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Dartmouth pub becomes space for queer community

Saturday nights will look a little different at Staggers Pub & Grub starting in June
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Saturday nights will look a little different at Staggers Pub & Grub starting in June.

The Portland St. fixture in Dartmouth's downtown will play host to 2SLGBTQIA+ shows, programming and other events indefinitely.

Jason Spurrell – also known as drag queen Rouge Fatale – says this fills the hole left when queer bar Menz n Mollyz closed permanently post-pandemic.

“The queer spaces in this city were home. When the community was left with nowhere to go, it hurt. It was sad and terrifying at times. Now Staggers will be an ally bar,” they said.

“The owner doesn't want to make money off us, and she isn't asking for anything from us. She wants us to come and bring our art. I'm over the moon. It's not quite the queer space we're used to, but it's exciting to get a heartbeat back for this community.”

With a capacity of 142, Staggers will serve as a place to do drag shows, art shows, events, and most importantly, will be a safe space for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community to dance.

Staggers owner Debbie Phinney has seen her business go through a water-damaged roof in April 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic. She wants the space to represent community and happiness.

“After all that everyone has been through the last few years, it's so important to be able to come together. My best friend is a gay man, and it's so difficult to think of the fact he has nowhere he feels safe,” she said.

“I was involved in the drag scene with Boom Boom Lubalicious in 2015. It was fabulous. I believe in community, and I want people to feel safe in this space. This place is covered in art, and performance art is beautiful. I cannot wait to have drag queens on this stage.”

Boom Boom (Ed Savage) was a tireless philanthropist and larger-than-life drag personality who passed in March 2019. But the drag queen's legacy remains, and Phinney was connected to Spurrell through that history.

“Of course I knew of Jason (Spurrell), and I was known by the community due to my work with Boom Boom. We had a friend in common who was a DJ, and they asked if they could give me number to Jason,” she said.

“Jason represents top-tier drag talent, and I find their work incredible. They truly amaze me. So we got talking, and I'm so happy we can use the space for this. I want a space that is inclusive and safe. Inside these doors, everyone is respected.”

Spurrell is working with Drag King Richard Rockhard and Queen Deva Station (Steven MacLeod) on the project, which will see community members get the chance to put on shows.

“Rouge and I have worked together for so long. With shows Apocalyptic Kitchen and Queen Ranting, we do so much, and we want to put some things on-stage and incorporate them,” said MacLeod. “Richard is also incredible. He's smart, is a great community voice, is willing to work, and isn't afraid to be strong.”

MacLeod is so excited to be doing this at Staggers, and says the support from Phinney has been amazing.

“We are at a point where we don't have safe spaces. This is an ally space, and (Staggers owner) Debbie is an amazing person. We want to give this space to everyone and rebuild what we had a little,” said MacLeod.

“It's been so hard the last few years. There were no permanent spaces, and everyone has been fighting for the spaces that open up. We want to take a few steps back and do some really different things. We want to step things up.”

Having this space will allow MacLeod to continue to mentor and help younger, aspiring drag queens as well.

“I love working with the kids. I can't do everything I used to, but I'm still pretty,” jokes MacLeod. “We have always wanted to give performers a showcase and elevate things. This can help us do that.”

For Drag King Richard Rockhard (Courtney Stanley), this space represents an unheard of endeavour.

“I've been doing drag for six years, and I've seen us shift to straight bars for two. They are fantastic, but shows are always either Sundays or once or twice a month,” he said.

“To see an ally bar do this once a week, every week, on a Saturday is huge. We are gaining so much stage time.”

Rockhard sees Deva Station and Rouge Fatale as “beacons” in the drag community, and is so excited to be working on this. He sees it as a wonderful progression.

“If anything, losing our queer space did make us more adaptable. We had to manoeuvre. We pushed drag to mainstream bars. It was beautiful,” he said. “But it's a double-edged sword, because we didn't have that home base. This residency of sorts at Staggers gives us somewhere to regularly convene.”

Rockhard envisions a chance to do plenty of incredible things with the space.

“We can do shows, karaoke and variety. Our first event, Homecoming, is presented by Queerdos, and we see ourselves as misfits. There will be different types of drag and ideas showcased,” he said.

“Now we can try to get as many different things on stage as possible, do so many shows, and also bring on new performers and have a space to try things.”

Rockhard – a Dartmouth resident – also sees this as a way to shine a light on that area.

“I've often found myself riding over to Halifax for shows. Now we get to showcase in Dartmouth. I live and work here, and it's really great,” he said. “I'm excited to see this happening on the other side of the bridge.”

Spurrell says things went from 0-to-60 really fast on this project, and is so happy with what's coming to fruition.

“Every Saturday, we will be able to do something for the queer community. From art to drag to burlesque and more, we're going to back back to the community some of what we lost,” they said.

“I've been impressed seeing younger queens doing once-a-monthers at venues, and love that places are giving space. But Deva, Richard and I are so happy to be able to have this to get people off the ground and allow them to do really interesting things.”

But key to the equation for Spurrell is the fact the three of them won't be producing everything.

“It's very much a scenario that people fill out their paperwork, let us know about their show, and if the space if open, we give them the space. They produce themselves, and it's so exciting,” they said.

“This hasn't been years in the making. It started falling into place in the last few weeks, and we're doing a Housewarming: Welcome Home show on June 11 as the first date.”

Spurrell is so happy with the genuine care Phinney has shown for the community.

“This isn't a pop-up. This is an every Saturday thing, where people can watch a show and dance after. Debbie has been amazing. She's offered to give this to our family, and she wants to be part of this family,” said Spurrell. “It's nice to be able to have some sort of home again.”

The space is accessible, as are the bathrooms, and the group are working on making the stage accessible as well. They have big plans for the space.

“All are welcome to come and be a part of things. We want people to get on-stage and see what they can do here,” they said.

“There will be old-school shows back, Deva has a few things going on, and there will be trivia, new shows, a bigger QTBIPOC presence, and so much more. A lot will be announced in the next few weeks.”

The Homecoming show kicks off Saturday night events at Staggers Pub & Grub, at 26 Portland St, Dartmouth. It opens at 8 p.m. On June 11, 2022, with $15 cover. It is a 19+ event, and space is limited. For more information, visit here.

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About the Author: Jordan Parker

Jordan Parker is a freelance journalist and runs entertainment firm Parker PR. He's been a movie nerd since he was old enough to walk.
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