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Twisted Element contorts itself into Calgary pandemic business rebirth

It’s not the 2020 they imagined, but it’s turning out a lot better than it started.

Twisted Element, a popular Calgary LGBTQ+  nightclub that has been running for 14 years, was hit hard when the pandemic shuttered bars across the world. At the time, the dance club was able to host up to 350 people a night. Most weekends would be packed full.  

Not knowing if – or when – they would be able to open again, general manager Keon Brawn and the Twisted Element team found themselves thinking of ways they could navigate the fallout of COVID-19.  

“It was basically three months of coming to work every day and walking through the sad, dark space that used to always be full of so much fun, love and happiness,” Brawn said.

When things started to ease up, Brawn and the team were determined to do whatever it took to reopen their doors.

“We felt the community needed a safe place to go and enjoy and be themselves. The original idea was just to open for drinks, but we didn’t have food to offer. When you plan on going out for a few hours, you want to be able to eat.”

Happiness via the belly

Twisted Element figured you had to serve food to survive. KRISTA SYLVESTER / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Knowing most bars don’t survive unless they serve food, Twisted Element decided to tap into an old kitchen space. The space was being used as a change room for the performing drag queens.

In fact, the space hadn’t been used as a kitchen since 2004.

“We used our imaginations and it evolved from there,” Brawn said.

A talented chef fell into their laps and the team created a desirable food and cocktail menu. Twisted Pride Pub was born.

“It’s given us an opportunity to put 20 people on the payroll and provide the community a safe and fun place to enjoy. It’s amazing to see 20 staff working on a Friday night serving 100 customers.”  

Careful to follow strict health and safety protocols, the once bustling nightclub now provides sit down dinner and brunches with popular drag shows five days a week. They’re more often than not selling the shows out.

Hand sanitizers are stationed at each table and the tables are carefully positioned to not crowd people together.

The new format has been a hit, Brawn said.

“People have been locked up for the last three or four months and now they really want to get out and watch shows. Now we can safely provide that, and people love it. We are really excited about what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

‘It’s something I’ve never been a part of.’

Assistant manager Eric Wollman said the atmosphere is buzzing on weekends. The joy is infectious.

“It’s something that I’ve never been a part of. I mean, we’ve always been a community space and now it’s different. But it’s unique and I love seeing how far we’ve come,” Wollman said.

Brawn credits the AGLC and Alberta Health Services for working closely with the club-turned-pub for the transformation.

Not only was the kitchen concept and food concept approved, but the AGLC also worked with Twisted to change its licensing to allow minors. That enables Twisted to offer all-ages drag shows on Saturdays.

The pub has taken this opportunity to showcase Canadian drag talent from the popular Canada’s Drag Race series.

Of course, Twisted didn’t ask for this to happen, but they’ve evolved as needed, Brawn said.

“Had we not adapted and made this change, I don’t know if we ever would have opened again.

“It’s definitely a lot different when you’re not putting over 800 people through the doors on weekends, but we are proud of what we have done so far.”