The Snake Pit

Michael Alstad’s Snake Pit installation reconstructs & deconstructs the glamorous Nile Room bar that was situated in the basement of the Letros Hotel – Toronto’s only gay bar in the 1950’s that housed the famous original halloween drag balls. The long narrow underground bar had walls adorned with imitation snakeskin and was affectionately referred to as the Vile Room or the Snake Pit. Alstad’s installation featured a cozy ‘dirty martini’ bar with a laser cut acrylic LED lit sign, several undidactic panels with archival photos and sensational news clippings from Toronto’s queer obsessed 1950’s tabloid press, and a series of short video docs exploring the cities early gay bar history from storied drinking establishments the St. Charles Tavern, the Municipal, the Manatee, the Continental and others. The projected videos were a curated selection from the Queerstory app – an interactive documentary/locative history app that leads the audience through 37 intriguing sites that map and uncover the political, cultural and social history of Toronto’s LGBT community. Performance artist Keith Cole was the Snake Pit’s fabulous all-night host and vintage mixologist.

The Snake Pit was included in the Nostalgia exhibition at Beaver Hall Gallery in Toronto – a Nuit Blanche project, October 3, 2015.  Check out some background research on the history and archival material used in the installation on the Queerstory website.

Michael Alstad thanks the Ontario Arts Council for their support of The Snake Pit and the following individuals for their contributions and assistance:

Carolyn Hurren, Janet Hethrington, Jim Ruxton, KD Thornton, Keith Cole, Camille Turner, Bartley Harnett, Kohei Nagano, Sasha Wentges, Chonghye So, Alan Miller and the Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives.

Special thanks to drag legends Sacha Mackenzie and Michelle Dubarry for sharing their stories and memories about the Nile Room.

documentation credit: Barbara Greczny, Peter Stankiewicz, Philippa Pires, Michael Alstad, RC Cajucom