If your venue has a dying night, where spends have fallen completely off and the visitors have trickled down to a handful, don’t close the doors and forgo all potential revenue. Instead, consider transforming quiet evenings into happening parties courtesy of gay night. But before you just rush to slap up a promotional banner proclaiming an evening “gay night,” there’s considerably more to transforming a straight venue into hosting a gay-friendly night. Eduardo Cordova, a promoter for The Light Group in Las Vegas, has mastered the art of the gay party — having successfully started Heaven Saturdays at Bare Pool Lounge and Closet Sundays at The Beatles Revolution Lounge, both at The Mirage — and shares his tips on how to start a similar night in your venues.
Make sure you have fantastic customer service. “It’s all the little things you don’t necessarily think of,” Cordova says. “Like security. Security at a straight club is more strict and aggressive, and the way they approach the guests is different than at a gay venue…Typically, a gay venue is a friendlier environment. My clientele appreciates that; they’re there to have fun so there’s no fighting while drinking, and my clientele are very polite. The security needs to meet that tone. It goes beyond security — even to the little things like when you get a drink, the napkin placement underneath it has to be just right and the cleanliness of the place — but the security force’s demeanor is a major facet.”
The space itself has to be unique and cool. “The best thing to do is look at great spaces that aren’t being fully capitalized upon,” Cordova shares. “With Heaven Saturdays, I proposed taking Bare Pool, which is never used at night, and covering the pool with Plexiglas and turning it into a dance floor. It’s an outdoor space, which is a rarity in Las Vegas, and it was just sitting there most nights. And it worked perfectly. Guests loved the space and the setting. We had an average of 800-1,200 people each week, and it was the biggest gay event in Vegas. We had to end it because the pool season is over now, but it’ll be back for 2011.”
Focus on your entertainment heavily. “Pick performing artists with a big gay following,” Cordova says. “ Or create a themed night for a TV show that’s relevant with the gay community. For example, you could do a ‘Glee’ night. ‘Glee’ is very mainstream, but it’s got a huge gay viewership and to craft a night around it would be perfect. Performance-wise, you want to pick an artist that’s not necessarily huge, mainstream-wise, but has a huge gay following. At Closet Sundays, we brought in Shontelle to perform at the two-year anniversary bash last week. Everyone was singing along. And remember: Straight talent is more expensive than gay talent. Artists usually give discounted rates for gay events because they want to promote their material to the gay market. Lady Gaga performed for me for free three years ago after we met at an event out in Vegas. She ended up giving a great show — at no cost — for my gay night at the House of Blues.”
Involve the community. “Get a gay leader within the community to back your night,” explains Cordova. “And tap into organizations like Pride, which can help you market the night and gain exposure. Acceptance from the community is crucial to making your night a success. Just because you use the term ‘gay’ on your marketing collateral doesn’t mean the gay market is going to turn up.”
Remember your primary competition is the gay clubs. “The real challenge any [predominantly] straight venue with a gay night faces is trying to get gay patrons out of the gay nightclubs. Use your programming properly and they will come. We were also lucky to be the first gay-friendly venue in a casino out here,” Cordova says. “It’s always good to be first, but when we launched, I was very worried about how drag queens parading down the aisle next to the high-limit tables would be received. Thankfully, everyone embraced it. Two years later, we were crowned the best gay party in Las Vegas by Seven magazine, so we’ve clearly done something right.”