The current premises were the site of a former restaurant and piano bar that had tables in the shape of baby grand pianos. Joel Sarbit, who was formerly a board member of Happenings, decided to become a partner with two others and in April 1988 Club 200 opened as a gay bar and cabaret.
When partner Harold Dewar retired in 2001 Allen Morrison, who has worked at the club for 20 years, also became a partner. He and Sarbit make a good team and Morrisson says he has been a cleaner, bus boy and general factotum over the 20 years he has been involved. The one job he has not done is DJ.
They plan 24th birthday celebrations April 27 and 28.
Though there have been some lean years they have soldiered on as other bars fell by the wayside. Morrisson says they have survived because they run a true community bar that attracts all ages. “We also listen to clients and are constantly changing and reinventing ourselves to meet their needs,” he says. “We don’t just cater to one demographic but to all so you can meet people from every walk of life and every income level. We keep coming up with new ideas as time goes on.”
To stay abreast of the times they embarked on a major renovation project last November and have now updated toilet fixtures, furniture, the bar and even the carpeting and TVs. A rainbow palette of colour schemes has gone and the accent now is on reds and charcoal grey.
“Since we are privately owned and not run by a community group or committee we are more hands-on and committed,” he says. “Some days I might be here for 16 hours, but at other times it is quieter. We enjoy working here and it really is a full-time job.”
Not having to deal with a community based board also makes decision-making easier and faster, so they can adjust quickly to any new challenges. He says entertainment has been part of their success formula. Music, dancing and regular drag shows are well established. Drag afficianados have always been loyal customers. For several years, Minneapolis-based drag artiste Tinea performed there and the club has also showcased much local drag talent, including Anita Stallion, Stephanie Lane-Barr, Chiqita Banana andJoan Costalotsa. They have long been supporters of the Snowy Owl Monarchist Society and have been involved with every Pride parade since the beginning.
“We will have a float in the parade this year and we are also sponsoring the baseball tournament for Pride Week,” he says. “We strongly believe in supporting local charities and GLBT events. We have a broad customer base and if they support us we should support them.”
Morrisson, who came out at age 17, says one of the more challenging periods in their history was when in a short space of time the new Gio’s opened very close by. That was a challenge, but the MLCC also curtailed cheap draft promotions, which dented their popular Tuesday night promotion. At 25 cents a glass, they regularly went through five kegs.
As a further challenge, a smoking ban came in and not long afterwards Club Desire also opened up. Club Desire has gone the way of Happenings, but another straight-owned gay bar, Fame, has since opened up, though it doesn’t operate all week.
These were all major challenges, but Club 200 faced them and bounced back. As to the future as they approach their silver anniversary next year, Morrisson is optimistic. “We’ve seen steady growth over the last two years so I see a bright future,” he says. “We have a broad clientele and regard them all as family and our formula for entertaining them has worked well over the years.”
A strong work ethic has also helped ensure their success. Running a busy bar is time-consuming but lately they’ve also branched out, forming an outside catering company known as Big Deal Catering Company. So far, says Morrisson, it’s going well.
– Peter Carlyle-Gordge is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer.