In a small, quiet, out-of-the-way avenue in Los Angeles, there is a club that hides away from the bustle of the city. Its location is public — anyone can look it up in a phone book — but no one bothers to. In a city full of competing nightspots, smaller watering holes tend to get buried in the hustle. It’s not hard to find, if one knows about its existence and is in possession of a guide. There isn’t much parking, but then again, this place doesn’t need it.
To go inside, an aspiring clubber must navigate his or her way down a flight of stairs, past some shoddy paint, a leaking drain pipe, and a low-hanging ceiling fan that threatens to decapitate anyone coming within two feet of Shaquille O’Neal. And just about when the clubber is thinking about turning around, doubt getting the better of him, he sees it. A set of nondescript, brushed-metal doors at the end of the hallway, like light at the end of the tunnel. Except in this case, it’s a gateway towards something better.
Its name is Heaven, and those that know about it swear on their lives that it is a magical place, even in a city with too many magical places to count. People say that it’s like a combination of Disneyland, Tijuana, and Paris, with the childlike innocence of the former, the black-tie class of the latter, and the sheer debauchery of the middle. Few people know about it, although this isn’t due so much to design rather than simply not caring much about what people said about it. Zagat’s doesn’t talk about it; neither does Frommer’s, nor Lonely Planet, nor the Unofficial Guide. It’s a place for locals and it will stay that way, as far as its patrons are concerned.
What’s so special about it, people ask, when it comes up in rare conversation. It’s just one among dozens. And to be sure, there really isn’t anything special about Heaven at first glance. The chandeliers are rusty, the drinks are expensive, the carpet is fading. The girls are cute in traditional Los Angeles style — stilettos and straps — but nothing to write home about. The waiters are snooty and the air is thick with smoke. So what’s so goddamn special about it? Everyone asks, and everyone declines to answer, instead taking them by the hand and leading them down the dingy stairs. Their doubt lasts as far as the double doors. When the doors open, and doubters take their first step into Heaven, they agree: this place is magic.
No one really knows why this is. Some have claimed they pipe something into the air, which is impossible given the smoke-to-oxygen ratio on any given night. There isn’t any evidence to prove Heaven’s magic, but stories abound, and word of mouth works much faster — and better — than any peer-reviewed paper.
One of the most popular stories about Heaven goes something like this:
There was a man who was, by all accounts, a well-known Hollywood D-list celebrity. He came by nearly nightly, despite the existence of a wife and a kid on the way. He claimed he wasn’t an adulterer, but no one was really sure. What everyone knew for a fact, though, was that he came in, sat on a bar stool by himself, and by the time he left around an hour later, he would nearly always have a woman leaning on his shoulder.
He was as unremarkable as a man as they come, storytellers would always tell. And yet, there he was, one of the most popular men of the night. Dressed in all black, he would be, yet always swirling in color.
Only in Heaven.
There’s another popular story, this one about a girl. She was your average California blonde, slightly bleached, and an innocent look about the eyes. She wasn’t a regular, but she came in frequently enough. According to bartenders, her favorite drink was a Long Island iced tea. Men would often buy drinks for her, but no one ever left with her. She would stay until closing, trading a few wisecracks with the staff, before calling it a night and heading home, never stumbling.
When she was absent, when her barstool was empty, the entirety of the room would be slightly muted, like a thin blanket had been thrown over it, only to be thrown back when she entered through the doors. Although no one acknowledged her presence — no one looked her way, no one greeted her, no one nodded vaguely in her direction — the entire club would just be a little bit brighter.
So people say.
And the stories go on and on — a father bringing his freshly-21 son for his first drink, a fated encounter between long-lost lovers, a husband and wife rekindling love — and everyone tells them in hushed tones like they were reading a passage from Scripture. Everything they say adds yet another layer of mystique to Heaven, and as time goes by, more people begin to think that maybe this place is worth a visit.
Like campfire stories told among scouts, these stories got passed down from one patron to another, aided and abetted by the bartender, depending on his creativity. Stories obviously change, but one constant factor remained: the main character was always Heaven. Everyone else were just foils to it.
Heaven doesn’t exist anymore. Too many people knew about it, too many people wanted to come to it, and too many people saw fit to dirty it.
Yet the stories continue, passed around the dinner table or the reunion booth, still in hushed tones, although this time embued with just a hint of melancholy. There was no club like Heaven, people say with a sigh. It’s a darn shame.
But it’s still there, if one only seeks it out. Perhaps one of these days, someone will drive the extra block, turn into the unlighted parking lot, close the ignition, descend the stairs — avoiding the fan — and open those magical double doors.
Who knows what Heaven has in store for you?