Pearly gates open to angels

First Night; Heaven Villiers Street London
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The Independent Online
AT THE risk of sounding blasphemous, it was the voice-over on Heaven's opening nightwhich proclaimed that on the sixth day God created man and man created ... Heaven.

During two decades of its corporeal club existence, Heaven has closed its hallowed doorway only twice. Once to get rid of an infestation of cockroaches and secondly, this April, to undergo a multi-million pound face-lift.

In a gay scene increasingly populated by brewery franchise bars in stringent sheets of steel, the pressure for grungey old clubs to spruce up is intense. And as anyone who has ever ventured down the shabby stairway off Villiers Street will tell you, Heaven was growing tired and bleak.

But, no longer - Heaven is back on earth, and we found our place in the queue for nirvana among a group of lads attempting "angelic" out of large paper tablecloths, and a gaggle of fluffy girls in wings and halos.

Entering the foyer, after the familiar hassle at the door, the major difference was a series of silver disks suspended from walls and ceiling. The New Heaven logo danced under a flaming torch and the old red school banisters were out in favour of sleek metal. A glass-collector scuttled past wearing a T-shirt proclaiming "The Second Coming".

After the obligatory lap, and carefully avoiding the minefield of New Virgin promotions, we settled down with a pint.

Most changed was the corridor of cruise. What used to be a grim highway for pushers, and a halfhearted hot-dog stand, is pillar-box red with a smart, back-lit bar. The main dance floor is revolutionised by digitally fidgeting lighting rigs and a lower balcony, and the ground floor holds a VIP departure lounge for the A-Gays. At the back of the building is a relaxed, rattan-filled cafe with gateway to the Sound Shaft. And upstairs the new blue Star Bar has been refitted to enclose the dancers by creating two semi-circular bars at either end, while strangely purposeless blue blocks have been solidly set near the perimeter.

The final port of call, the Dakota bar, has been stripped, refitted with banks of tiered wooden seating and soberly decorated. The overall feel is bigger and better.

As the evening unfolds to the sounds of Eighties trash and disco upstairs, and MOR house downstairs, it is easy to play the "spot-what's-the-same" game. The toilets, the tap pressure, and, tucked at the rear of the building, those red banisters. But there has been much spadework in pursuit of a classier club, and, with three weeks' work pending, judgement should be withheld.

What is certain is that Heaven is back with its pearly gates wide open. And for a culture which doesn't pretend to have to grow up, somewhere fresher to while away long winter nights can be no bad thing.

Nick Taylor