an environment to...envy | OUTVisions for LGBT Professionals

an environment to...envy

vivacious vibe at envy lounge

an environment to...envy
brandy ford

There’s a vivacious vibe at Envy Lounge on a Friday night. Positive energy and dynamic music reverberate throughout the room; and if it happens to be the last Friday of the month, a designated theme night, an element of mischievous fun is clearly evident. The main feeling, however, is an encompassing sense of acceptance and welcome.

“That’s the whole point of what we want to do,” says Enzo De Divitiis. “All of our places are very family orientated. (We) just want to make sure everyone feels like they’re supposed to be there, that you’re welcome and included, because it’s the worse feeling growing up not knowing where you’re supposed to be or feeling different or sticking out. And, being gay in a smaller city, it’s even harder. My thing is just to have a place for everyone.”

De Divitiis says he was fortunate to have grown up with an extremely supportive family, and that was the feeling he wanted to recreate for Envy Lounge patrons.

“I think my parents just taught us that it’s our responsibility; if you have something positive and were given something positive, then you need to extend it to someone else. I’m very aware that most people don’t have a great family like I do. I’m very aware that being openly gay is a lot harder for some people in smaller cities without the family support. I’ve always been content with myself. I just want to be able to provide that for someone else.”

De Divitiis and his family own Moose and Goose, Stella’s Dining Lounge, Amici’s Banquet & Conference Centre and Gord’s Place, as well as Envy. He says working with his family “is the ultimate plus” and that everyone works together to develop each of the businesses.

“Because I’m the only gay one in my family, I think a lot of people try to pigeonhole and say ‘okay so (running Envy is) what you’re doing’. But we all do it, and I think a lot of people don’t have that demographic with their family. A lot of gay people have a hard time coming out with their family, so it’s hard for them to see it be functional, but I’m lucky.”

The idea to open Envy in the Niagara region stemmed from the fact there was simply no other lounge catering to the LGBT community.

“Even growing up here, there was no where to go; there was no where to just hang out,” he explains. “I would complain (to family) that we don’t have anything in this area and they were like, ‘well, why don’t we do it?’”

Envy received “a very good response” when it opened, De Divitiis says, but he also thinks “people were a bit worried because places in the past didn’t last that long.” He says “a lot of people were extremely excited and happy, but a lot of people were nervous because they weren’t sure what they were getting.”

And what they were getting, De Divitiis says, was a place for people to come and feel at ease in their own community.

“A lot of the time the people who’ve grown up here are still so closeted that they’re desperately trying to go to Toronto or somewhere where they can be themselves. And they come here on the weekends and pretend nothing’s changed,” he says. He hopes Envy will offer an alternative to locals escaping elsewhere to feel accepted.

Andrew Wilkie has been a bartender at Envy for a year and a half and he says Niagara “needs to support initiatives like Envy. It is much more than just a gay bar. It’s a community centre for the LGBT community and those that support us.”

Wilkie says Envy has many distinctive qualities.

“Envy is unique in that it is not as large as some gay bars in other areas,” he says. “There’s more interacting; many of the patrons all know each other by name. The way Enzo designed the interior is beautiful as well; he has a really great eye for that.”

A barrier of misconceptions of what a “gay bar” truly is tends to create a personal hindrance for some, and Wilkie feels these beliefs should be cast away.

“I would recommend people come out to Envy to experience a different type of nightlife. There can sometimes be negative connotations associated with gay bars. I think if everyone could see it for themselves it would change a lot of view points.”

De Divitiis agrees personal perceptions or assumptions can create a wall for some.

“In St.Catharines specifically, because it is a smaller city, I think they think something taboo is there. Or it’s going to be a very sexual nature or they’re going to come in and see a kink night right away. Mind you, that is a demographic of it as well, but it’s not 24/7; just like every person has different aspects of their personality and different hats that you wear. I think a lot of people who are hard core St. Catharines people are a little bit shocked about (Envy) and think something fishy is going on there.”

Envy is a place for everyone to enjoy, De Divitiis says.

“We’re doing something all the time, so it’s really hitting all the demographics,” he says.

“(We have) tonnes of different ages, tonnes of different men/women/gay/straight (activities); we have everybody. Initially it was kind of shocking for everybody; I think they thought they wouldn’t fit together, but everyone seems to. It’s working really well.”

All are welcome on Wednesdays and Thursdays to simply relax, have a coffee or tea, and utilize the free WIFI. Envy is a place to hang out, dance and be entertained. There is a pool table and karaoke and trivia nights as well.

“Just come have fun and enjoy yourself,” De Divitiis says.

Friday nights are the busiest and the end of the month theme nights “are just an extra fabulousness sort of for everyone to play and just to do something silly,” De Divitiis says. “It doesn’t cost anything to do it; you just show up and you do something silly and it’s fun.”

De Divitiis and his family strongly believe in giving back to the community and are involved in several fundraisers throughout the year. Envy holds a drag show and bingo on the last Sunday of every month which usually raises about $500 for local non-profits.

“Dusty Balfour (renowned drag queen) is our hostess and again, it’s just another fun thing. She’s in face and it’s just cheeky and all the rules are a little bit twisted and just a little more fun.”

Money raised from the bingo goes to Pride Niagara, and the money from the drag show, affiliated with the Imperial Sovereign Court of St. Catharines, is presented to this year’s chosen charities: AIDS Niagara, Ed Eldred Memorial Bursary and Egale Canada. Envy Lounge is also a Rainbow Sponsor of the Pride in the Park Festival taking place June 9 at Montebello Park.

De Divitiis says the best part of running Envy, as well as the family’s other establishments, is being able to present a positive environment to the community.

“My whole family; we’re very nurturing, we’re very family oriented,” De Divitiis says. “I love being able to offer things that help people and cater to people and working with my family is the best part. I feel, living in Niagara, I’m a very lucky gay man to have a family that has always completely accepted me. I’ve never had a moment where I’ve had to pull them aside or tell them anything or feel that I was different or anything was wrong…they were always accepting and made sure everything around me was accepting so I feel so blessed for that.

With Envy specifically, everything I am doing is to share that feeling with other people and to give them a place to come. I like to be able to give that feeling back. I know a lot of my friends didn’t have the upbringing that I have; they didn’t have that chance, so I feel since I was gifted with that I want to pay it forward completely.”

Envy Lounge is at 127 Queenston Street in St. Catharines, with parking and entrance off of Haynes Street. For more information visit, call 905-682-7774 or search “envy lounge” on facebook.

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Authorbrandy ford

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