The owner of the popular St. Laurent bar and strip club Café Cleopatra, Johnny Zoumboulakis, will not be selling his bar to the Société de développement Angus (SDA), an urban planning group. The SDA’s request to relocate Café Cleopatra is part of their large-scale plan to refurbish and revitalize the Quartier des Spectacles.
Zoumboulakis described the SDA’s plans as a proposal presented to the city “to take or expropriate the whole lower Main and turn it into some kind of office tower.”
“The Main was never known as an office space. It is a historic place, and it’s been the center of entertainment since Montreal was founded,” he said when asked to explain why he refused to sell. Café Cleopatra has been a part of the neighbourhood for 34 years.
“I want to see the continuation of the idea of a Quartier des Spectacles, and not turn it into a Quartier des Office Tower,” he added.
A representative for the SDA, Geneviève Marsan, described the goals of the SDA’s project.
“The idea isn’t just to make office buildings, it’s to revitalize the area; to make it more lively, more attractive for tourists and for Montrealers,” she said in French.
“Have you been there recently? We want to revitalize the Quartier. We don’t want strip clubs. They don’t fit in with [SDA’s] values. We certainly want to integrate commerce, but not exploitative commerce,” she added.
According to Marsan, the revitalization would take place in two phases – beginning in 2013 – and would include opening office buildings and residential spaces. She emphasized that the SDA has no intention of corporatizing the historic area, but instead wants to render it more accessible to the greater Montreal community.
Zoumboulakis insisted that the area remains popular for locals and tourists alike, attracting a diverse and reputable clientele.
“[Our clientele] are very nice, very reputable people. Federal government employees come here…they are mainstream people that work from all surrounding areas, from all walks of life, and I have clientele from all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. Francophones, Anglophones and Allophones – all get along very nicely in here, and they appreciate the existence of Cleopatra,” he said.
Zoumboulakis also denied the claim that Café Cleopatra functioned only as a strip club, pointing out that the bar also serves as a venue for many events and festivals.
Though Zoumboulakis’s refusal to sell has not deterred the SDA from their plans to proceed with the revitalization of the neighbourhood, it has caused frustration for some of the project’s coordinators.
“We’re disappointed. We would have preferred to make one cohesive, integrated, and complete project,” Marsan said. “We’ll construct all around [Café Cleopatra] and we’ll do our project anyway.”