A couple weeks ago, I rolled over in bed to read a text from one of my besties that said, “Want to go to a drag brunch on Saturday?!” I pushed the sleep out of my eyes and grinned wide into a yawning stretch.
Though my quick response was, “Hehehe oh yes where?!” I knew that a Saturday brunch would show up all too quick after a Friday night excursion and the plethora of productivity I’d planned for the day would immediately be drop-kicked out of a window.
I’ve always been entranced by the carefree, the colorful, the non-normative, the familial, the performative, and oh honey, the dramatic atmosphere that follows the crowds flocking to drag shows and honestly most LGBTQIA+-friendly spaces.
The freedom to be whomever you want to be, no matter what race you are, how old you are, or how you identify is as intoxicating as the aroma of a heavenly perfume that lingers after a stranger walks past. Something you want to keep forever, but that you know you’ll have to let go of, for it’s not yours.
Our options were Billy Sunday or The Artisan’s Palate, so I started my “research” — visiting the business IGs to locate flyers for their scheduled drag brunches, checking the performers’ IGs, reading the menus at both venues, and contemplating entry fees.
Putting my finger on the right IG and #linkinbio threw me into a guerilla-marketing, cross-platform spiral that may have been purposeful but could totally be user error. So I deferred to my girlfriend to purchase my ticket for The Artisan’s Palate: Come Together Drag Brunch with Valerie Rockwell, Logan Havens, Taylor KA St. James, and Shelita Bonet Hoyle (in absentia), proceeds going to Time Out Youth Center.
I’ve already discussed my feelings about Optimist Hall, so The Artisan’s Palate naturally would’ve been my first choice. Besides, I’ve also wanted to check it out whenever I’m making that familiar left at the Domino’s Pizza from The Plaza onto 36th Street.
And of course, memories of my last drag show experience at Chasers right next-door made the weekend’s plans all the more sweeter.
On “D” Day (see what I did there), a cold shiver ran down my spine at noon as I imagined the first sip of a mimosa. I knew I would regret my commitment. But the sound of reassurance from my boyfriend was music to my ears: “You like espresso martinis.” Well, there’s a solution man if I’ve ever met one. Bless.
I sucked it up, made a Spam sandwich to ground my tummy, then raced out the door to The Artisan’s Palate, hopeful I wouldn’t become a “special guest” with “tardy for the party” as the joke.
A prompt 1:59 p.m. arrival for a 2 p.m. start time landed me in the safe zone. Upon entry, I was very curious how drag queens would traverse through the cozy venue complete with a full bar, wine wall, and art installations.
The music blasted, causing me to lift my eyes and find Valerie Rockwell aka “Aunt Carol,” mic in hand, clad in a pop-art bodysuit with puffy shoulders and fishnets busting out from around the corner in mid-lip sync busting full on dance moves — including high kicks!
Out of breath and unashamed, in all her Auntie-ness, one rule became very clear: Check your attitude at the door, Miss Valerie Rockwell was the captain of this ship. “Are there any kids in here? No? Good. Fuck ‘em!”
Not a single jaw dropped in shock, instead, every gaping mouth was filled with laughter and booze in between bites of avocado toast and gravy biscuits. (Side note, bring singles if you want a better experience.)
The outfits were outrageously versatile in all the best ways, true works of active installation art, and the phrase, “give me face,” was redefined. The sweat poured, the dollars flew, and the liquor flowed.
But the best part of drag brunch was looking around and seeing all the different types of people from all walks of life (including a friend I hadn’t seen in years!) in attendance having a genuinely wholesome time. And then, something even more amazing: an “educational moment” around proper pronoun usage amongst my friends.
The answers may or may not have been right, but it was the kind of synchronicity a women’s studies major going out of her usual comfort zone in nightlife routine looks for. It was confirmation that I was meant to be there.
Three espresso martinis, a belly full of laughs, hurt cheeks, and a drag queen crush’s number later, it was only fitting that as the day turned into night I wound up at the very optically different, dare I say optical illusion, Jeff’s Bucket Shop.
A place where the often appropriate response to karaoke performance is, “Sashay away!”