We caught up to talk about The Beaver, an alternative queer space in the heart of Queen West, Toronto, that closed in 2020 primarily because of restrictions in place due to coronavirus.
Find out more about Casey by visiting her website
Casey Mecija 00:01
feeling of belonging and not belonging are so perhaps deeply ingrained in, in some queer experiences. And I think that what I’ve come to, I think, feel and understand as part as deeply a part of my queerness is this feeling of ambivalence, right, this feeling of belonging, not belonging, fitting in not fitting in caring, not caring, like, you know, and I think that that realization is, you know, something that has a lot of potential, you know, there’s so much potential and ambivalence, you know, it’s again, not settling. It’s like a set of something that perhaps is aspirational and is always looking for something else.
K Anderson 00:54
Hello, I am K Anderson and you are listening to lost spaces, the podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person, about a venue from their past, the memories they created there, and the people that they used to know. Casey misia is a multidisciplinary artist, academic and musician, who used to be the lead singer for the indie pop band, Obi Shu, and now record as a solo artist, and you should definitely be checking out her music because it is amazing. We caught up to talk about the beaver and alternative queer space in the heart of Queen West Toronto that closed in 2020 primarily because of restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. What do you think are the important ingredients? For queer space?
Casey Mecija 02:15
Right? Mmm hmm. If you asked my younger self, it would be alcohol. Yeah. Something to drink. Me music and preferably r&b and hip hop, and dark in lights. So the lights as dim as possible.
K Anderson 02:38
And machine? Or is that option?
Casey Mecija 02:43
Just not into smoke machine? To be honest, yeah, that’s a little gets a little. those spaces already get hot. But if you were to ask my older self, I would say, a clean bathroom. Because all of the all of these, all of the queer venues of my memory just had really horrible bathrooms and like, just I just remember the smell. And I know that so much of what that story is about is like, you know, the queer bathroom is something that has its own should be its own podcast, right?
K Anderson 03:18
Wait, tell me but what do you mean?
Casey Mecija 03:21
I just mean like, the, like, the bathroom is where, you know, queer people often go to have sex and, you know, get messy and neatly convey. Yeah, I mean, yeah, they can. Absolutely. But But is it being done? You know, neatly? I’m not sure. Yes, is that those are the bathrooms of my memory. And so my my present self would love a clean bathroom. But but maybe that’s not. Maybe that doesn’t jive with the brand of the queer venue I think.
K Anderson 04:01
Wait, so that’s that’s all the older self wants for queer space is
Casey Mecija 04:05
clean. Ah, no, I still want like the you know me. I’m not I still want good music. I still want to know I still want to dance. Yeah, and I just want it to be a space where everyone where the programming and the people in charge really do think really closely to how they can make as many people feel as welcomed as possible.
K Anderson 04:34
is important. Just because I can’t stop thinking about dirty bathrooms. I always thought that it was kind of like a business ploy. Like if you kept it. If you kept it dirty. People wouldn’t spend too much time there and then they would come back out and drink.
Casey Mecija 04:48
Right, huh. I never thought of it that way. I definitely did not spend very much time in the bathroom. You’d have state that they were in.
K Anderson 04:56
Yeah, get in get out. Yeah,
Casey Mecija 04:58
yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, definitely, definitely. Yeah, there was a venue in Toronto called the holy oak that just was such a beautiful space and had really amazing events but just had the smelliest bathroom. Yeah. And so, and that’s like more about, you know, Toronto and, you know, the cost of renovating a bathroom and things like that than it is on on the venue owners, for sure.
K Anderson 05:27
So, if I come to Toronto, I should expect every venue to have a stinky bathroom.
Casey Mecija 05:34
I mean, they’re stinky bathrooms. Yeah, I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna I’m not gonna do a blanket statement by any means. But you should. I mean,
K Anderson 05:43
Toronto, bathrooms are stickier than other cities. I mean, you’re in the UK. Where are you in the UK? in London? You have sticky bathrooms to probably no. Well, I mean, I’m not sure if it’s like, you know, a selling point of the city. Right? I mean, yes, I can think of some stinky bathrooms. But
Casey Mecija 06:08
yeah, it’s I think maybe it’s, you know, as since sorial men memory of queer bars. That is like looking back.
