Monday, March 2, 2015

Chez Moi

DJ Dallas and friends at Chez Moi
Chez Moi

Location: 30 Hayden, Toronto, Canada

Opened: 1984

Closed: 1989

It's not often that I find a long piece on a former lesbian bar, especially one that is well written and well researched. But this article is all that. This is just an excerpt from Then & Now: Toronto Nightlife History. I urge you to read the whole thing and check out all the great photos.

(Notice, however, that this bar became a lesbian place after it didn't "take" as a gay male place. That lesbians inherit the leftover spaces, the hand-me-downs, from the men is a theme very often seen in the study of lost womyn's space. It is also often the case that gay men will take over a lesbian bar that is considered a "desirable" space due to location, amenities, etc. )

Located a block south of Bloor and about halfway between Yonge and Church, Chez Moi was owned by the Korenowsky family. It opened as Korenowsky’s in 1942, and, for decades, operated as a tavern serving food and drinks alongside live music. Over the years, Korenowsky’s was frequented by jazz fans, postal workers, students and business crowds alike.

“My recollection is that Chez Moi was not a gay bar until the owner, Mr. Korenowsky, passed away,” recalls Rose Amato, a Chez customer who would later become close with the Korenowskys, and managed the bar for eight months. “When Mr. K was alive, they ran it as a straight jazz bar and tavern. It became gay once their son Russell started to manage it.”

Chez Moi dance floor
Russell Korenowsky Sr. passed away in September of 1983. The venue would open as Chez Moi late in 1

While it’s said the ghost of Russell Korenowsky Sr. remained in the building—Amato tells me she and others would still smell his cigars in the office—it’s also understood that Mr. K would not have approved of his family running a gay establishment. Most of the people I spoke with mention that Russell Jr.—a.k.a. Rusty, a gay man himself—convinced his mother Lynn to give the gay crowd a go.

Bonnie Meyer—a rock and R&B musician who performed with a variety of projects during The Chez’ history, including in its pre-gay days of 1984—credits Sharon Flannigan for stoking the concept of a new women’s hangout. Flannigan, who passed away from cancer early last year, was well-known in the community for having organized lesbian events, including at her east-end Saturday dancehall, dubbed Flannigan’s.

“Sharon went to Mrs. Korenowsky when it was still a straight bar, back when they did businessmen’s luncheons and then served drinks and burgers and all that through the rest of the day,” recalls Meyer. “It wasn’t that busy, so they were likely losing money.

“Sharon said, ‘If you give this bar to me over the next three weekends, I’ll pack the place.’ They said, ‘Go ahead,’ and she did exactly that. She got out her phone book and called everybody.”

“Russell did try to appeal to the gay male dance crowd, but it didn’t take,” adds longtime Chez DJ Elaine Doy. “They then hired a friend of mine, Linda Sharpe, to court the lesbian crowd, and it took off!”

Open daily, Chez Moi was always somewhat fluid. It was a sizable space, with a great outdoor patio and a daytime menu that attracted mixed lunchtime and post-work crowds. Patrons appeared more obviously gay as night fell.

“It was kind of weird,” relates DJ Julie Ley (pronounced “Lee”), who came to play Wednesdays through Sundays at The Chez in 1985, after years of entertaining at The CN Tower’s Sparkles disco, followed by a brief stint at cozy lesbian bar Togethers. “All kinds of people would go for a beer after work. By a certain point, the straight people would leave, the gay people would come in, and we’d rock the room.”

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