcoming and you’re assured a good time whether you’re there for a nice dinner or a wild party.

However, as we have seen at the Egyptian Club, the Lick Club, and other formerly lesbian bars, going "queer" does not necessarily increase your client base--though it often does estrange you from your core consitituency.

So how did this new "inclusiveness" work for Prism? Put it this way. According to Prism's facebook page, her last day of operations was August 15, 2010 (at 2 am to be precise):

After Prism was closed, the new owners, Tracey and Deborah, opened a new place called The Junction Bar & Eatery. Notice that this new place is "inclusive" to the extreme. In the announcement below, we have a lot of vague, feel-good utopian rhetoric about all of us "being" together. But under the all-inclusive mantra and all that, there is no specific mention of this being a lesbian or even a woman-friendly place in any way, shape, or form. Not even a gay place!

Our vision is to create a space where we can all "be" together and enjoy good food, drink and each other's company. It is a place where we can remember who we are and how far we've come, celebrate this time in our lives, and build a strong community "together" based on respect, acceptance and love.

We really have no idea--based on the description above--what the Junction's intended demographic  is supposed to be. It's all so (deceptively) airy fairy you know. But let's not let's fool ourselves: all businesses target and market to a particular demographic, whether it's openly acknowledged or not. With the deliberate erasure of dyke existence from this narrative, however, I'm thinking it's defintely not dykes.

Photos: Prism interior and bar (apparently during early days). Can you make out the tiny, barely legible "Girls Rule" sign on the back wall?

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