Boys turn to men: disco Heaven grows up into a meeting place for more mature gays

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The Independent Online
HEAVEN is getting older and its ageing angels are no longer into dancing till dawn. Next weekend Britain's premier gay nightclub is closing for a facelift to ensure that it stays in tune with its clientele's changing tastes, writes Clare Garner.

When the club reopens in July, gays who have grown up with Heaven will be able to order cappuccinos - not cocktails - and socialise at a safe distance from the throbbing techno, strobe lighting and writhing bodies.

It all sounds rather sedate for such a notorious club, but in the new- look Heaven there is going to be the Coffee Bar, where people can "meet friends, have a chat and a coffee".

Next Saturday, the club will host its "Demolition Party". Ian Levine, the club's legendary DJ, will preside over the final fling. Situated under the arches beneath London's Charing Cross station, Heaven has been pivotal in terms of gay culture. When it opened in 1979, there were only a handful of exclusively gay nightclubs, and none with anything approaching its 1,500 capacity.

The doom merchants said it would never work but, 19 years on, it is the longest running gay nightclub in Europe and one of the most famous in the world. Madonna did one of her first shows there, as did Take That and Grace Jones. The gay rights lobbying group, Stonewall, held its first meetings there and it was the first British gay club to use flyers. The Village People and the Pet Shop Boys performed there, as did Boy George, who still attends regularly.

"Heaven has got a special place in terms of gay culture," explained Angela Reed, head of marketing and promotions for Heaven. "It's not just a nightclub. A lot of people came here before they came out and as a result they view Heaven as their home. We don't want just to be a dancing and drinking club. We want the whole experience, where people can mix and meet and socialise with each other. The Coffee Bar will be a meeting place. There will be booths to give it an American diner feel."

The new Heaven will have "nice new VIP rooms" Ms Reed added. "There are a lot of gay professionals with high disposable incomes and there's an element of our customers having grown up. They are probably in their thirties and they don't want to come all night and listen to a lot of dance music."

Some Heaven habitues are worried that the club, which was launched in 1979 as the antithesis of the commercial disco, is about to turn corporate. It is, after all, owned by Virgin. But Richard Branson, who bought it for a reported pounds 500,000 in 1981, is considered to be onside. Last year he sponsored the Gay Pride festival and at Christmas he went to the club. Some say Heaven is Virgin's Achilles' heel, but Branson has been quoted as saying: "It will be the last place I sell."

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