Adventures in Latin America’s Biggest Gay Bar
We’ve been standing out the front for 15 minutes and something like 100 people have already gone in, the steady torrent showing no sign of slowing soon. The building itself seems to possess a kind of hunger, gobbling down the stream of drag queens, tittering straight girls and hundreds of boys – a river of reggaetonero crew-cuts, tight v-neck shirts and studded earrings. El Theatron, the largest gay club in Colombia – and Latin America – in Bogota’s Chapinero district has a capacity of 5000 and tonight, like most nights, it’s going to come very close to being full.
We give up waiting for my Colombian friends to show up – a 10pm date here really means any time between 11:30 and 1 – and join the rush. After a pat down at the door designed to find knives and pistols instead of pills and powders, I hand over 30 000 pesos (about AUD$17) in exchange for a plastic cup, a ticket and a wink from the doorman. I now have an unlimited bar tab until 2am, provided I can hold on to my cup for that long.
To get an idea of what El Theatron is like, start by taking a random selection of Colombian drinking establishments: a salsa bar, a merengue hall, a reggaeton club, a vallenato bar, a German-style beer hall and, for good measure, some kind of outdoor plaza. Stuff them all into one massive building, complete with a rooftop terrace with a view of the Andes and yes, the outdoor plaza as well. Put a giant multi-level dance hall with a stage in the very centre of it all. Now picture all the people you’re going to see during a night out on, say, Sydney’s Oxford Street. Turn the boys into skinny latinos, put thick moustaches on the old men and turn the lesbians and the fag hags into hip swivelling mamacitas. Now imagine there’s 5000 of them and they’re all dancing like men and women possessed, not because they’re off their heads on MDMA and the world’s purest cocaine (although many of them are), but because they’re Colombians and it simply isn’t a party unless you’re dancing.
There are plenty of new experiences at El Theatron for three uninitiated Australians. Zoe finds it refreshing that she can score some nieve (“snow”) without having to kiss the dealer, Steve’s a little unnerved at having his crotch grabbed and I’m finding it difficult to use the urinal when the guy next to me is leaning over to inspect my manhood. Watching two men dance salsa together is a new experience, as is dancing on a rooftop terrace with a view to the dark outline of the Andes that tower over Bogota. Steve and I – fair haired, blue-eyed gringos – get to experience what an antelope must feel like being watched by 200 hungry lions when we stumble into one of several “Men Only” rooms. By midnight my local mates have shown up, but we still haven’t managed to explore everything.
I’ve always liked gay bars, for the simple reason that there are no muscle-head idiots inside. Women seem more comfortable in their absence, as do all the stranger elements of society who go to find refuge from the overt testosterone of other places. You wouldn’t know it at first glance but Bogota is a city full of freaks and weirdos, and El Theatron is the biggest of their many refuges. A night here is about seeing a naked bald guy covered in body paint, thinking “Alright, I guess that’s what floats his boat,” and that’s the end of it.
Colombians are a passionate bunch, and when you mix that with alcohol it’s easy to imagine a lot of emotion flying around El Theatron at 5am. There’s a few teary-eyed guys blubbering to their friends about their “skanky ex-boyfriend” and a fully blown shouting match going down in the plaza, but mostly there’s just a lot of love. Couples are making out everywhere, whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears. Friends are comparing stories and still-hopeful singles keep eying off objects of their desire. As the sun comes up over the mountains, that black hole of a door slowly begins to disgorge us back into the street and the real world.