Angus scraps plans to expropriate Café Cleopatre, but is the Cleo safe for good?

It looks like the independent burlesque, fetish and drag artists who call the second floor of Café Cleopatre on St-Laurent their artistic home will be able to continue doing so, at least for a while. City-backed developer Angus Development (SDA) told Radio Canada that they have scrapped their plans to expropriate the venue, and now plan to build two 13-storey buildings on either side of Cafe Cleo. This turn of events brings to a temporary end what is probably the biggest local David versus Goliath story to come about in a long while.

While this turn of events will allow many to breathe a sigh of relief, does this mean the Cleo is safe for good?

“No,” says Eric Paradis, who runs the monthly Club Sin fetish nights on the Cleo’s second floor, “the Cleo will never be safe as long as corporate interests rule above those of the artists.”

It’s those same corporate interests that led the Tremblay administration to offer the SDA a no-bid contract to “redevelop” the lower Main. It’s also those interests that gave the SDA the bright idea of building a skyscraper office tower for Hydro Quebec as the centerpiece of an entertainment district and evicting all the entertainers who stood in their way.

Fortunately, those motivations were clear to people who performed, worked and lived in the area as well as historians, academics and pretty much anyone who cared about Montreal’s real culture. Those voices came out en masse at the public consultations on the subject nearly two years ago, when FTB first picked up this story.

Now, Angus may well be taking its new two-building proposal to the public consultation process. Even though the plan allows for the Cleo to remain, it’s a far cry from the re-emerging nightlife that existed on the block before Yaccarini and company started buying up lots and boarding up buildings.

“Regardless of my status of producer of events,” Paradis commented, “I think it’s preposterous to build anything over six stories on that part of the Main.”

This also isn’t a done deal. The announcement by Angus just says that they have asked the city to remove their name from the expropriation process, so the city still needs to do just that. Some may remember that the last time Angus made a concession (after the OCPM ruling came down), Tremblay erased it and said that things would proceed as planned.

So while supporters of the Cleo, authentic grassroots culture and Montreal’s heritage take a collective sigh of relief, is there something else they should be doing to ensure that the Cleo remains, and that a better idea for the area than two office towers comes to light?

“Make yourselves heard!” Paradis argues, “your ideals to preserve and rebuild have every right to be.”

If you want to be heard, you can comment on this post, the Radio Canada article, spread the story and join the Save the Main Facebook group. You can also read our previous coverage of the story.

Photo by Chris Zacchia

5 comments

  • Wow, it really is great to see what an effect we can have when we come together as a community.By no means the end of the road but it is certainly a partial victory!

  • I was in front of Mr. Zoumboulakis’s Cafe Cleopatre recently. All I saw was beggers, bums, alcoholics, perverts, and drug addicts stumbling around. I did not see the “reputable clientele” that Mr. Zoumboulakis is talking about , diverse yes, reputable no.
    If we want to be a world class cultural city we cannot let people like Mr.Zoumboulakis keep the progress of this wonderful city and it’s people hostage to his closed minded ways. I think all Montrealer’s should protest this eyesore on the main, known as Cafe Cleopatre. Why can’t Montreal do something right for once and create a world class venue such as the Quartier des Spectacles without being held hostage by “advancement phobia”, “modern culture hating” people like Mr. Zoumboulakis and his followers. Every time I see people backing Mr. Zoumboulakis, they are usually burlesque workers or men dressing as women who lipsing songs and dance around immitating women, also known as Drag Queens. Are we going to let “Tootsie” decied montreal’s cultural future? I mean I love Dustin Hoffman as much as the next guy, but I would not want to have a monument to “Tootsie” in the middle of one of Montreal’s greatest redevelopment projects. This is definitly not good for Montreal’s future, the fact that Mr. Zoumboulakis can halt progress so easily, and we are forced to build around him in order to be politically correct. I’m fed up of political correctness. Does’nt anyone have guts anymore, why do we let the people who SCREAM the loudest get their way, its time to rock the boat and fight for our city’s future development. I get all those people siding for Mr. Zoumboulakis, I mean who does’nt like a good old David and Goliath fight to the death. Most Montrealers are sick of being overtaxed, overfined, and having a general feeling of being taken by our city’s politicians. So they kind of feel for this guy whos beating up on the city and its developers. I understand this viceral feeling , but on the other hand I wish that people would see the good in the end project. The politicians will still throw our money to the wind no matter what. This project has further implications than a means for revenge against the city, or the fight for the little guy. Lets be serious people and do the right thing, this project is as important as it was getting back the Grand-Prix.
    Since when is a strip club, slash, tranvestite showbar, considered a venue for “cultural events”, please! This is just BULL. We would all be better off without this place, lets let Montrealers vote on its destiny, I’m sure people would put down hard earned tax dollars to see this place go. Lets give Mr. Zoumboulakis a bag full of cash (tax free) and see him off. In the long run it will be worth it.
    Just a side note,
    The city was able to destroy the church of St. Sauveur on Viger street to make room for the CHUM, but can’t get rid of this true eyesore WTF…
    Article:
    http://spacingmontreal.ca/2008

