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Clubbing with the Angels

I found this hard to believe, I said, that someone could consistently tell if another were gay from appearance only.

"Well," she said, "come see for yourself."

And so I did.

Tallinn night, for our older or stay-at-home readers, is an experience in itself. The roads are full of taxis coming into the city. Vabaduse Väljak is full of nicer cars than in the day. Girls roam the streets in thigh-high boots, looking the part of New York City hookers. In front of Hollywood, there's an S-class Mercedes with a taxi bulb on top. Next to it, a Jaguar taxi. Police sit in a parked van, watching it all. I wind my way down Sauna street past the Võitlev Sõna, broken bottles and drunken kids on the street, shirtless kids inside. Few of them look old enough to drink. There's no one in front of the Angel Cafe—separate from the gay club and open to everyone. But inside the cafe is packed. A few local celebrities I recognize. One table full of singing drunks. Heterosexuals, I suspect.

Maret Soom, Angel's general manager, wants me to see the drag show at the club, so we make our way past a clean-cut young man at the door on the cafe side and watch Angel's diva belt out a live version of Cher's "If you believe." I have to admit, he's pretty good. "I discovered him at Hollywood," says Maret. "I knew he was right for us."

Maret is only 22, but she's a veteran clubber. She seems to know absolutely everyone. I ask how. "You see the same people all the time. The second time you nod to them, the third time you start talking. And of course, in this job, people want to meet me, too."

Maret introduces me to Rein, the doorman on the club side with the purported sixth sense about homosexuality. He is a dapper, middle-aged man, gray hair, pin-striped peacoat and black leather gloves. Everyone at the club fits a similar polite, urbane profile: it's the Disney World of perfect manners.

Almost immediately a young couple arrives convinced that an Estonian celebrity is having her birthday party inside. They demand entry. Sorry, Rein tells them. It's members only. But we were just with her, they protest. Rein is unmoved. He politely tells them that the celebrity is not inside (which she isn't) and reiterates that it's a members-only club.     

It's members-only, mostly. On slower nights in the middle of the week, non-members are allowed in at a slightly higher price. On busy nights, members go to the club's website and log their names on the guest list, so that they're sure to get in.

The two celebrity chasers both remove their mobile telephones and move to the other side of the street. The have loud animated conversations repeatedly invoking the celebrity's name. Two young blonde men appear. Rein greets them and opens the door for them. He doesn't check their names or cards.

Rein knows everyone, too. He's worked the restaurant business for twenty-plus years. I tell him what Maret said about his ability to tell if someone's gay by his appearance. "Is that true?" I ask.

"Yes," he smiles. "It's true."

"But how do you know?" I am fascinated by this—not that it may or may not be possible to identify a gay by sight, but more by the fact that he's openly discussing it with a journalist. In my country, one burdened by seemingly endless political correctness and a desire to pretend that we're all the same, I couldn't imagine this conversation taking place. I find it refreshing.

"By the eyes," he says.

"The eyes?"

"The eyes, yes."

This I want to see. I tell him I'll stand here and watch him in action.

The next aspiring guests are two stumbling young men. Their shirttails are untucked, one's sunglasses bent out of shape, as if he fell on them. Rein politely tells them that the club is full, but he recommends the Võitlev Sõna to them. "Just right up the street," he says, pointing. They protest a little bit, but Rein doesn't give. The two move on.

My guess is that the two are heterosexuals, but I'm not sure how I know. Not from the eyes, certainly. "Actually," Rein says, "the Estonian gay community is so small that everyone knows each other." I feel like David Copperfield has taken me behind stage and revealed the secret of my favorite trick. Rein has ruined it for me.

"Those guys," he says, "are pretty typical. A lot of heterosexuals are just curious about the place." But Rein has to keep them out. Rein shoots for a male-female ratio of five to one. "We get too many women, Tallinn's gay males won't show," he says. "We try to create a comfortable balance."

I ask if he ever has problems with heterosexuals not taking no for an answer. Rein nods the direction of the club up the street. "The police were there three times last night," he says. "They didn't come here once."

The celebrity chasers are back, making a second appeal. Rein reassures them that their celebrity is not inside. They retreat again to their mobile phones. I tell Rein he ought to work for an embassy.

"She knows," Rein says, speaking of the celebrity, "not to come here with a lot of people. She knows we can't let them in. That's probably why she hasn't come."

It's past my bedtime, and I've seen the master at work. So I thank Rein and step from the peaceful world of Angel back into the world of heterosexuals, through the broken bottles, past the drunken kids, the luxury taxis, and the parked police guarding it all.

Postscript: I later learned the singing drunks were gay customers. I obviously don't yet possess Rein's acute radar, and Maret Soom has yet to offer me a doorman's job.

By Scott Diel