K Anderson 06:18
Maybe the reality is, I’m just like a filthier person than you. So I don’t notice so much. Maybe I don’t need to respond. That’s fine. Okay, so let let us just like rewind. And and let’s talk about the Beaver. So you said it was around the corner from your house?
Casey Mecija 06:44
Yeah, it was, I was lucky to live on a street called Bellwoods Avenue, which was about a 10 to 15 minute walk from the Beaver. I live there in my early to mid 20s. And, you know, it was a place that myself and the basis of a band that I used to play in called OBJ would often go to after practice, because it was a you know, queer, positive, queer friendly space. And yeah, it just we had friends that DJ there and it felt like an appropriate venue to frequent and support.
K Anderson 07:24
You You said in like, in our correspondence, that you were fairly neutral about it.
Casey Mecija 07:30
Mm hmm. I mean, I, I appreciate the opportunity. opportunities that a space like the beaver creates for queer and trans people together and, and, you know, party, but when I was frequenting that space as a younger queer person, I, it felt like a predominantly white space. And that felt alienating to me, perhaps it was, you know, mostly the, the times that I frequented there, maybe those were the reason why those spaces were, you know, white, maybe they had parties that I didn’t know about, but the majority of time, majority of time that I’ve spent there has largely been populated by, you know, white seeming people and I just, you know, find myself feeling a little alienated in those spaces. So it you know, as a queer person, and, you know, having a desire to not fit in, but, you know, find, you know, connect and, you know, forge intimacy with people that are deeper than better, deeper that can like think about, you know, one’s gender, race class, all of those things together. The beaver didn’t really give that to me. And so while I appreciate what it offered to people, it just wasn’t it does just just didn’t hold that space in my heart in the same way that it does for other people.
K Anderson 09:04
Yeah. And so how does that how does your experience in a bar like the beaver compared to your experience, like as a gigging musician and on the band scene in Toronto, I
Casey Mecija 09:17
mean, my experience as a gigging musician was like very similar, you know, and that is, like largely one of the reasons why not that I started to lose interest in gigging but wanted to sort of forge my own path and create my own opportunities for gigging that felt comfortable to me. You know, I played in an orchestral rock band for over a decade. You know, we were classified as indie music and, you know,
K Anderson 09:49
is there air quotes around?
Casey Mecija 09:51
Yeah, there’s indie, indie, indie music and, and so that indie scene I think there’s a particular figure or person that comes to mind that isn’t it like a small, queer Filipino person as fronting, you know, an indie band. So, you know, Canadian music at that time when we were playing felt largely sis white male. And, you know, I just became a psychic space and emotional space I didn’t want to occupy all of the time.
K Anderson 10:32
And I’m really sorry to be one of those people who’s like, Oh, yeah, your experience is exactly like mine, because that’s not what I’m trying to do. But, but having similar experiences as a musician, and being in like, Sis, white male, Sis, white, heterosexual male dominated spaces, and trying to explain why that’s difficult, and why that’s kind of emotionally exhausting, sometimes can be really difficult for people who just don’t, don’t get it, who just who just feel comfortable in those types of spaces. So I can, I can appreciate that, although it’s not necessarily anything that anyone is actively doing, to try and make you feel uncomfortable. Or I mean, that’s maybe not the right word, that’s maybe a clumsy word, that it’s just, it’s just tough, isn’t it?
Casey Mecija 11:34
I mean, it’s just a reminder of the, like, insidious ways that white supremacy operates, you know, in its benevolence, and I think that benevolence, is, is can be unevenly painful for some and, and the weight of that is something that, you know, I often tap out of, you know, like, like, I’d rather go be known hang out and, and eat dinner at a friend’s house, you know, then subject myself to a space that might not feel that great.
K Anderson 12:13
So if we take a walk down memory lane, well, you’ve just had a band practice. And it’s gone. Well, let’s say it’s gone. Well, you’ve played some new songs. You managed to fit everything in into the practice. And then you and your bass player go to the Beaver, what’s that feeling when you walk through the door?
