THE music is
thumping, but my colleague Jen Skerritt and I are stuck in the
front entrance of the
Cabaret while a bulky security guard waves a hand-held metal
detector over us.
It's the last Saturday before Halloween around 11:30 p.m. -- one
of the club district's busiest nights of the year -- almost
exactly a week after four bystanders were shot while partying at
ground zero of Winnipeg's nightclub scene.
After the shooting, Empire's owner Sabino Tummillo complained
through his assistant that the club couldn't hire off-duty
police officers to beef up security.
The only "police" here so far are the Empire's predominantly
They're wearing skintight uniforms and shiny black caps more
Village People than Winnipeg Police Service, with the especially
cheeky flaunting chest badges with names like "Ivana Bribe."
Too bad the real security guards hired by the Empire to screen
club-goers miss a 15-centimetre screwdriver sitting in the
bottom of my clutch. One of them waves a metal detector over my
purse, but it doesn't make a sound.
Security at another downtown club, Desire, will also miss the
The same goes for a
pair of nail scissors stashed in Jen's tiny purse.
After our bags are opened and cursorily glanced at by a second
Empire security guard, we're waved into the cavernous heritage
building after paying our $7 cover charge.
Wanting to get rid of our coats, we head through a darkened
hallway and down Empire's stairs to an empty blue-lit room.
Framed records hang on the wall and a female bartender standing
behind a granite-topped bar greets us.
"They told us to dress like this because they want to get the
message out we want more cops downtown," says another
After paying a $2 fee each to check our gear, we head through
another darkened basement room where a few hipsters in their 20s
and 30s sip drinks at low-slung tables.
There are about 20 people here, apparently unphased by the
latest debacle in clubland: a fight the previous Sunday around 2
a.m., when two groups of gang-involved men began arguing inside
the Empire, then one man pulled out a handgun and started
Four innocent customers were hit and taken to hospital with
Upstairs on the Empire's main floor, the lack of a crowd
suggests the violence may have chased away some clientele.
right now for one of partying's high holidays -- save for one
lonely-looking couple twirling on the dance floor under flashing
female security guard stands awkwardly at the front of the room
beside them, looking bored. A few other partiers trickle in and
cluster around, slugging back $5 bottles of beer as they relax
at high tables or counters lining the edges of the room.
One floor above them, an informal Latin dance group of about 30
people that regularly meets here is twisting and tangoing, a
slightly elder and more tucked-in affair than the main floor
pounding Top-40 beats.
Kanye West's hit song Stronger blares and a young guy
wearing saggy pants and a baseball cap starts closing in on
three women now on the dance floor.
As the women dance away from him, he follows until they give up
and get off the floor.
We decide it's time to go.
For other young partiers cutting out of the Empire around 12:30
a.m., the idea of preventing violence by hiring off-duty police
officers is dismissed as ludicrous.
"It's Winnipeg. As soon as you land at the airport, you gotta
worry about safety," says Younes Zeid, 22, heading off from the
Empire with a group of his friends. Zeid tells us violence in
the club district doesn't threaten him.
Larissa Tobacco, 24, says she's not nervous here, but
appreciates increased vigilance in nightclubs:
"It's obvious they
need metal detectors in clubs."
Two club shootings in the last year have prompted the Manitoba
government to consider making full-body or hand-held metal
detectors mandatory in nightclubs.
Crowds are out in full force on Bannatyne Avenue east of Main
Street. Young women in their early 20s strut out of clubs in
precariously high heels and 12-inch skirts -- their risqué
Halloween interpretations of Snow White or Little Red Riding
With three of the city's most popular destinations located here
within 300 metres of each other -- Club Desire, Alive in the
District and the Empire Cabaret -- traffic is bustling and the
atmosphere is circus-like, with partiers hooting and hollering.
Zeid and his friends say the shooting at the Empire could have
happened in many nightclubs in the area. Judging by recent
events, they're right. A shooting happened in July at Alive in
the District after police were called to a fight there.
