Rob Browatzke spends a lot of his nights in downtown Edmonton.
He’s one of the owners of Evolution Wonderlounge, a gay bar on 103 Street. In September, the club will celebrate its 10th anniversary.
“We are connected to the history and the pageantry of our community,” he says. “And our community is connected to the history and pageantry of downtown Edmonton. We’re very symbiotic.”
For decades, the heart of the city has also been the heart of the gay community—the home of queer clubs, spas, organizations and Pride parades.
Here are five of Rob’s favourite downtown spots to work, relax and reminisce:
“We are there for the most magical moments in people’s lives—when they’re meeting the person they fall in love with or celebrating birthdays,” says Rob.
“We’re also there for their worst nights, when they’ve had a loss or a breakup and they want to be around community. It’s a tremendous responsibility.”
Audreys Books (10702 Jasper Avenue), owned by the Budnarchuk family, is the city’s oldest independent bookstore. It features Orlando Corner, a section on queer literature—including Rob’s own novels, inspired by Edmonton’s gay nightlife.
“Orlando Books was a feminist and queer bookstore on Whyte Avenue,” he says. “When that closed [in 2002], all those authors found a home in Orlando Corner at Audreys Books. They do so much for the community, whether it’s book launches or reading or other events.”
Next door to Audreys is the Commodore Restaurant (10712 Jasper Avenue), downtown’s oldest greasy-spoon diner. Rob adores its hot turkey sandwiches, friendly service and family vibe. (The Gees opened the restaurant in 1942.)
“It’s a great place to go for comfort food,” he says.
An outdoor escape
Rob heads to Michael Phair Park (10124 104 Street) when he’s looking for a quick break from work. “It’s a nice place for me to escape to when I have some downtime and want to be sitting outside,” he says.
The parklet is named after Edmonton’s first gay city councillor.
Signs and steps
The Neon Sign Museum offers an electrifying look at the city’s history. More than 20 signs of former businesses, including Mike’s News and Georgia Baths, are displayed on the TELUS building and Mercer Warehouse at 104 Street and 104 Avenue.
“The neon signs add some magic to downtown,” says Rob. “Georgia Baths is the first gay business I ever worked at in Edmonton, back in 1999.”
Flashback, a former gay bar, recently added its sign. Coincidentally, the club used to be located steps away from the Neon Sign Museum.
Also nearby: a faded Pride flag, painted on the steps of the office of the Canada Border Services Agency (10345 104 Street). It used to be the home of another gay bar, The Roost. It closed in 2007.
Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows Rob Browatzke, middle, with Edmonton drag royalty GoDiva, left, and Pepper at Evolution Wonderlounge on May 21, 2023.
Rob is also part of the Edmonton Queer History Project. The group created a downloadable map of downtown’s significant 2SLGBTQ+ locations, including Evolution Wonderlounge, Michael Phair Park and Georgia Baths. Free walking tours are available throughout the summer.