A heavyset lady in a fuchsia wrap dress negotiates the ostensibly deserted front side of ______________, a dinner-and-drag spot smashed between Time Square and Broadway. The windows are dark, tinted like the dropped Honda Civic of a San Fernando weed dealer. Taped to them are various signs suggesting closure or construction, floating above a “B” rating from the Department of Public Health. CALL 212-455-2355 for entrance. UPS PLEASE RING BELL. She presses her face to the glass, seeing what I saw earlier – a few lithe stragglers at a sparsely populated bar, an equally empty dining room just behind that. This is an establishment on the precipice of death.
A giant man in white stripper heels, pink fishnets, and a purple wig services my awkward “we have reservations” announcement, averting my eyes from his silver, heart-shaped beauty mark, the hanging gold chains, the sweep of his false eyelashes, the joker-like curvature of his overlined lips. It’s all so… so… much. So much man. So much lady. So much wholly unfamiliar territory. If Marge Simpson mated with Mister T and a Chiquita Banana, you would get this drag queen.
“Uh huh! If you could just check in under the disco ball.”
It is under said mirrored orb that I am greeted by a father/daughter-looking maître combo, both better suited for seating gray-haired widows at an American Legion bingo night in Burden, Kansas. He, in his Tommy Bahamas shirt. She, in a sweet dress, with her white teeth and virgin hair. I imagine what her memoirs might read like when she turns sixty years old, reminiscing on her first job in New York City, working as a hostess at a drag bar to pay for her 4×11 bedroom in Astoria.
“It’s not like a bitch would DIE! It’s not like she’s a VIRGIN.”
Thin men with less arm musculature than myself squeal at the bar, in front of another drag queen, the de facto bartender, this one like Helena Bonham Carter playing a man playing a woman in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a red wig flowering above cartoonishly severe bone structure.
I wait on a black and tan leopard print sofa that brings to mind peep shows and hand jobs, some of the more grotesque pages from Diablo Cody’s “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper.” The air is fetid, stagnant, smelling slightly of a boy’s locker room and a Hometown Buffet. That being said, I like this place. This is the less-cool/more-cool New York, the kind that isn’t trying to be anything more than what it is: A Grade B, vaguely Chinese-restaurant-drag-queen show in Midtown Manhattan. Nothing less. Nothing more.
My friends arrive, standing out like polar bears on the streets of Mexico City. Well-dressed, decidedly untouristy, red lipstick on feminine mouths. We’re seated front-and-center, placed directly in front of the stage, a wooden, circular expanse of red paint and black scuff marks.
Maggie-Simpson-Chiquita-Banana-Mister-T is our waiter, though the term “waiter” should be used loosely here. The place is run by the drag queens. They do the show. They serve the food. They make the drinks. Back in the kitchen I imagine there is another, the unseen queen, wearing a wig while he pops our lackluster pineapple fried rice into the microwave, ashing a Virginia Slim cigarette in an empty can of Agua Fresca, dreaming of the day he might be given stage time.
After Eva’s boyfriend clarifies what “with a twist” means in martini terms, our server lopes off, having already announced he’s “horrible at this.” When he returns, it is to lament the loss of their entire catalogue of martini glasses in an unfortunate accident, announcing that the bartender will serve them in wine glasses (“If you don’t mind.”)
Amiable group that we are, we tell him that we don’t mind. Though when I take a sip of my room temperature, dirtier-than-I-ever-imagined martini from the bulbous depths of my comparatively massive glass, I understand why some people do mind, and realize that a martini in a wine glass would make a raging alcoholic of even the most well-intentioned soul.
The food, as one might imagine, is about as unappetizing as the beverages. I slurp down a helping of once-frozen green beans covered in a sauce that, some two hours later, will send my stomach into confused regret. (How does one get ill from vegetables?) But the food isn’t why we’re here. We’re here for the giant basketball-player-like men parading around in wigs and leotards, their junk tucked into unseen, unknown crevices.
Jim the Drag Queen, as she likes to be called, takes the stage as the evening’s emcee, hollering at us with a mouth that could deep throat a honey baked ham. “Are you ready?! I said ARE YOU READY?!”
Jim the Drag Queen then points at Eva’s boyfriend, saying “this one’s for you” before launching into a mouthy lip sync of Galt Macdermot’s never-known tranny hit, “White Boy.” I marvel at the curvature of her legs, the glossy sheen of her wig, the nonexistence of her penis.
“Where does he put it?” asks Amber, genuinely curious. The yellow bathing suit Jim the Drag Queen is wearing over her pantyhose leaves little to the imagination and a lot to the rapt fascination of our table.
Jim the Drag Queen is followed by Anita Dick (our server), Amanda Hatter (the bartender), and Mother Dolores (the shockingly feminine Asian man who makes that “lady boys” thing make a whole lot of sense). Minutes after Jim discovers – and introduces – the 14-year-old girl in the front row, wearing a mouthful of braces and sitting next to her mother, Anita Dick gets on the stage and starts singing a song consisting mostly of the phrase “you can fuck me anywhere,” accompanied by a few salad tossing references thrown in for good measure.
I do not eat my tofu stir-fry. My lime-green martini goes untouched. The foursome of square, slick-looking dessert sits on a white plate, destined for the trashcan. I haven’t had this food this bad since my NYU dorm days.
Countless profanities, some ass shaking, and a handful of Paula-Dean-is-a-racist jokes later, our show comes to a close. Amber and I stand guard while we both take turns using the restroom, as the doorknob has fallen off and, even then, doesn’t shut all the way.
Less-cool/ more-cool, New York. I’m a big fan of yours. Even though your girls look like men, your food tastes like hell, and you’re in dire need of air conditioning and a repairman.