Club 21 is New York City’s hottest gay nightclub. The drinks are cheap, the music is infectious, and the go-go boys are the stuff of dreams.
For Dan, it’s where his life will forever change. With his signature on the dotted line, he goes from bartender to owner. And with that change, he realizes that both his responsibilities and his stress have skyrocketed.
Club 21 is home. The staff are family. Like a mama bear, Dan is fiercely protective of his clients and his staff, especially his go-go boys, whose carefree dancing inspires Dan to make Club 21 the best it can be.
Especially Ken, once a fling, now the love of his life. There’s so much that needs to get done at Club 21, but Dan is terrified that all the long evenings will drive his young go-go boy lover away. Dan doesn’t want to lose him, but if anything ever happened to his staff—his family—Dan would never forgive himself...
Content warning: New York Heat contains a scene of mass violence and the death of a main character.
Dan leaned against the metal newspaper box and stared at the brick building in front of him. This was either the best decision he’d ever made … or the worst. There could be no in between. He’d be happy and financially well off … or this would lead to utter ruin.
He fumbled in his back pocket for the pack of smokes he’d bought earlier that day. Haven’t smoked in twenty years, he reminded himself again. The stress of today, though, made it impossible to resist the decades-old siren song of tobacco. He tapped a cigarette out of the pack, along with the lighter, and lit up. He inhaled deep, letting the searing smoke fill his lungs, the burning taste fill his mouth — it was comfortable. It brought him an instant relief to the tension that had been building for the last two weeks, culminating in today.
Through all of this, he never took his eyes off the brick building.
“Since when have you started smoking again?” Brad asked.
“Today,” Dan said, the answer coming out as little more than a grunt. It was enough, he knew, to signal to Brad to not ask further questions.
Brad let out a hmm sound, then folded his arms over his chest and leaned against the second newspaper box. He stared up at the building. Brad had come down from Canada to help Dan with what the next few weeks would bring.
“Remember when we bought fake IDs and snuck in?” Brad asked.
Dan laughed — expressing far more humor than he really felt — but the laugh was good. It was cleansing. It was what he needed to break the tension that had settled over him, tightening up his whole body.
He flicked ash off the end of the cigarette. “We were such twinks back then.”
Dan remembered the night well. It was more than thirty years ago, but he recalled it like it was last week. They were nineteen, but desperate to get into Club 21, the hottest gay bar in New York City. They’d spent weeks asking around the college campus for a black market ID seller. They’d practiced acting older — even though twenty-one, the age to get in, was barely any different from nineteen. Dan had even gone out and bought a dress shirt, hoping it made him look like a banker or something.
“All that work,” Brad said, “and they didn’t even give us a second glance or check our ID.”
“If I remember right, you ended up with some hot daddy in the men’s room.”
Brad laughed, then reached over and took the cigarette from Dan’s hand, taking in a drag before handing it back. “I wasn’t even that attracted to him. I think I was just in awe that a man wanted me. But I seem to remember you grinding on some jock on the dance floor.”
They both broke into a roar of laughter. When it died down, Dan inhaled another lungful of smoke. He hated the habit, hated the taste too, but it helped him get through days like this.
He finally tore his gaze from the brick building to glance at his friend of almost forty years. “I’ve missed you, Brad. It’s good to have you back.” Shortly after college, Brad had taken odd jobs around the country before getting certified in various types of yoga and moving to Canada to teach in studios there. Dan had taken a much different path, heading into a career in accounting, where he stayed with one company his entire career. Until now.
Brad took another drag of Dan’s cigarette. “It’s good to be back. I’ve been away from New York for too long.” He put his arm over Dan’s shoulders, pulling him closer, sharing his warmth on this chilly May afternoon. “But I wouldn’t miss this for the world, Dan.”
Dan looked up at the building again. Even in this drab May day, the brick was a deep red, nice and clean, and the neon sign, not yet lit up, proudly pronounced this building as Club 21. As of two o’clock this afternoon, just a couple hours ago, this club was now his.
Though he’d been an accountant by day, he’d done some evening work as a bartender here. He’d been happy with his life. But when Rachel, the previous owner, moved to L.A. to follow her son and support him in his newfound career, he saw an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. He wanted to own Club 21.
I’m still scared shitless, he admitted to himself. He couldn’t tell anyone else that — not even Ken, his boyfriend — because he needed to appear confident and sure. He suspected that Brad saw right through his façade, though. Being best friends with a guy for something like four decades allowed for that kind of closeness.
Brad’s arm was still around his shoulders and it felt comforting. It reminded Dan of when they were much closer, when they were almost boyfriends. They’d hooked up a few times in college, before getting into Club 21, but they’d never progressed beyond a few blowjobs and the occasional fuck. He leaned into Brad’s warm, solid body, letting out a sigh and, with it, letting out some of the tension that had built up in him over the day.
“I still can’t believe you bought the place,” Brad said. “I remember back in college, we were chatting one night about our dreams when we were in bed together, and you said something about wanting to own the place. I had thought it was a cool idea, but I never thought it would happen.”
