rediscovering the Peel

on Saturday after wandering down smith street at 2am with a date, finding that yelza was shut, alia closed for renovations and warned vigorously and vehemently not to enter one of the newer bars close to the gertrude street corner by a drunk ex-patron, we ended up at the Peel. This is a common story for most people seeking to party on in Collingwood after 3 am. Most of the time, it goes “i ended up at the peel – shudder – never again.” Other clubs have started having heard this story and thinking that they could take the place as the night-ender and hopefully without the shuddering part. Inevitably though, they’ve all failed. There’s still nothing else, as far as i know, in Collingwood open till 5 or 6 am on Friday and Saturday.

One of the reasons for the Peel’s enduring success could be that it is a gay club. This means a couple of things – in general the patrons are not going to engage in drunken fist fights or sleaze onto women. This in turn meant that there wasnt a heavy bouncer presence and there were an extraordinary number of women (about 15-20 percent) for a gay venue. Another reason is tht the Peel doesnt have a cover charge and their drinks is about the same as every other night club.

But perhaps the real reason is that success breeds success and the atmosphere of the Peel on that Saturday night anyway was for want of a better word – pumping. The crowd was a mix of the usual gym-muscled men, cute wasted boys, ageing slightly desperate guys attempting to look decadent and sophisticated, a smattering of drag queens looking their usual bitter bitchy best, a fag hag here and there and other gay men of little distinction. In and of itself, a crowd of middling interest.

however, it was leavened by the remnants of collingwood’s straight nightlife. This meant that the crowd also included very drunk straight girls who all looked like they’d been on a hen’s night, very drunk straight young men who’d been convinced by them that homosexuality is not contagious, very drunk straight older men who didnt give a shit and were happy to find a place to keep drinking, couples looking to pick up a guy for hot threeway fun and for some reason, some goths in PVC. It was this somewhat uneasy meeting of worlds that made all the difference.

The venue could have helped. The front bar was playing tacky eighties music, the middle and extremely cramped dancefloor was playing different tacky eighties music, the main dancefloor just played house but it had a podium with a pole on it which was the prized dance spot for the evening and much contested between pretty boys wanting to shake their booty at the crowd and pretty girls wanting to pretend to be lesbian exotic dancers (or maybe they were). Much shoving and a little bit of hair pulling fun was to be had. For those gay men who had enough of the mix and wanted a bit of space, there was the second floor depending on your predilictions either intimidatingly or enticingly called the Bullpen.

I hadnt been to the Peel for a couple of years and my date had never been before (or to a gay bar either I suspect). It was an eye opener for both of us. I dont know when it happened but for me the Peel had become synnomous with bad music, smoke, raucous desperate crowd and standing around aimlessly waiting for friends to get bored with the venue. Somehow, I’d forgotten that I have had fun at the Peel. But seeing the place through the wonder struck eyes of my date, i could see it was quite a marvelous place really populated with fantastic and strange characters.

Maybe you cant ever go back to the first time, but sometimes you can remember it.

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