It seems like only yesterday that Glam – which stands for Good Looking Asian Male – sashayed away with a Merit and Readers' Choice Award at the Time Out Bar & Club Awards 2014. Consummate host Marlon Ma lit up the capital for a balmy summer season with his slick mixer for gay guys and gals, attracting a well turned out, cocktail-supping Wednesday night clientele.
Alas, the good times stopped rolling after horrendous midweek pollution, zero drinks deals and restricted space took their toll. Yet, undeterred, dapper polyglot Ma regrouped and in May presided over a glorious reincarnation of Glam; this time on Thursdays and convened in the froofy environs of Sanlitun teahouse-plus-gin palace Long Jing. By moving up a weekday, Glam is also facing off against another, far longer-established draw on the suited-and-booted queer crowd: Thursday nights at Mesh in The Opposite House.
The question is, can even a darling of the party circuit like Ma pull off his ambitious coup? He's certainly confident. He tosses his ebony mane and giggles when we ask if he has intentionally set up a rival to the
perennial favourite of the gay jet set.
'I didn't want to be the bitch that came for Mesh. But they're not officially a gay night, they don't do promotions anymore, and there are a lot of straight people there now. It's just not that gay anymore. I thought, f**k it, I'm bringing Glam back.'
'Nowadays, everyone's like: "Gay night! Gay night!" Everyone wants rainbow business. Long Jing came to me. It's a really interesting space – by day it's a tea bar, then it switches around at night.'
While Time Out was fond of Glam's first incarnation, it ultimately went the same way as so many other fledgling gay nights that bloom briefly in the firmament of Beijing's fickle drinking scene. Why will things be different this time around?
'You learn from past lessons,' Ma twinkles. 'With the old Glam, the best I ever managed was just okay. Back then I didn’t have the name recognition with the gay community that I have now, since then I've done drag shows, the LGBT Center gala. People know me.'
The relaunch certainly turned heads. On opening night, Long Jing was rammed, with immaculately dressed
patrons spilling out into the nearby car park. All of the elements missing from the former incarnation – outdoor space, two-for-one drinks deals (just as well with gin and tonics priced at 70 RMB) – are now firmly in place. When we visited, Ma kept breaking off to work the room, before effortlessly assembling extras for our photo shoot with a few well-placed compliments.
But success is built on more than charm alone. To add an extra jigger of queer cred, Ma sought out the former mastermind behind Punk – a premier gay club night held in the basement of The Opposite House way back in the mists of time, ie the late 2000s. This explains the unapologetic sprinkling of gay disco classics atop Glam's energetic soundtrack. As with Punk, the crowd is as mixed as Beijing LGBT nights get – preppy local boys to mature European ladies – and while things get noisy after 11pm, there are still plenty of corners to relax in. Ma wants Glam to be an alternative to the sweaty crush of the gay clubs; unless he can offer something different, he reasons, his baby won't survive.
'It's easy to get tired of parties in Beijing,' he continues. 'People get older, they move away, get married, have kids, finish their contract, and stop going out.'
'I don't want Glam to be like anything else,' he enthuses, reeling off names of gay venues and nights he doesn't wish to emulate. 'We're about quality people, quality time.'