Dan had forgotten about that. Even though he’d spent hundreds of nights over his lifetime at Club 21, he remembered nothing of a desire to own the place. He said as much to Brad, then added, “I guess it was just meant to be.”
“Speaking of meant to be — tell me about Ken.”
Dan felt a blush warm his cheeks, like he was that nineteen-year-old twink again. “He’s a bit of a bad boy, but with a good heart. He’s one of the dancers here. He’s, uh, he’s inside,” Dan said. Brad and his partner, Simon, had flown in two nights ago, but with all of the busyness of signing contracts and legal documents, they hadn’t had a chance to get reacquainted or to meet — or even see — each other’s boyfriends. “And he’s … he’s considerably younger than me.”
Brad laughed, but it wasn’t the friendly-teasing laugh that Dan had expected. It seemed almost a laugh of recognition. “Simon is quite a bit younger than me too. He’s twenty-two.”
Dan felt a wave of relief. Though older-younger relationships weren’t uncommon, especially among gay men, he had always felt that they were based more on lust and carnal desires, rather than genuine love. Even when he had started with Ken, it was a relationship based on hooking up and frequent sex. Love had been an unexpected consequence.
“Ken is twenty-two, as well,” Dan said.
“Well, look at us being man-cougars.” He hugged Dan’s shoulders a little tighter for a moment. “Do you love him?”
“I do,” Dan said. It had taken Dan and Ken a while to recognize these feelings, and even longer to admit them. But, once they did, everything felt right. “And you and Simon?”
“Me too.” He took another drag of Dan’s cigarette, then handed it back. “It’s odd, isn’t it? Being in love.”
Dan took the final drag of the cigarette, then flicked it across the sidewalk. “It is. Sometimes, well…”
“Do you ever wonder if these young twinks will grow tired of us? You know, realize there’s more fun to be had with someone closer to their own age?” It was a fear that he had never voiced before, a fear he had trouble admitting even to himself. Brad was the one person in this world who he felt comfortable saying such a thing to.
“All the fucking time,” Brad said. “I’m in my fifties, my body is sagging, even though I’m fit. I’m slowing down every year as much as I hate to admit it. And every day brings a new gray hair. And Simon is supposed to love me as this keeps happening?”
Dan sighed. “Maybe we’re getting lust and love mixed up. I know it took me a long time to sort them out. I didn’t even realize they meant different things until recently.”
“That could be it. Lust is all physical, all animal. Love is … love is something deeper, more permanent, slow-growing. I don’t think it’s as easily lost as lust can be.”
Dan didn’t know how to respond, so he let the comfortable silence settle over the two of them. They continued staring at the brick building, even as pedestrians passed in front of them and cars passed behind them. New York City was a busy place with rarely a moment of pure peace — but this was pretty damn close.
After a very long time of just leaning against the newspaper boxes, Brad broke the silence. “I see the leather bar is closed.”
Dan glanced toward the brick building across the narrow alley. The leather bar had gone under just a couple weeks ago and, as far as Dan knew, no one had made an offer on the place yet. While commercial real estate in New York City was hot, it seemed no one wanted the old bar.
“It’s been there as long as Club 21,” Dan said. “Changed names many times, but it’s always been there. But the world moves on.” Dan remembered well when they’d gone to the leather bar together. If nights at Club 21 were slow or if they were in particular need of sucking daddy dick, they’d sometimes head across the alley and scope out the meat there. There were as many memories in that building as there were in Club 21.
“Hmm,” Brad said. Dan looked at his friend and saw a look of serious contemplation on his face.
Brad stared at the building a little longer, seeming to size it up, then glanced at Dan. “Just a … just a flight of fancy, I guess. I’ve been thinking of starting up my own yoga studio. That place is large enough.” He shook his head. “But this can’t b a spur-of-the-moment decision. I can’t just say I’m going buy a building and start a studio.”
Dan let out a laugh that came out as a snort. “That’s basically what I did with Club 21.” He looked again at Brad and saw just how seriously his friend was considering this. He elbowed him in the side. “You should do it. Take risks. I bet the price is a steal — seems no one wants to move in.”
“Hmm,” Brad said again.
Dan let Brad ruminate on the building and his dream of a studio while he instead looked at Club 21 again — his apparent dream come true. Hopefully it’s a good dream, not a nightmare.
An urge for another cigarette settled into Dan. He didn’t want to get too deep into smoking again — the further in he was, the harder it would be to quit. And he’d have to quit. Ken didn’t like that he smoked. Dan didn’t like it himself, either, but he could put up with his bad habits easier than Ken could.
“Come on,” Dan said, “let’s go inside.”
Brad released his hold on Dan’s shoulders and the two men stood up and walked toward the front door. Though he’d gone in and out a few times today and he’d been running the place for Rachel until the paperwork legally signed the place over to him, this was the first time he’d entered with the building belonging to him. It was somehow fundamentally different.
He put his key in the lock and turned, the tumblers clicking and causing his heart to pound against his ribs. He felt almost lightheaded for a moment. He gave the door a tug and it opened.
Pulling the door open wide, he turned to Brad and said, “Welcome … to Club 21.”