Casey Mecija 12:42
That’s a really good question. It’s a very visceral question. Because, like, I immediately imagined myself walking on like a cold autumn night, like the 10 minutes down Queen Street, which, you know, from the time that I moved into that bellwoods house when I was in my early 20s, to now has changed so much, you know, the gentrification of Toronto, particularly Toronto, Queen Street West has been, like, pretty astounding, which is, like, the reason why these queer spaces don’t really exist anymore, to be honest. But yeah, so walking down Queen Street on like, a cold, crisp night and stepping into the beaver and immediately being hit by, you know, a feeling of warmth, not just temperature, but I don’t know if you can smell warmth, but if it’s, I feel I can smell this space, which is a combination of, you know, spilt beer, and sweat and, you know, vegan burritos or whatever, on, you know, like, vegetarian chili or something, you know, and, and, you know, music that always,
Casey Mecija 14:07
made me feel curious and interested in what was happening in the space. So, you know, as much as I talk about feeling alienated from that space, it’s, it’s nice to talk about it. Because I did feel like, even though there were moments where I didn’t connect with the programming there, or the people that were there, I’m just so grateful that it was there. Because that sensorial experience of entering a space made or hoping to be made for you is important.
K Anderson 14:46
So, the first thing to feedback is, since Oreo is an amazing word, thank you for using it. And secondly, can we talk more about the music like you said that it was surprising on occasion, what What kind of thing would you expect to hear there?
Casey Mecija 15:05
I mean, I don’t know how you would like so it was kind of the time when Yeah, yes, we’re popular. So I don’t, I don’t actually remember how to classify that music. That genre of music.
K Anderson 15:20
Which era like the first, like the maps era. Okay. Okay. So
Casey Mecija 15:28
like I said it was a it was not it was not a space for, like, at that time I didn’t. Yeah, I didn’t I didn’t hear much, you know, Indigo Girls or, you know, well, not on purpose because I think they did have like, purposeful nights for you know, Indigo Girls and you know, lesbian. I like icons. But
K Anderson 15:55
is that is that the go to in Canada? Like we got it. We’ve got to attract more women. Indigo Girls?
Casey Mecija 16:03
I mean, I think so. Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge. I don’t know. I don’t know. Tracy Chapman just surfaced recently. Right. And so I think like lesbians everywhere just know, like taking their clothes. ready to start a revolution? Yeah, I think it was just like post punk. Maybe that is the best way to describe the music there. I know that a lot of the beaver has is inspired by the work of Wellman wrote the artists woman row activist woman row who organized a party in Toronto called Vaseline, which was a queer party. And they played a lot of post punk music there for sure.
K Anderson 16:51
And, and sticking to this post band, practice. What’s your Where’s your head generally after rehearsal,
Casey Mecija 17:04
it’s, it was generally at the time looking for a drink. looking for a place to unwind. And, you know, I had a lot of fun at band practice. And, you know, in my younger years, we had a lot of fun. So the, the beaver was an extension of, of that fun, but in a more queer, queer way. So it also holds a special place in my heart because it’s a space where my partner have, like, over a decade, and I, you know, would dance together and, and flirt with each other. So there was one night there were we had a very lovely time together. Tips.
K Anderson 17:58
Okay, we can just leave it at that you’re gonna have to give me a bit more. Yeah, yeah. I mean,
Casey Mecija 18:07
yeah, I like my partner. And I were still trying to figure out whether or not we could be together because of, I mean, because of arrangements that were already in place with other partners. And, and so yeah, the beaver was a space where the music and dancing helped us to sort of affirm our desires for each other. politely. Did you mean snug? No. No, that the desire to snack was definitely
a firm there.
K Anderson 18:49
Casey Mecija 18:55
Yeah, I mean, yeah, it was Yeah, the times that I did dance. There were were, were great.
K Anderson 19:03
Okay, I can sense that you’re feeling a bit uncomfortable. I’m not gonna push that. So why was it just your bass player that came with you for now after rehearsal drink.