  • @jason: Maybe if you extended your memory a little beyond a few months ago, you’d realize that there was already a revitalization happening in that area. New clubs like Opera, new music venues like Katacombes and classic restaurants like the Montreal Pool Room. It was an organic revitalization that got swept away by Yaccarini, Tremblay & co to build an office tower.

    In the process, they left half a block vacant, making room for all the “beggers, bums, alcoholics, perverts, and drug addicts” as you so judgmentally put it.

    There’s no place for an office tower in the QDS or any entertainment district for that matter. A venue which houses burlesque and drag is much more welcome because, even if your concept of art doesn’t go much beyond Dustin Hoffman movies and huge shows with huge budgets, it’s art and entertainment just the same.

    Underground art is the heart and soul of Montreal art and is what should be promoted, not just huge corporate festivals along with an office building for the financial backers.

    Long live the Cleo and long live the real progress of Montreal culture!

  • @Jason C. McLean:

    The beggers, bums, alcoholics, perverts, and drug addicts stumbling around this area were there for as long as the red light district exists many many years before the block became vacant. And yes, you can say that I don’t enjoy coming face to face with a bum, drunk, or drugged guy asking for change. If this labels me as judgemental, so be it. I ask anyone out there to go to St.Laurent street between Rene-Levesque and St. Catherine and see for yourselves, this area needs help its not safe to walk around at night. I have nothing against you or any other people, I just am stating that certain venues cannot be mixed, and if we all decide to have a world class cultural city with a state of the art Festival area, Cafe Cleopatre does not represent this. The new Festival Area of Montreal should not be used to try to state a cause for sexuallity, or alternative lifestyles. I mean please, who will ever take Montreal seriously again. Do you believe that the big players in the corporate world will ever invest advertising dollars or sponsorships in this area when there is place that offers $10.00 lap dances in the middle of all this. I think not. And for all those who believe that the world functions without money or corporations, please wake up. How do you think that medicines, clean water, electricity, and all the convieniences we have come from. They come form ACTION, INVESTMENT, ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT, KNOW HOW, CORPORATE INVESTMENTS.
    But again what does a venue which houses burlesque and drag this have to do with the hundreds of millions being spent on a Major downtown renovation project. Again lets not get mixed up with personal views and investment dollars. Feeling are one thing, numbers are another. Cafe Cleopatre can be relocated, just as Montreal pool room hotdogs was. There can have a brand new venue to express sexuality and alternative lifestyles, and it would probably be much better.
    Again I state, why did’nt montreal SAVE the church on Viger and St. Denis. I mean this is a true historical building from the 1800’s. Unfortunately the numbers to build the CHUM were stronger than the city’s heritage, I guess. This is truley sad and why has nobody said anything about this. Our society is a farce and it makes me very sad to think that Cafe Cleopatre is more important than the Church of St. Sauveur. The word Heritage has become a joke in this city.
    Article:
    http://spacingmontreal.ca/2011

  • @jason: The Main is a protected National Heritage Site and any projects shouldn’t alter the character of the street.

    Sorry to hear about the church (your link doesn’t work, btw), but it’s not an either/or thing. If we want to preserve Montreal’s heritage, the Red Light district is part of that heritage, like it or not, as is burlesque (ever heard of Lily St-Cyr?) and burlesque, currently going through a resurgence globally, is part of Montreal’s future, too.

    “…what does a venue which houses burlesque and drag this have to do with the hundreds of millions being spent on a Major downtown renovation project”

    Well, currently nothing, and that’s the real problem. Emerging artists aren’t part of the plan, either. The city would rather spend millions of dollars on a corporate showpiece instead of investing in real grassroots culture.

    We’re not Toronto, nor should we hope to be. We have a living, breathing culture which is why people love this city. That’s what Montreal is and we should embrace it and invest money to make that culture noticed around the world and keep it alive here at home.

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