The recent closing of The Heartlands clubbing complex in Braamfontein raised mixed reactions from the Gauteng gay community. While most people are not surprised at all (and some appear downright gleeful) I think that it’s quite sad: As a clubbing complex which initially appeared dedicated to gay people, I thought The Heartlands to be a potentially successful concept, especially since the owners had done much to create an eye-pleasing entertainment venue.
The closure seems to confirm that Gauteng clubbing is in a permanent state of disarray – as opposed to the more solid Cape Town experience. So what went wrong – and what’s the general state of clubbing in the province?
My first visit to The Heartlands was on its excessively hyped-up opening night – an overly crowded, sweaty affair (which never impresses me) not to mention that it would’ve been easier and more convenient to just leave the car next to the M1 highway. Disappointed, I nevertheless decided to give the place another chance at redemption.
On my second visit it wasn’t nearly that busy and I found a parking spot about 200m from the front door. There was space inside DCM to move your arms and legs when dancing, and I could actually have a drink in peace – in general, a relatively enjoyable night out. Alas my parking spot turned out to be too far still and a failed attempt at theft left me phoning around for tow-trucks and courtesy cars at 01:00 in the morning. No sign of the 16 closed-circuit security cameras they made sure everyone knew about and no car guards who seemed to care the least.
I don’t consider myself to be an overly discerning clubber, but two unfortunate visits confirmed that The Heartlands would never see me again. The location was the first flaw in the bigger picture: Braamfontein is not only a terrible part of Johannesburg, but following in the footsteps of something legendary is impossible. Also, the venue didn’t offer sufficient parking that is both safe and in close proximity; there were more straight people inside on any given night; and the don’t-care attitude of the staff was extremely off-putting. So am I surprised that the place barely lasted a year? Not at all. However, the fact that we as a gay community have lost another place where we can truly express ourselves is truly disappointing because clubbing is an integral part of the gay lifestyle.
So what regular clubs – excluding the monthly parties like Queer City, Pink Moloko and Citrus Lounge – are left to the gay community of Gauteng?
Interestingly, Simply Blue continues to thrive in the Heartlands area. The crowd reflects the sad racial divide in Joburg’s gay community; the club is a haven for mostly black club-goers who feel more comfortable partying here than in most other gay clubs that are overwhelmingly white. The vibe is fun, the partygoers have smiles on their faces and the music is as gay as it comes. Aside from a large bar, a dancefloor and a small stage (usually for drag shows), there are also a couple of pool tables and chill out rooms (which could do without the fluorescent lights). And if you’re intro drugs, management will not be happy – no more than one person allowed into a toilet cubicle. It’s nevertheless a recommended fun night out, no matter what skin colour you were born with. However, I still think the relatively dodgy area in which it’s situated does the place a disservice. If you’re nervous about parking in Braamfontein, as I still am, then you may have second thoughts.
Farther afield, Located on Johannesburg’s often ridiculed East Rand is the well-known Ramp Divas – a club that many people have told me is one of Joburg’s better spots (albeit often called “common”). Keeping in mind that Ramps is quite a drive from the tranquil Hartbeespoort (where I live), I put in the effort to go see for myself – and I was impressed. What The Heartlands lacked in my opinion, Ramp Divas does not have to worry about: access to the club is easy, and the dedicated parking area scores big points on my mental scorecard. The general shape, layout and interior design of the club is simple yet effective, and I found the general aesthetics to be easy on the eye. The music is fairly mainstream (which I prefer on any given occasion), the crowd friendly and access to and service from the bar quick, effective, and friendly. Comparing Ramp Divas to The Heartlands is not really fair, but if I had to choose between the two for clubbing on a regular basis (if the Heartlands was still open that is), I would most likely go to Ramps.
But let’s not forget the clubbing options in the face-brick capital of the country. First up, when you’re coming from Joburg, is Centurion’s well-known Senate. It’s all in the name, they say, but I must admit that the mental picture I had of a gay club called Senate and the reality when you walk through the door are far removed from one another. Don’t get me wrong: in my opinion The Senate has a few things going for it. It’s a fairly large venue (which means it gets crowded but you can still breathe) and the music played on my visits was not too bad either.
Maybe partying at only one club per evening is a Gauteng-thing…
The crowd was mixed but nothing that made me gasp, giggle or throw up. Parking was ample and the area seemed relatively safe, although I have heard rumours about patrons having to be escorted to their cars by the club’s bouncers due to ructions between Senate-clubbers and clubbers from a nearby straight place. The Senate’s biggest drawback is its dÃ©cor (or should I say the lack of it?). I found it to be just plain dull without a focal point anywhere. It’s a venue that has the potential to be phenomenal when decorated properly and it’s quite a shame that the owners haven’t done something about its general drabness. Its size and music is its saving grace, which is often enough to keep a place going.
When venturing into Pretoria’s CBD, another option is the rather dodgy-looking Club 84. The first time I stepped foot into 84 the place was just about deserted – a few girls playing pool, a couple of scruffy-looking boys hanging at the bar, and a group of four on the dance floor. We did arrive a tad early since we had to go somewhere else later, and on subsequent visits the place was packed. What did strike me immediately is that the club had loads of potential. A double-story affair in a basic square shape, it won’t accommodate thousands, but with a few layers of paint, better lighting and some basic interior design consulting, 84 could be a very nice place with a capacity crowd over weekends. It also has a dedicated parking area so it appears to be fairly safe when leaving your car. Whether you can stomach the surroundings and clientele is a different question though…
Last but not least, there is Legends. Another fairly large venue, Legends immediately receives top scores for parking and access as the entrance to the club leads out from the parking garage. Red carpets and long hallways aplenty, I also like the separate dance floors (I have a short attention span when it comes to dance music, and variety remains the spice of life). Bar service is on par albeit not the fastest ever, the crowd always appears to enjoy themselves and here and there you can actually make out the theme of that night’s party. More could probably have been done, but taking everything into account and by enjoying Legends for what it is, it’s probably the better option when you want to go to a gay club in Pretoria.
Having grown up in Cape Town, clubbing has been a part of my social life since the day I was legally allowed to borrow mom’s car. Yes, the frequency with which I go might have declined as I grew older, but besides the occasional dinner party at a