Casey Mecija 19:14
I mean, my other bandmates would come to but my bass player and I used to go because we were the two queers in the band. So my bass player, Heather, Kirby’s Queer as well. And, you know, it was like our queer time to queers walking down Queen Street to have a clear drink, you know, at clear bar. Yeah, other band members would come with us, times for sure. But perhaps there was a unconscious recognition that this was not necessarily a space for them or builds for them. You know, I was in a band with like, three white, or two white guys and, you know, mostly straight people. So I think that there was a desire to keep that space that was just for us. I hope I hope that that was the case at least.
K Anderson 20:07
It’s really interesting, though, given that, you know that that, like, I’m making this a bigger deal than it is sorry. But that precious that precious post rehearsal time when you just get to like, be with one another rather than having that purpose.
Casey Mecija 20:23
Yeah, I mean, I think, Heather, who was my, or who played and OB, she with me and who’s my like queer companion in the band. I think that like, when we were on tour, in different countries and different cities, like we would often seek out queer spaces together, right? queer bars together, just as a way to, you know, remind ourselves or remind ourselves because you never forget that you’re queer, but just to find a space that, you know, felt different than, you know, the bars that we were playing in the venues that we were always accustomed to, because of the music that we played.
K Anderson 21:06
And I recently had an interview with Melissa ferrick. And she talks about that some someone had once reflected to her that she made any venue a queer venue when she performed because of the energy that she brought, because of who she was as a performer. Did you feel in that band, that you were able to bring that your queerness to it?
Casey Mecija 21:39
Yeah, absolutely. I think that I don’t know whether or not I transformed it into a queer space, necessarily. But I do think that part of the, I guess, the power I felt with that band, was that I could be in these different, you know, typically white, typically straight spaces, and sing queer love songs, you know, these songs that I wrote, or to women, and we’re about intimacy, and we’re about desire, and we’re about, you know, seeking, you know, closeness and things like that. And I would be singing these lyrics about queer desire to street before, which to me felt like a felt like a happy intervention. And like, we toured all across Canada, and if you can imagine, you know, they’re there. They’re queer and trans people everywhere. But, you know, in some of these spaces, and some of these small bars, I was like, well, the queer Love Song prevails. without, without your knowledge. So, so yeah.
K Anderson 22:58
Did you ever check it out? I guess it’s different when you’re with a band, but like, because you might, because you’ve probably already arranged your set. But did you ever chickened out of performing particular queer, queer songs because of the way the audience was interacting with you?
Casey Mecija 23:16
I’m not really I think, because my lyrics weren’t explicitly clear, like, you know, wasn’t, there’s nothing that I think you could read in my lyrics that would point to, you know, my queerness in any way, so I wasn’t, I wasn’t afraid to play the songs per se. nor was I nor did I ever feel like I couldn’t play them in spaces. Because the lyrics were sort of surreptitious or secretive. I wanted to play them even more in these spaces, I think.
Casey Mecija 24:04
Yeah. It’s an interesting relationship, the the audience and the performer and, like, what lyrics and what stories you can tell through music that don’t necessarily align with perhaps the expectations of audience members or things like that.
K Anderson 24:24
Yeah. And there’s also this other thing, like, I, I, like, you know, it’s really easy to assume that everyone is like you. So I always assume that people care about the lyrics, but recognize that about 90% of the audience aren’t actually listening to the cat or hearing or like they’re there. Or they’re hearing the words there, just not kind of connecting with them at that time. Which I find so fascinating. Like how can you enjoy music and not enjoy the story?
Casey Mecija 25:00
I mean, I was that type of listening was brought to my attention by a cellist who I have played music with for, you know, again, close to a decade. And she’s like, I don’t really listen to the lyrics. I like, like I listened to the music. And so, yeah, immediately I was like, oh, that kind of hurts because I work so hard. Like, I thought you knew me. Or I hoped that you would know me in some way. But I was like, Oh, right. Just like people enjoy different aspects of music. Like, I’m a lyric person. I like to listen to lyrics, I like to figure out how they’re crafted and things like that. But some people just like to, you know, listen to the cello, and drums and guitars and things like that.
