A new venue in the heart of Phnom Penh is aiming to offer Cambodia’s gay community something it doesn’t have yet: a place to dance until daybreak.
“We’re going to have three floors of music blaring everything from 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s music to Rihanna,” says William Sanz, the club’s Spanish manager who has been working in the capital’s sizeable bar and restaurant scene for three years.
Valentino’s Nightclub and Bistro opened in January and is already starting to attract a crowd. The club is bringing DJs from countries like Japan, and its owners hope it will eventually become one Asia’s best-known gay clubs.
The city already has a handful of bars for the LGTB community, offering everything from burlesque shows by the city’s best drag queens to live music.
But most of the venues are better for drinking beer and chatting with friends than for partying until sunrise. In contrast, Valentino’s will stay open until 4am on the weekends. There will be live music and DJs every Friday and Saturday.
In an effort to attract its intended audience, the club’s gaping entrance flaunts a wall-to-wall rainbow flag, and most of the staff is gay. It also boasts a high-quality sound system and sleek new interior.
A lot of money has been invested in this spot, Sanz admits.
After working in Ibiza’s fabled nightclubs for around two decades, he says he’s confident he knows the essential components to creating a successful club.
“If you came here directly from Ibiza, you wouldn’t be missing anything,” he says. “We’ve put a lot of love into this.”
Still, he knows from experience how hard it is to compete in Phnom Penh’s burgeoning party scene, and to attract a loyal clientele. In fact, he thinks it will take at least a year to get things off the ground.
“Phnom Penh is a complicated market. There isn’t a lot of continuity. If you think Tuesday is your best day, undoubtedly there will be two Tuesdays when there is no business,” Sanz explains. “When it comes to restaurants and cafés, the market is pretty saturated. You really have to set yourself apart from the rest.”
That’s why Valentino’s is designed differently from other clubs in the city. Aside from the dance floors, it has a quiet restaurant and outdoor terrace attached.
“We wanted this to be a European concept,” Sanz explains. “In most of the clubs in Phnom Penh, if you’re tired of listening to the music then you have to leave. Here you can go out to the terrace, relax, smoke a cigarette, have something to eat.”
He hopes the club’s unique style will attract a different crowd from the backpackers and revelry-seekers that frequent clubs like Pontoon and Vito.
“We want cool people who want to have a good time,” he says with a smile. “It’s a gay club, but everyone is welcome.”