Shots were fired by two people in a nearby parking lot and one
of the armed men was shot by police after allegedly firing at
the officers. However, that incident sure hasn't hurt business
At around 12:45
a.m., a small line spills out of a side door of Alive, where
partiers willing to pay a premium $20 cover charge can get
fast-tracked inside the club.
There's an even longer line by the north entrance to the
nightclub, where more-frugal types say they've been waiting for
an hour to get in.
The lines aren't moving, but there's activity in a fenced
outdoor smoking patio for club patrons.
young brunette woman who has stripped off her shirt leans on a
hay bale, uttering profanities as she models a black bra.
Minutes later, she'll slip her shirt back on, still uttering
profanities, but within an hour another bra-outfitted girl will
be standing on the same patio.
Inside, it seems normal rules about the club's maximum capacity
have also relaxed, according to a security guard who chalks up
the long wait to the big crowd. He says there are about 540
people inside, although the official capacity is 350.
"That's how we pay the (liquor commission)," says the guard. The
line doesn't budge, and about 30 minutes later we're sick of
waiting and ready to cross the street to Main Street's Club
couple behind us in the line follows.
* * *
Desire, a slightly edgier destination, has a small line when we
arrive around 1:30 a.m., but inside about 250 writhing bodies
pack a sweaty dance floor, while pumping house music blares over
Jen and I hold open our handbags for two harried women
collecting the cover charge at the door. A security guard keeps
a close eye on the people in the lineup who are drunk or
However, once cover is ponied up, it's a free-for-all of
trip to the club's battered basement for a women's washroom
turns up about a dozen men lined up along the sinks waiting for
a cubicle instead, a reflection of the club's "live and let
live" vibe. One stall finally empties after two young women
tumble out clutching each other. Minutes later, the two women
are making out on a main floor dance floor.
clear pill capsule -- with its contents emptied out -- sits on
top of the toilet-paper dispenser. It doesn't faze a young man
using the washroom -- in his false eyelashes, tight red dress
and small devil horns.
"Unless you got a gun or knife in there, you're fine," he says.
Clubs tighten security to stop shootings
Metal detectors, ID scanners, cameras added
A group of Exchange District club owners
said Friday security measures have been stepped up in the wake
of violent shootings this year that have put innocent patrons in
Managers and owners at Empire Cabaret, Alive in the District and
Club Desire said they're adding security like full-body metal
detectors, surveillance cameras and ID scanners at their clubs
to prevent violence among customers.
They said they're happy with an increased police presence in
their establishments since a shooting at the Empire last month
sent four clubgoers to hospital.
"We haven't lost any business. In fact, we've booked a ton more
events," said Tina Rosenberg, a manager at the Empire.
Last week, Rosenberg blasted the Winnipeg Police Service for not
providing off-duty officers for hire at the club, but said this
week she's noticed an increase in the police presence in her
club and other area nightspots.
She also said the
Empire received a full-body metal detector this week that all
patrons must walk through to enter the lobby.
"It doesn't seem that people are turned off," Rosenberg said.
Alive co-owner Wade Salchert said that although his club is not
currently getting a full-body metal detector, security guards
will continue to use hand-held metal scanners to check patrons
heading inside the club from the street or the club's patio.
Salchert also said ID scanners -- computerized devices that
store information and pictures printed on a driver's licence --
will be installed by next week in Alive, and the club's 16
cameras will monitor customers inside and around the
"At each of our doors, including our patio where people go to
smoke, when you re-enter or enter the club, you have at least
two security personnel frisking you, wanding you, and checking
your ID," Salchert said.
"We have eight security dedicated only to entry into the club."
Desire is also installing similar equipment, said co-owner Sam
Colosimo, who said all clubgoers are already patted down and
scanned by a hand-held metal detector.
The club also installed a full-body metal detector Friday, he
"We always have a box where we catch pot pipes, weed, liquor,
any type of sharp object," he said. "If you don't like it, you
gotta put it in your car and come back."
Two Free Press
reporters who went to Desire last weekend were not scanned by
security guards with a metal-detector but were patted down by a
Owners for each of the clubs indicated they are all planning on
opening new nightspots in the Exchange District within the next
The group is working with the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission
to improve security, said a press release handed out at the