Bulk sits four heart-stopping flights up at the top of the Market Towers, Vauxhall.

Martyn greets you at the door, smiles and dispenses chocolates and kisses (20lbs of Quality Street have been know to go in one night) - not the way gay clubs usually welcome you. Usually it's 'Gimme the money and get inside'.

But then Bulk isn't anything like the standard gay club.

Bulk is, as short, chubby host Bobby Pickering says, 'for fat boys, big dykes and their admirers - a distinct minority with a distinct subculture.

Bulk thus flies in the face of a peculiarly gay set of rules that dictate an acceptable sexual image. As a fat, forlorn queen admits in the seminal Aids movie Parting Glances: 'I committed the cardinal gay sin - I got overweight.

On the scene men are required to perfect a muscled, bronzed physique, a sharp crew cut and pristine, antique denim image: woe betide those who flunk the beauty contest.

Other shapes and sizes are dismissed with a flick of the wrist.

For women who can't quite wear the cloak of lesbian chic (Bella Freud, kd lang and Lancome) without it splitting at the seams, peer group reaction can also be somewhat draconian.

'The whole gay scene's in favour of big-spending ectomorphs aged 18 to 30. It's all so surface-orientated, Pickering says, explaining how new self-imposed tyrannies replace old oppressions.

'I felt that I'd gotten a bit older, a bit chubbier and I thought I wasn't good enough. I also thought: this is wrong. Surely there must be others who feel the same as me.

'Hence Bulk. A few brave men identified with it and brought their friends. Now there are 400 who attend each month.

Pickering's partner, promoter Derek Cohen, agrees. 'The bulkers and chubbies who come here don't feel that others, who aren't big, are disapproving. It's also that Bulk is a space for big men who get off on big men.

And for big women who get off on big women. As one dyke says: 'I always felt like a pariah. I felt so self-conscious in gay clubs, believing I could never blend in because everyone noticed my size. It's not like that here.

Which isn't to say that Bulk doesn't have an attitude. It does: relaxed. There are no icy, judgemental stares as you enter the room.

DJ Roberto, a rather skinny chap, is holed up behind a glass-tiled booth beside a rickety, makeshift stage.

The crowd is teased with D:ream, heavily petted by Tina, Aretha and Take That. The decibel level doesn't send you scuttling for cover and doesn't inhibit (you should pardon the expression) small talk.

The decor is rather meagre, with the focal point being a tiny screen suspended from the ceiling.

Black and white images of bulkers, chubbies, bears and their gallants (the Seventies tag was 'chubby chasers') flick on and off, while two video monitors show silently flexing muscle men wearing pink lyrca, wittily juxtaposed with Dawn French's South Bank Show celebration of girls with guts.

The walls are dark, but the club is far from claustrophobic. Even when it's packed there is no difficulty moving around, so the cynical can skip the more obvious jokes.

Better yet is the service: approach the bar, order your drink and it's almost instantaneously handed over, despite the crush.

The bar staff remain calm under all circumstances - the customers' good times vibes seems to have got to them.

One other exceptional aspect of Bulk is that you can get in, get legless and get home with change from pounds 25 - clubs that lie outside the queer West End are infamously cheap and cheerful. But Bulk also has a heart. Can you name a venue, gay or straight, where the DJ can blow an amp at 2.15pm and the crowd simply continues to sup and chat?

Where else can a diminutive drag queen stroll around between bear bikers and porcine perverts and a chap who measures 7ft 2in can mingle with chunky men in rubber shorts?

Derek Cohen looks over his clients and relishes the turning of tables: 'Yes, we even welcome people who are thin in the same way. I think that's really nice.

Bobby Pickering agrees. 'Clubs should be places where anybody can walk in, feel at ease and sexy, he proclaims with a zeal bordering on the evangelical.

He pauses, then adds with certainty: 'Until then, there'll be this little club called Bulk which will get bigger and bigger until it explodes across the whole gay scene.'

Bulk is at the Market Tavern, 1 Nine Elms Lane SW8 on the first Saturday of each month, 10pm-4am. Members pounds 3, guests pounds 4.

(Photograph omitted)

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