Food & DrinkFood Features

Drag Culture Moves from Nightclubs to the Brunch Table

Up until about a decade ago, you might have only seen drag queens performing around midnight at a few clubs here and there in Charlotte.

Since that time, thanks in large part to the ever-growing LGBTQ+ rights movement, plus the launch and instant popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the spin-off shows that it’s birthed, society as a whole has become more accepting of drag culture, inviting it from the late-night stages of bars and clubs to that Sunday morning stage that also gained momentum in the LGBTQ+ world then rocketed in popularity in recent years: the brunch table.

Ten years ago, Shane Windmeyer became a drag-brunch pioneer when he started performing as Buff Faye at the now-shuttered Hartigan’s Irish Pub on Sunday mornings. When the pub’s doors closed in 2014, Buff Faye bopped around Charlotte looking for a new home.

Buff Faye vegges out. (Photo by Scott Clinton)

Eventually, Windmeyer helped open Boulevard 1820, a small blip on Charlotte’s drag-dining historical map, nestled in the basement under Tupelo Honey. After just a year of operation, the restaurant closed in 2018, which led Windmeyer to finally find a permanent home at Dilworth Neighborhood Grille.

Now performing two shows a month, with each two seatings at each for early risers and late starters, Windmeyer has propped open a door for daytime drag shows in Charlotte. “All in all, the brunch has been an amazing opportunity that has really, I think, found its home in Charlotte,” Windmeyer said.

While his Buff Faye’s drag shows are sure to make the audience split their sides howling, Windmeyer’s experience in drag is no laughing matter. As the most recent winner of Entertainer of the Year, his high-production value translates into themed shows with a meticulous eye for detail.

Themes including Under the Sea, ’80s and Golden Girls encapsulate and highlight his talent for pageantry, showmanship and entertaining. When you go to a Buff Faye show, expect the best comedy and be prepared to eat, as the food is not to be overlooked, however hard it was to nail down a good menu.

“[Drag] brunch is always something. You either have a great show or you have great food,” Windmeyer explained, referencing past drag brunches he’s hosted or attended. “You can have both [but] it’s been hard to get there.”

Being limited by the capabilities of the kitchen is a thing of the past since Buff Faye planted roots at Dilworth Neighborhood Grille. And the best part is there’s no need to worry about quantity; the restaurant serves up a brunch buffet, making this the perfect partnership.

Erica Chanel at brunch. (Photo by Amy Whitt)

“The good news is that at Dilworth Grille, that’s what they do, they have a fabulous brunch and great menu items for brunches,” he said. “And it’s a buffet, all-you-can-eat, so it fits in well. Who couldn’t want that?”

Items like eggs Benedict, hash browns, chocolate-covered strawberries and salmon have all graced the buffet table at a Buff Faye show. In the past, production has struggled with menu offerings that were delectable but left some showgoers hungry by the end of the performance.

“Some people like to eat a nice-sized brunch, you know?” Windmeyer said. “So I like the fact that you can go back for seconds, and there’s always enough buffet to feed everyone.”

The Vanity House, founded by Nic Nichols and Chris Booher, launched their drag-event production company — which include brunches — almost two years ago. Armed with blow dryers and cosmetology licenses, the two have carved out their own space among the drag shows of the city, offering brunch and live shows.

Nic Nicholes (left) and Chris Booher of The Vanity House.

Now it’s a family operation, which means that Booher’s parents help out with setting up, ticketing and helping the performers with their costumes, makeup and last-minute touches.

While The Vanity House doesn’t have a permanent home, per se, the production company rotates from a handful of restaurants, thus switching up the food menu.

Recently, The Vanity House held a Sunday drag brunch at The Rosemont on South Boulevard in the heart of South End. The food ran the gamut of our region’s favorite brunch dishes.

“We just try Southern favorites cooked by Rosemont: shrimp and grits, sausage, hashbrown, all your favorite brunch foods,” Nichols said.

Along with a spread of fresh fruit, hashed-brown potatoes, eggs and pancakes, performers Erica Chanel, Lily Frost, Tia Douglas, Valerie Rockwell and more were on the lineup for musical numbers.

As I got my plate of arguably the best shrimp and grits that could come from a buffet or otherwise — I mean, they got the consistency of the grits and the sauce for the shrimp just right — I could already see some of the queens coming in with full faces of makeup and in “plain” clothes.

It was a pleasant surprise that most of the performers had more intricate and exciting outfits planned for the audience, including a Julie Andrews tribute complete with a show of “My Favorite Things,” that rolled into “7 rings” by Ariana Grande.

A performer at a recent Queens Who Brunch event. (Photo by Amy Whitt)

When everything was said and done — after the death drops, cartwheels, splits and beautiful wigs and outfits — the show clocked in at about two hours — a sweet spot that Nichols and Booher have landed on.

“We try to keep our show under two hours because this much alcohol in the morning, you really start to lose people around 2 p.m.,” Booher explained. “So we try not to keep it going past two hours because we’ve noticed the longer you draw that out, [audience members] have a little too much fun. But that’s what they’re all here for.”

In order to keep the energy high and the fun going, Windmeyer has enacted three rules for the drag brunch he puts on.

“The first rule is that you drink some of the magic water, the mimosas, the bloody marys; the second rule is that you scream and holler, because the drag queens need to hear you yell,” Windmeyer said. “And the third rule is that we’re one step above the girls who work the streets out there and we’re drag queens and we need tips and appreciation. Please give your dollar bills and whatever.”

Buff Faye at brunch. (Photo courtesy of Shane Windmeyer)

When you do decide to finally head out to a drag brunch, make sure you follow those rules, especially when a portion of the ticket sales and some of the tips collected during Buff Faye’s shows go to charity. It’s all part of her personality as a drag queen.

“Buff Faye is a charity queen; she’s Southern, she’s kind of sassy, she likes to have fun. She likes to be over the top, some people call it extra. That’s fine,” Windmeyer said. “And she came from a very simple place of just wanting to have fun and dress up and raise money for a charity.”

It’s not just Buff Faye’s public persona; Windmeyer is also the founder of a national nonprofit organization called Campus Pride, with which he travels around the country speaking to college-aged students about self-acceptance and creating safer, more inclusive communities.

Windmeyer noted that he’s fortunate to have two avenues through which to spread positive messages, one as himself and the other as Buff Faye.

“Shane is the professional educator, involved in the community. Buff Faye is involved in the community, but is able to educate in a different way,” he said.

As Buff Faye, Windmeyer is able to use the drag brunch performances to help other people understand that self expression shouldn’t be shamed.

“The whole goal for me with the drag brunch is to reach people who may not come to a club at 10 p.m., midnight on a Friday or Saturday, but who want to learn and be supportive of the LGBTQ community,” he added. “I think that’s the power of drag.”

So while supporting the LGTBQ+ community during Charlotte’s Pride Month and beyond, swim responsibly in the flow of mimosas, eat some of the best food you’ll find in any buffet line and enjoy a performance with your meal.

There’s no better reason to drag your ass out to brunch on a weekend morning.

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