Before Club Carousel in the late 1960’s there was a bar called the 620 club at 620 8th Avenue SW near the site of the old Uptown Theatre. Frequented by both gay men and lesbians, you accessed this underground bar by stairs in the back alley between 5th and 6th streets.
620 8th Avenue SW Calgary today: image Google Earth
It opened in 1967 or 1968, and was owned by a man described as short and swarthy, with a big nose and a limp. The 620 was just a number on the door, and there was no alcohol served – there was only popcorn and pop machines. The room was not very big, and was decorated by a lot of christmas tree lights with a central light bulb (red?) hanging from the ceiling.
Former producing director of Alberta Theatre Projects, Michael Dobbin, remembers: “It was a time when if you saw someone you recognized at the club [from one’s day-to-day life] it made you feel kind of queazy and you left. It was only open on the weekends. Getting there, you would sneak down the laneway, look both ways and then quickly go down the stairs.”
“One night I remember that it was really crowded and there were these three guys in suits – one of whom I found quite attractive – so I went up to him and asked him to dance and he responded gruffly, “No!’ When I went back to my friends, they asked me what I had done, and they said to me, ‘they are the police stupid, the light is flashing!'”
Before homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969 any same-sex couple dancing together was potentially subject to arrest under the charge of gross indecency. The 620 Club used the flashing light to alert its clientele to suspected police presence, and dancing would either cease or gay men and lesbians would switch partners and grab each other to dance.
Lois Szabo in a 1973 edition of Carousel Capers wrote that: “In the past, many gay clubs have been set up and these businesses were primarily concerned with earning a fast buck!” Her editorial point being that Club Carousel was the first gay club owned and operated by the community.
To date, that is all we know about the 620 club whose existence is still a bit of a mystery to the Calgary Gay History Project. If you, or anyone you know has a recollection of the 620 club, we would be grateful if you would contact Kevin Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org.