Jezebel Burlesque club is a great idea in theory. Until I went, I had no reservations about Ossington's burgeoning transformation into a destination strip, and a titillating concept bar like Jezebel seemed to fill a unique niche.
Surprisingly, visions of Toronto's club district filled my head when I walked in the door. Past the beefy trio of bouncers standing in the alley behind Ossington, replete with headsets and clipboards, and the girl at the door collecting the $10 cover, we stepped into a scene straight from any one of Adelaide or Richmond's upscale locales. A group of young ladies in telltale bachelorette party garb were going crazy for the DJ's remixes of popular songs in the Usher/Shakira/Black-Eyed Peas spectrum. Near the bar, a handful of young men in tank tops and fedoras were eying them wolfishly. My companion - as stout an indie fan/dive bar patron as you'll ever find - wondered aloud if what we had loved about Ossington was gone forever.
I took the old person's high road - not begrudging the young their youth: "Look at them," I said. "They're beautiful, they look amazing in those outfits, and they love Usher - so what?"
But in my heart of hearts, I was thinking about gentrification and wondering if all urban development, ultimately, culminates in Top 40s dance clubs. On the Ossington strip, do all roads lead to John and Adelaide? Is its transformation to destination strip just an inevitable trajectory to homogeny?
Nowhere is this transformation more apparent than at Jezebel - a dressed-up, sparkling jewel of a bar lined with plush benches, mirrored surfaces, and twinkling chandeliers. Up until very recently, this space was home to Baby Dolls - a seedy, lost-in-time strip bar, where wooden tavern chairs congregated around a rickety pole, and the beers were advertised in neon.
Like Jezebel, Baby Dolls was also in the business of dancing ladies and flesh, but with no pretension to art, or homage to the bells-and-whistles routines of strippers past - the original burlesque dancers. If Baby Dolls was the licensed adult entertainment bar that fit the Ossington of old, then Jezebel is the licensed adult entertainment bar that fits it now.
Warned repeatedly that it is impossible to get into Jezebel, I aimed for a timely 10:30 arrival, since my request to get on the guestlist went unanswered. We went in right away, only to learn that the first of two burlesque numbers doesn't usually go on until 1am. I bought two drinks for a cool $24 and couldn't help but do some quick profit/loss analysis around the cover charge, drinks prices, and how long it would be until I saw a lady in sequins.
There was plenty of seating available around the stage, where the plush benches curve around small tables, perfect for 5 or 6 people, but we were told that on busy nights, these niches get reserved quickly by high-rollers looking to splurge on bottle service (in the $400 range for a two bottle minimum).
Burlesque numbers are put on every night by the bar's in-house troupe, but have yet to be seen by anyone I know who's been to the club. After a couple of hours of wallet-lightening, and not a feather in sight, I couldn't help but reflect that you got more bang for your buck at Baby Dolls. There may have been no art to it, but at least there was almost always someone on stage. By the time we had to leave, the increasingly gregarious bachelorettes were still the only girls we'd seen dancing.
In the works for Jezebel are international performers from places like Crazy Horse and Moulin Rouge, part of co-owners Giancarlo Spataro and Michael King's plans to bring some of that old world, Las Vegas glamour to our cold, puritan city. I love the concept behind Jezebel - a lavish, retro, dress-up party, paying homage to the time of lavalieres and bathtub gin. But with short, infrequent performances, and a growing reputation for over-promising and under-delivering, it has yet to distinguish itself from the many velvet-rope clubs downtown.
Writing by Jessica McGann