The Lord Elgin's queer history is legendary, and starts virtually at its opening in 1941. Located near the drill hall, it became a natural space for closeted gay and bisexual men, especially those working the government, to meet here.
In the 50s and 60s, a thriving underground gay scene was happening right in the heart of downtown, centered around Parliament, Union Station, the Honeydew, the Grand Hotel, Major's Hill Park, Mackenzie Street and the LE.
The downstairs tavern, called Pick's Place, was the more happening space. It was less formal and cruising was quite popular, especially in the washrooms. The clientele lobbied and got a jukebox, which was often lowered by management to the customers' annoyance. Some people remember the rules being fairly strict regarding moving drinks from table to table, which technically was the law at the time, but was probably was used to discourage flirting and mingling in general.
On the first floor was another bar, called the 'library' by some because of its more posh surroundings. Here you had to be more formally attired, so in the early days it was a way for the classes not to mix as much.
During the cold war 'witch hunts' of homosexuals in the civil service, plain-clothed RCMP officers were known to go to Pick's Place and hide behind newspapers with strategically cut peep holes to take photographs of the customers for identification. Some of the more openly gay men who had nothing to lose were only too glad to mock and humiliate the officers... turning the tables on the spy being spied out.
The LE also became a place for the burgeoning Gays of Ottawa organization to gather after meetings in the early 70s and pass on information and promote dances. In summer 1975, they tried to discourage gays from going to the bar by barring obviously gay men and imposing a stricter dress code, which led to a boycott for a brief time.
In April 1981, the management had had enough of 'the gays' and closed the tavern at 3pm, only opening for special functions later that day. A couple of the straight bartenders who had grown to love their clients decided to open the 166B around the corner, which ended up being Ottawa's first official gay bar.
The basement tavern has now been converted into bland meeting rooms, but the history will live on.
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