“Brunch, really, is the gayest meal,” my friend is telling me. It’s the first frost of the winter, mysteriously on the first weekend of March. Little has been written so far about the drag brunches hosted at various neighborhood bars in northern Brooklyn and southern Queens, but nonetheless they seem to symbolize something about the neighborhood’s changing image.
Take, for example, Ridgewood’s The Deep End, located in a former warehouse which now sport an aquatically suggestive mural and a collection of thin metal tables. As recently as last year, a local newspaper somewhat erroneously reported that “Queens’ only drag brunch” to take place far away in Astoria .
“The ladies should be here any minute,” a waiter there assured me, long after an order of caramelized french toast and something called “The Jersey Shore,” which is sort of breakfast roll that comes with luscious helpings of lunch meat. (The Deep End is the creative brainchild from the operators of a modestly successful Williamsburg food truck called the “Munchie Mobile.”)
Mary Con arrived first, a brash figure who quickly bemoaned her tardy partner (“that slut is probably still in bed!”) underneath a baseball cap and workout tank top. Soon enough, she was amiably strutting to the clashing pad drums of “Amazing” by Hi Fashion, a Euro-banger that appeared in a trailer for RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2013.
“The crowd certainly is more, uh, basic, you could say that,” my friend told me the next day at the livelier Bizarre, over in Bushwick: a steampunk-themed bar named after a bar of the same name that once existed in lower Manhattan, and which Andy Warhol once frequented. Across from me, in Bushwick’s Bizarre, a middle-aged woman wears a sash announcing her birthday and, in the table next, three energetic former film students were discussing the coming launch of something they called the “LGBT clickhole.” On the menu were no fewer than four varieties of eggs benedict. The vegan one comes out more like a gentle slice of toast and tofu.
Having operated a drag brunch program almost since the bar first opened, Bizarre presents the most organized take on the concept that one can find in Brooklyn. (Drag historian Joe Jeffreys tells Food & Wine that the these performances have long been more a part of tourist-friendly Manhattanite club culture.
There is, in fact, an actual burlesque stage at the restaurant’s center, though the show itself is not entirely unlike the one at the Deep End’s: two contrasting queens, with contrasting takes on the feminine. One wears a gown; the other twerks.
Led that afternoon by Victoria Holiday and Vena Cava, the program was thematically organized around latinx culture, lending itself to a Jerry Rivera salsa record followed by the lush performance of a “Te Boté” remix.
Holiday energetically bounces from the stage, and stalks the tables with the energy of Jennifer Lopez and the strut of Cardi B. Though there are far more people here, far fewer dollar bills hit the ground. The MC, in fact, struggles at times to remind the audience that this is something they are supposed to do.
In front of me, a man with a ponytail tells Holiday, awkwardly, that he has only fives; mercifully, he discovers that she takes these too.
Dromedary sits somewhere in between the Deep End and Bizarre and it’s a tiki bar with an enormous mural of David Bowie on its side. As luck would have it, it too hosts a drag brunch. In lieu of a stage, a section of the bar is sectioned off and it feels like show held in your living room. The air is more casual, but equally crowded—earlier in the morning, the bar hosted a fundraiser for a local cancer-stricken French bulldog and, at the bar, a sales rep for a kombucha company is urgently telling a bartender about a new, strawberry flavor.
The most charismatic star that morning is Lady Bearica Andrews, who wears grey PJs, a Sia wig and, when given the chance, soars out of the door to the tune of “Teenage Dirtbag,” leaping and punching the sky because she doesn’t know who I am.
Cover image taken by Andrew Karpan