Britain's first gay lap-dancing club will open in London this month. DOMINIC LUTYENS sits in on rehearsals and cops quite an eyeful
No need for baby oil: the muscleboys at the auditions for Britain's first gay, all-male lap-dancing club are already glistening with perspiration in the stifling Astral Club in Soho, London. So it's just as well that the stud currently writhing round the phallic pole on stage, mid-audition, is only required to wear a teeny G-string. Phew. Oh, all right then. Phwoarr!

It's taken the UK some time to catch up with the US on matters lap-dancing, but Scott Lennon, promoter of In The Lap of the Gods, Astral's new Saturday nighter which opens on 21 August, is in full swing. "There'll be something for everyone," he says grandly. "Different races, different ages. Slim boys-next-door. Hunky Greek gods." Certainly the boys are racially mixed - one dancer, Drew, is black - but there's a definite absence of boyish recruits in favour of muscles. Big ones. And lots of them.

So is Astral destined to be a gay Chippendales - all popping pecs and Greystoke long hair? Lennon and his colleague Paul Wilde are confident they can avoid the naff excesses of the straight scene, and provide something different for gay punters. "Gay men want a mean and moody look," says dancer Shaye, 27, who sports a tattoo of Pegasus (a mere speck on his breathtakingly brawny forearm). "With women they want you to be funkier, bubblier." (He jiggles his hips energetically to demonstrate.) "In America, the women really claw the dancers." Here clawing is definitely out: Westminster City Council has a "three-foot rule": lap-dancers (of both sexes) must gyrate at a discreet distance of one yard. It remains to be seen whether slipping pound notes into that G-string will be allowed.

There's little doubt though that, perfectly situated in gay Soho (and flanked by gay bar The Village and sex shop Prowler) Lennon and Wilde will benefit financially. "Gay lap-dancing clubs are a hit in New York and Los Angeles, so what's to stop them succeeding here?" reasons Lennon. "Some were set up here in the late Seventies," says Wilde, "but people complained and the authorities shut them. This Government is more sympathetic; it helps that we've got gay MPs like Chris Smith. The police in Soho are co-operative: they realise gay clubs don't cause problems. You don't get broken bottles or fights."

What you do get, despite the sweltering heat in The Astral Club, is comfortable if not very elegant surroundings for 160 punters, with mink and bottle- green velour alcoves where the dancers will oblige with "your own personal dance, butt-naked".

"It will be a great way to kick-start your Saturday night," says Lennon. "It will be for gay men only. Women can only come with gay friends. We don't want it overrun by hen parties."

Hosting the night will be svelte DJ/drag queen Miss Dusty O - a swishy counterfoil to the club's pumped-up demigods. "A drag queen takes the seedier, sexual edge off things," opines Dusty, who adores "slinky designer eveningwear - Gucci, Westwood, you name it..." A star in her own right, she regularly works the decks at celeb bashes.

All very well. But will In The Lap Of The Gods make Saturdays sexy again, as the flyer trumpets? Certainly, says Amy Lame, hostess of Saturday-nighter Duckie, in south London: "It's double testosterone time: with all those dancers and sex-obsessed customers, it's bound to be explosive." Why does she think the club is starting up? "It'll be very lucrative. There are loads of well-off gay men who don't know what to do with their money."

There are, naturally, some dissenters from Astral-style fun. "There's something unattractive about paying half-naked men to gyrate in front of you," scoffs Adam Mattera, editor of gay style magazine Attitude. "It's an admission of being sad and desperate." He does concede, however, that straight dancers - presumably not of the Chippendale variety - would prove "a turn-on".

Looks like he should attend the opening night, then: dancer Drew, who's lap-danced at Stringfellows, is definitely one for the ladies.

Still, gay or straight, at the end of the day, a firm bod, firm butt - oh, and barber-shop crewcuts - should, and surely will, get the punters drooling.

In The Lap Of The Gods, The Astral Club, Brewer Street, London W1 (tel: 07775 942194).