As I sashay my way through a crowd of joyous queens partaking in a line dancing lesson on the famous dance floor of Zipperz/Cellblock on a chilly Wednesday night, I land myself in a seat of general manager Harry Singh’s office to get the scoop on one of gay T.O’s most enduring and longest running venues.
Zipperz, which opened it’s doors on December the 18th on a wintery night long ago in 1998, has recently celebrated their sixteenth anniversary, a welcome milestone for both the community and for Singh himself. “Initially in it’s first year, I was not involved in the ownership of the space and it was run by two friends of mine.” Singh, a lively kind fellow with a streak of both seriousness and humor in his warm personality, found himself playing an important role then in what eventually came to be his main role now.
“I would come into help and set up”, he recalls, “they were new to it and I had some previous experience working at Trax at the time so I helped with some direction regarding stock and inventory. I was like, guys, you’re opening in two weeks, you gotta know what you’re selling and how to keep track”, he laughs,” You need a cash register. You need a staff. You need straws.”
I was amused to learn during our chat that Zipperz may not have been known as Zipperz. “Originally it was to be called ‘Buttons'”, he grins, “after some second thoughts and a little brainstorming, we came up with Zipperz.” Sorry Pussy Cat Doll fans. Before it’s debut in 1998 and it’s unveiling, it was a mystery what the space was to be and was kept hush until it’s doors opened, or if you will, was unzipped.
“Nobody knew what it was and what we were planning, we had only small hints and teasers and it built up some anticipation and curiosity.” The bar was ultimately welcomed warmly and embraced by the community and quickly found it’s footing and identity, and gelled nicely amongst the other venues in the village.
Yet, it was different. “When I was officially on board and it reopened in January 2000, I wanted to go away from the mainstream and was interested in appealing to a mature crowd. I looked around and The Barn was closing, Trax was closing as well”, recalls Singh.
“I knew there was a market out there for this. I also wanted to have something different every night that would appeal, also, to everybody.” There’s an air of both fervent fun and familiarity and comfort that permeates the space. Scores of nightlife lovers and scensters pack the house for ‘Retro Drama!’ Sunday nightsm with DJ Alain spinning golden tunes alongside DJ Cory Activate. Alain who spun the classic retro parties at the legendary Boots Nightclub, was wisely nabbed by Zipperz upon it’s closure, and the dance crowd followed suit.
Aside from floor fillers on Saturday and Sunday nights, Zipperz offers up quite a variety throughout the week, including drag shows and live singing. “As well as being a dance space, we are a piano bar. There aren’t that many out there, and we’re with a little bit of everything”. Singh has tapped the graces of live acts such as Roxxie Terraine, Kendal, pianist Adam Weinmann, as well as exquisite drag performers such as Georgie Girl, Heaven Lee Hytes, and Sofonda Cox. “I like drag shows and decided to take the drag route early on”, he says. “I have many friends in the drag scene and I’ve even performed myself”, he sighs, “poorly…but I’m pretty!”
“I’ve tried things here and saw what worked and what didn’t. We have a good set of talented entertainment and it’s a formula that works.” This thoughtful approach and appreciation is balanced out nicely by a good dose of generosity as Zipperz often plays host to many charitable causes and community events, raising both money and awareness for issues and organizations, such as the P.W.A and The Sick Kids Hospital to name few.
When I question Singh on what are some of his most surprising and memorable moments through out the history of the bar, he replies with a real brow raiser. “I wasn’t here the night of it, but somebody who frequented the bar regularly who was from out of town notified me they had a photograph they wanted to send me of a girl who came in from New York. It was quite awhile ago. She got up and played some piano and sang for a bit. I was told it was Lady Gaga before she became ‘Lady Gaga’. Apparently it was her and she was really good. I don’t know if any of this is true, we’re going to have to ask her! Also, figure skater Patrick Chan stopped in for retro night and was had a blast, we partied it up. I promised him I wouldn’t post any pics on Facebook”, he adds with a laugh. “Jeffrey Butler also came in. I was invited to go to New York with them but it was right before Pride so I had to decline. I promised afterward sometime I would love to.”
Pride of course is a momentous festivity for the community and for Zipperz as well, who gleefully participates in the festivities and activities with their back lot patio that draws scores of enthusiastic crowds who fill up the beer garden and watch the Pride show extravaganza, which is usually hosted by the very lovely and legendary Chris Edwards.
“We’re happy to participate in community events and festivities and do so when we can. We’ve been here for a while now and of course, there are also going to be rumblings and rumors of us closing and all that.”
He doesn’t see the community as dissipating and dwindling or if so, he doesn’t see it as being a complete negative. “The village is of course important for many reasons but there are signs that we are conglomerating. and that’s the ultimate goal, to have us all as one. Of course Zipperz won’t be here for absolute ever”, he adds,” When we opened 16 years ago I had a feeling we would still be here, and I’m delighted we still are and continue to be.”
Happy Sweet Sixteen Zipperz!
Cheers to many more.
About the Author
The beautiful and legendary Donnarama has graced the stages of T.O with outrageous costumes and comedy skits, and there is never a dull moment! A scene queen and Canadian drag staple, her dedication, pioneering originality and uniqueness have scored her numerous awards, bar titles and visits to therapy. Visit Donnarama on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/donnarama.italiana