The closing of Town, D.C.’s largest gay club, has brought about a shift in gay nightlife particularly in the drag community.
Veteran drag performers Shi-Queeta Lee and Ba’Naka — both past winners of the Blade’s Best of Gay D.C. awards for their work with the Ladies of Town — have witnessed the changing tides of drag over the years and could regularly be seen performing at Town. Although they’re one venue down, these ladies have kept the hustle going with drag brunches and shows at other locations.
Lee, whose only job has been drag for 20-plus years, left Nellie’s Sports Bar last year after a decade of performances. In December 2017, she decided to start her own drag show and tested out performances for three nights. After seeing its success, Lee kicked off her own drag brunch, Queeta’s Palace, at Chateau Remix (3439 Benning Rd., N.E.) in February.
The drag brunch is every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and features five-eight performers. The cast is known for their illusion characters which include Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, Beyonce, Cardi B, Jill Scott, SZA, Lauryn Hill and more. Lee believes what sets this drag brunch apart from others in D.C. is the attention to detail, down to wig, costume and overall look, to emulate the original performers.
Lee (aka Jerry VanHook) says that since drag has become more popular, her audiences are more straight.
“Drag has really became popular since ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ has been more mainstream now,” she says. “People are understanding and accepting the gay lifestyle more than it used to be. I don’t really get people that came to Town. Town was mostly a nightclub with young college kids and young partygoers. My clientele has been mostly heterosexual. Not too much of the gay clientele has been to my brunch.”
Tickets for Queeta’s Palace are $40 for the show and an all-you-can-eat brunch. Food items include chicken stir-fry, a waffle station, a vegetarian pasta station, cheesy grits, salads, fresh seasonal fruit and desserts. Vegan options are available. Guests’ first mimosa or Bloody Mary is free. Tickets can be purchased on eventbrite.com.
Ba’Naka (aka Dustin Schaad) has also made a name for herself in D.C. since she first started doing drag in 2004. A frequent performer of Town, Ba’Naka praised the venue’s ability to host a drag show.
“Town was a very unique being because it was designed with a drag show in mind,” she says. “This place was designed with a dressing room and a lot of thought was put into how a show flows. No other bar in D.C. was designed that way. It was made to be a show palace basically. With Town being gone, there is no other space that big and no other venue that offers a professional viewing to the same level as Town did.”
Ba’Naka can still be seen at various venues throughout D.C. She sometimes performs at the D.C. Eagle’s (3701 Benning Rd., N.E.) “Birds of Prey” show, the only 18-and-over drag show in the city. Other regular performers include Vagenesis, Iyana Deschanel, Brooklyn Heights, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alum Tatianna, Labella Magia and Desiree Dik. The show is every Friday night at 10:30 p.m. Visit dceagle.com for details.
You can also catch Ba’Naka hosting drag brunch at City Tap House (1250 Connecticut Ave., N.W.) every Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Food is a la carte and there are $18 bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys. Ba’Naka also hosts other venues’ drag events as well as “random pop-up events.”
According to Ba’Naka, drag shows have shifted from late-night shows to daytime events.
“We are living in a very weird time in D.C. Drag shows, with the exception of brunches, everyone has a brunch these days, but actual drag shows, you no longer have at night time every weekend a show,” Ba’Naka says.
Lee hopes to increase young LGBT attendance for her brunch but notes youth have different expectations of a drag show.
“It’s known that the gay kids look at our drag shows as, ‘We can come to a nightclub to see your show for free’ or pay $5 or $10. They don’t want to pay $40 or $50 to see us do drag. When they do come to see it, they don’t know that you get a meal and you get a show. A lot of people don’t know until they actually come and see it for themselves.”