Friends of Dorothy Lounge opens new 'queer space' in downtown Victoria

Rudy Tomazic admits he had second thoughts about opening a new bar in the middle of a pandemic.

But he’s forging ahead with a spirit of optimism that his Friends of Dorothy Lounge — an upscale establishment catering to both LGBTQ2 and straight patrons — is “wanted and will be welcomed” in downtown Victoria.

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Tomazic is remodelling the former Willie’s Bakery location at 537 Johnson St., replicating his Friends of Dorothy Lounge in Kelowna. The heritage-style building, which housed B.C.’s longest running bakery for more than 115 years before it closed in 2018, was most recently a Tree Restaurant location, but that, too, closed this year.

“I might be crazy to do this in the middle of the pandemic, but the advantage is we’re building it with COVID safety features in mind,” Tomazic said Friday. “When this pandemic is all over, we’ll be established.” The venue is set to open on Dec. 15.

Tomazic calls the Friends of Dorothy Lounge a queer space with an inclusive environment, offering everything from casual cocktails to “dramatic drag brunch.”

As for the name, Tomazic said, historically, the term “friend of Dorothy” was a euphemistic way to “out” oneself without fear of violence or discrimination.

References to The Wizard of Oz and gay icon Judy Garland pop up in cocktail names such as No Place Like Home, Lions Tigers and Bears, Wicked Witch, I’m Melting, Oh My and Not in Kansas.

The goal is for a “visually stunning space,” Tomazic said. “We’re described as punk chic meets Louis XIV,” he said. “We maintained the elegant look we’re known for, but in a way that complements our historic 140-year-old Victoria building.

“We wanted to keep the architectural features of 14-foot ceilings and exposed brickwork to make the interior feel unique, with lots of brass, warm colours and jewel tones. It’s cosy, upscale and retro all at once.”

The statement piece is a two-metre chandelier in the centre of the room.

Tomazic said he’s investing between $250,000 and $300,00 in the building. Capacity is for 110 patrons, including the outdoor covered patio, but it will initially be designed for 80 to accommodate social distancing.

The lounge plans to offer drag performances with local talent, live music, comedy shows and live-streaming events in accordance with provincial health requirements. “We want this space to be safe and enjoyable for all,” said Tomazic.

Like its Kelowna counterpart, the new location will serve cocktails, local draft beers and gourmet bites from 4 to 10 p.m. It will also offer daily breakfast and brunch service from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Unlike the Kelowna location, which is a 19+ establishment, Friends of Dorothy Lounge in Victoria is able to welcome people of all ages due to different licensing.

“We’re excited that families will be able to join us in Victoria,” said Tomazic. “Parents are more engaged with their children now about queerness and we hope families of all types will join us to dine and for the live entertainment.”

Victoria is already home to the Vicious Poodle and Paparazzi Night Club, both on Johnson Street, but Tomazic said the region can support another LGBTQ2 establishment.

He said he’s already feeling welcome in Victoria, as neighbouring businesses have been dropping by to wish him well.

“It’s humbling and reassuring to see that during these difficult times,” said Tomazic.

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