K Anderson 25:48
Yeah, it’s fascinating. And I guess it’s that thing, like, you know, when you’ve written something, you just assume that everyone’s interpreting it in the same way that you do. But there are songs that like, you’ve listened to, like 3000 times. And then suddenly, one day you go, Ah, that’s what that’s about. Oh, I get it now. But yeah, it’s Yeah, it’s just fascinating the way that people engage and interact with these things that are things but aren’t things at the same time? Oh, God, sorry, I sound Christian. No, not at all.
Casey Mecija 26:26
I mean, I think that and when these songs and when these compositions enter into a venue, the possibilities and the impacts that they have are, again, transformed. You know, like, when you are playing music in a concert versus listening to that song on a almost like cassette tape. Oh, my God. When you’re streaming it on Spotify, like, you know, when, when you’re listening to it at home, it just changes how you relate to people, I think.
K Anderson 27:02
Yeah. And, yeah, conscious listening as well, which I don’t do much anymore. I used to, like, sit in my room, like CDs, and sit in the dark and put a CD on and like, just sit and listen to the CD. And I just would never even contemplate doing that. Now. Why do you think that is? Because there’s always something else to do. Yeah. And maybe like, maybe I get my fail of that type of thing. When I go for walks and listen to music? Maybe? I don’t know.
Casey Mecija 27:37
Yeah, I mean, I used to do that, as well as when I was in high school, like with the religiously listen to music, and listen to the lyrics. But now I find my like, the most pleasure I get from music is like on a commute, or when I’m driving, you know. And I think that’s because I’m just much older, and I have different responsibilities.
K Anderson 28:04
And so do you remember hearing about the beaver closing? I mean, it was very recently.
Casey Mecija 28:16
I do remember hearing about the beaver closing. I read it online, as you know, many people have read it, or read the news. And yeah, I was, I was not surprised, but still still felt sad for the loss of that space and what it, you know, was providing for people.
K Anderson 28:37
Why do you say you were not surprised?
Casey Mecija 28:42
a venue like that, on a street. Like that, where, you know, rent is forever increasing. And where support for, you know, the arts is, is in turmoil, because of the situation we’re in right now. There’s really no way that a bar can sustain itself. And so, you know, I this, yeah, I just wasn’t surprised because I didn’t know what sort of supports it could get or was receiving.
K Anderson 29:18
And you talked earlier about the rapid gentrification within Toronto. What’s kind of happening around the area where the beaver was?
Casey Mecija 29:30
Um, it’s still you know, is like condo development. There’s a condo development that is directly I think across the street from the beaver that you know, I think houses hundreds upon hundreds of people and closer to the Gladstone which is again, like a five minute walk from the Beaver. There’s another condo development, there’s just condos. popping up everywhere.
K Anderson 30:02
really dumb question everybody dumb question. Sorry. Is it condo? Just an apartment? Or was there something else about it?
Casey Mecija 30:10
It’s a condo. Just an apartment. So I think a condo is a cool. A condominium is a collection of apartments. Maybe? Let me I don’t know.
K Anderson 30:25
I don’t know. Sorry. Maybe I just like, I’m used to hearing that word.
Casey Mecija 30:32
is not is this not a word that it’s, it’s a large property complex. So yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s divided into small units. Okay. Divided into apartment. Okay, but
K Anderson 30:47
you say you would say an apartment is like a house that was converted into three separate living spaces? Yeah.
Casey Mecija 30:57
That’s a very, that’s tough, because I would also say that some something that someone might call a condo could also be called an apartment. I don’t know. I think that I don’t,
K Anderson 31:09
I’m not sure. Yeah. Okay. Sorry. I’m taking this off. We don’t need to be. But we’ve both learned something. Maybe. Yeah. I mean, it’s something that I’m gonna think about after we hang up. So there’s just kind of condos popping up all over the place.
Casey Mecija 31:28
Yeah, I mean, they’ve been popping up for, you know, over a decade are in that area. And so an area that was once coined, queer West, is, I think, slowly and queering itself because of these condo developments.
