It used to be that simple eye con tact and a sly smile were all you needed for a subtle mating call at the bars.
Now you can nudge or wink at someone over MSN or exchange naughty messages through online chat sites to hook up. Is Internet dating effectively killing off T.O.'s queer bar and club scene?
Dean Odorico, general manager of Woody's, says that may be true.
"There are just more options online," he says. "If you don't pick someone up when you go out, you have the Internet when you go home as a fallback."
But don't declare the queer bar scene dead quite yet. Phone sex chat lines have been around for over a decade and continue to thrive despite the Internet . According to Jerry Gaudet, the business director for the connectivity division of Pink Triangle Press, which runs Cruiseline and gay personals website Squirt.org , blaming the cyber-world for the declining bar scene is an easy but wrong answer.
He says that if the city weren't pushing gaytown as a residential area, the bar scene wouldn't be going into decline.
"Cruiseline [audiotext technology] was popular before the Internet came about, and the bars were still busy," he says. "That was at a time when being gay wasn't that easy, so more people congregated in the Church-Wellesley area.
"Now it's easier to be gay. The real problem facing the bar scene is that there's no support from the municipality to make this a community that continues to thrive and grow."
Even in the gaybourhood many say online services are helping people especially women find connections more easily because there are fewer lesbian bars and events where women can meet.
"For people who are isolated or not living near the city centre, the Internet offers an opportunity to introduce yourself in a non-threatening way," says local sex activist Ruby Rowan, who met her current girlfriend via pinksofa.com . "You can find out information online that you might not in a bar."
Rowan points out that the loser label attached to people who cruise dating services and profiles on the Internet has lifted in the past few years. People feel safer meeting up with someone they've met online, especially with the advent of sites like Friendster , Facebook and MySpace , "where it's about online communities and real networks."
The guys I talk to at Sailor on Church don't agree. The consensus is that online dating is deceiving they prefer to see the goods in real time, in front of them.
"I've had more bad experiences than good with online," scoffs bar-goer Michal Sterojecki. "Sometimes people put up really old, outdated or blurry pictures. Then you meet them and it's like, "Uhh" never mind.' Plus at bars, if you're going to hook up you don't have to wait."
Want further evidence that bars are still hot and heavy? Check out the Gladstone's queer Hump Day Bump on Wednesday nights. It's been running for three years and is always crammed with 20-something hipsters grinding to Bell Biv DeVoe. Co-organizer Sandy De Almeida, who runs the night with her ex, May Brand, says this is the place to go to get laid, not for tender kisses.
"It's generally drunk, loud and very visual and tangible," says De Almeida. "There aren't a lot of places for queer women to go to as a meat market. Every one of my friends, after a breakup, comes to Hump Day Bump. If you're not looking for a relationship and just want to fuck, this is this crowd for it."
Mark Federman, chief strategist at the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at U of T, sees online hookups and the bar scene as an "overlapping phenomenon."
"People who are looking for fun, a long-term mate or a one-night stand are finding those varieties in various online dating sites," he explains. "But all those ways of discovering people are primarily facilitating the physical- presence meeting."
There's a third option, for guys anyway. They can head to one of the many bathhouses and get their rocks off, most of the time anonymously. (Women are kind of SOL on this one, since the Pussy Palace night is sporadic.)
"The bar scene sucks," says one bathhouse owner. "Lots of people are staying away because the bars aren't what they used to be. That's because of police and the crap you have to go through. You can't smoke. It's just an endless battle."
What it all boils down to, contends Odorico, is personal preference. "Some people are comfortable lying around in a towel, others are more comfortable lying on their profile and putting up a photo that's 10 years old."
Whatever gets you off, baby.