K Anderson 31:51
So then, what do you think, is gonna happen? This is a very big question. What do you think is gonna happen to the scene? Or queer spaces in general in Toronto? I mean, I think that
Casey Mecija 32:06
I don’t know what’s gonna happen to this, like the brick and mortars, I don’t know, what’s gonna happen to the bars that are, you know, queer bars. I know that there will always be queer and queer events being programmed in different bars across the city. You know, there’s a really exciting party in Toronto called New hulking, which is focused on creating space for people of color, but particularly Asian queers, and Asian trans people. And, and that’s a party that, you know, travels across different bars and spaces. So I think that, you know, sustaining a bar is likely difficult, and the move to not even the move to like that, that, you know, assumes that these moves haven’t already been happening, but I think they’ll just be a more like, I just think the focus will be parties and events.
K Anderson 33:08
But who hosts the parties if the bars don’t exist?
Casey Mecija 33:14
That’s a good question. I mean, so yes, yes, y’all, the party that I was talking about before, was often held at a bar that wasn’t a queer bar, but perhaps a queer friendly bar, you know, owners who are queer friendly. And the same with this party that I’m talking about called nouveau King. You know, Aki often occupies a space called the Great Hall, which is not a queer space by any means. But I guess, I mean, is capitalism, right? If your party will make money, anyone can be queer friendly.
K Anderson 33:55
There’s no rules. Yeah.
Casey Mecija 33:59
But I mean, like, there, we still have the village in Toronto. And, you know, there are I can’t speak about the village and the spaces that are there because I don’t frequent that area enough. And don’t know, I know enough about, you know, our village in Toronto, which may be a sad, but you know, there are still bars there,
K Anderson 34:23
but is maybe not that surprising, given what type of Mazda there.
Casey Mecija 34:30
Yeah, um, you know, there’s one space there called glad day bookstore, which is a bookstore, but also doubles as the event space community space. And, you know, I’ve been to a number of like book launches, and I know that they hold shows and things like that there that are, I guess, perhaps more diverse, for the lack of a better word than what is typically seen on the strip there, but Yeah, I yeah, I don’t have a committed relationship. Could be because I’m a lesbian but but who knows?
K Anderson 35:13
Yeah, you get like, you know, yeah, speaking in a very broad sense. And not identifying as a lesbian myself. lesbians do get the short straw when it comes to venues.
Casey Mecija 35:29
Yeah, I mean, yeah, I guess there was one bar called the hen house. That that was around, I guess, on a street that’s parallel to where the beaver was, that was built for lesbians, specifically by lesbian, lesbian, lesbians for lesbians by lesbians. And it had it had, you know, it had its run. And, you know, a lot of people went there. So I went there sometimes to I played a game of second blow there, you know, where you take the cards, the playing cards and
K Anderson 36:09
to the game. Everybody sounds like a game. We’ll never ever play again. Absolutely. Yeah. No more second blow. is the one with the ball under your chin that you have to then pass on?
Casey Mecija 36:24
Yeah, you kind of like hold a playing card, at your lips and you are sucking it in and you pass it
K Anderson 36:32
and stick it in someone’s forehead?
Casey Mecija 36:33
No, you try and pass it to someone else’s lip. Okay. And so, you know, if you if you’re not successful, then you’re met with a little kiss.
K Anderson 36:45
From who? The person you’re supposed to pass it to the person that you’re passing it to. So if they if you can’t Oh, okay. Yeah, yeah. If you don’t maintain the flow. So it’s not that that’s your kind of punishment. It’s just that that’s what happens because there’s no card in between. Yeah, yeah. If If you lose the section there’s a little kids. Oh, yeah. gems. Oh, yeah. Lots of gems. Did you ever go to the beaver? Well, if you did, tell me about it. Find me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with the user name K Anderson music and tell me all about what you’ve got up to. You can also find out more about Casey by visiting her website. www dot Casey Mercia calm and her surname is spelled ME c ij. And if you want to hear more about the Beaver, then you should definitely check out my interview with prawn waters about the very same bar and their experiences their law spaces is not only a podcast, but a concept record as well. I’ve been writing songs about queer venues and the people who used to live their lives there. And we’ll be releasing songs over the coming year. You can hear the first single well groomed boys, which is also playing underneath my talking right now on all good streaming platforms. If you like this episode, I would really appreciate if you could subscribe, leave a review on Apple podcasts or just tell people who you think might be interested in giving it a little listen to I am K Anderson and you have been listening to vast spaces