The Drag Show at Bob & Barbara’s

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

The next-to-last day of the work-week would like very much to persuade you that it marks the beginning of the weekend. Doggedly, Thursday beckons with its siren call of DJ Nights, concerts, karaoke events, drink specials and other spectacles such that few can resist the temptation to let loose, Friday morning be damned. However, as the cult of Thursday grows and grows, the available options multiply as well. How, then, to navigate this party plethora?

Ever the intrepid busybody and accomplished drinking buddy, I’ve made it my mission to investigate Philly’s Thursday Night lineup, and report back to you the what where when and how much of the evening’s offerings. I do this in humble service to the community, and not because I like to go out and get hosed on weeknights.

First stop: The Drag Show at Bob & Barbara’s 1/8/09

Having prepared and eaten a nice homemade dinner and washed it down with a few glasses of red wine, my friend Tigmo and I make our way west on South Street toward fifteenth. It’s around ten. B&B, the little dive bar that could, recently got a bit of work done and I haven’t been since the re-opening. I pay the six-dollar cover (that includes a free drink ticket), step inside and find that not a whole lot has changed. They’ve redone the bathrooms, and created a new private space for the performers to prepare themselves, but the walls are still lined with old Pabst Blue Ribbon ads and the place looks as I’ve always known it to. It’s quiet in the bar now, but I know from experience that it’ll be packed once show time hits around eleven. Near the stage, I almost don’t recognize the newly-svelte Brittany Lynn, who proudly relates to me that she’s dropped a few pounds. I ask her what she thinks of the renovations.

“I can’t wait to take a poop in the new bathroom,” she remarks, and seeing my notepad in hand, adds, “You can quote me on that.”

Tigmo and I stow our coats beneath the jukebox and down our first set of Citywide Specials (at B&B the Citywide consists of a can of PBR and a shot of Jim Beam for three bucks, or one drink ticket). With the booze flowing plentifully and cheaply, it’s not rare for folks to suddenly turn into slurry young Rockefellers, generously plying friends and enemies alike with bourbon whiskey and blue-ribbon swill, so for your dubious reputations’ sake, pace yourselves. For my part, I give the my dinner wine some new friends and am now a well-oiled machine, ready to accost some strangers for their two cents on the popular drag night.

First I strike up a conversation with a young woman named Sarah, who’s taken her first night off in months to come out here, because she loves the atmosphere. She’s here with Yaya, who’s in drag but isn’t performing. Yaya points to a curvy DQ in a glittering black number. “That’s my brother,” she tells me, “She’s going on tonight.” Yaya goes on to share a siblinghood tale so tender I’m practically sobbing my damned eyes out once she’s finished. I gently dab at the corners of my eyes with the rim of my Pabst and move on to chat with Donna , a local college student who’s here with her boyfriend and other friends. I’m unintentionally flippant with Miss Donna, but being a person fairly experienced in matters of stepping foot into my own mouth, I rather dexterously remove said appendage with minimum social trauma, and go on to score digits from one of her companions. That right there’s a base hit with two strikes, one out, and a man on second; a salvaged opportunity with possibilities for the future.

And then, there she is! Adorably royal nightlife sprite Cyoni Dharling, stone-cold kicking it on the west side of Broad with the proletariat, and bringing with her a pair of smartly-dressed gentlemen I’m sorry to report I am unacquainted with. In any case, the folks I talk to here are good-natured and approachable, down to veteran bartender Beth, who tells me she likes the energy of the Thursday crowd. I then manage to track down a couple of straight guys, who politely decline to be photographed for this column but confess to regularly attending the drag show. What’s the appeal, I ask? One shrugs, and the other offers up a pat “Everything.” Heterosexual men. So refreshingly simple.

I’ve always marveled at Bob & Barbara’s enduring ability to draw in scads of diverse revelers, from skinny tattooed art stars and Ivy Leaguers of various orientations to ferociously outfitted drag queens and transsexuals, with a few middle-aged people thrown in for good measure. Tonight is no exception. By eleven o’clock, the place is packed, and the people keep pouring in.

Some fifteen minutes later, the hostess of the party, Lisa Lisa, takes the stage in a little something tight and silver to warm up the crowd. Her patter remains relatively unchanged from the last time I saw her, but the woman doesn’t fail to charm.

“How many people here are first timers?” she ventures to a few spirited whoops. “How many straight people are here? What about the gay people? How many bisexual people?” Claps and cheers emerge from various corners of the room. “And how many people,” Lisa Lisa paces across the floor and scans her audience. “How many people in here will have sex with anybody?”

The show continues from there in its usual fashion: Lisa Lisa performs a song, then brings a few unwitting guys and girls up on stage to give an impromptu dance, then she introduces the next performer, and after that invites some more folks on stage, and so on. The songs range from pop songs to hip hop to medleys to parodies, and are lip-synced, with the exception of Brittany Lynn, who does her own singing. The formidable Sasha, whose brother I spoke to before the show, wows the audience with a split to finish out her number, more than earning the outstretched dollars that come her way. Desiree, all legs, brings down the house as well, in an insane outfit that she made herself. To quote a club hit from the early oughts, (the name of which escapes me), “Don’t just stand there and just holler/ Give that queen a fucking dollar.” Tip your entertainers.

A little after midnight, an intermission is announced and dance music blasts through the speakers. The audience swarms the dance floor and keeps the party going through a handful of crowd-pleasing anthems. Soon after that the show starts up again, but I’m all tuckered out for the night. So, I wipe the sweat from my brow and hop into the restroom to blow some quick rails. I kid. But I do go to the renovated bathroom, and it is much improved, all white and pristine and expansive. It’s almost a shame to go back into the throng, where I have to push my way from the far end of the bar to the exit. But really, if the worst thing I have to say about the party is that it’s too popular, that’s not so bad. Regardless, this is your warnin g: don’t come if you’re averse to crowded close quarters.

Otherwise, Thursdays at B&B’s consistently provide a high-energy night of cheap drinks, diverse company, and one of the best drag shows in the city. And you should definitely go if it’s your birthday, because then Lisa Lisa brings you up on stage and gets everyone in the bar to shout “Fuck you [your name here]! Happy Birthday!” And then you get a free drink, which is about the coolest Fuck You a person can get.

Me, I didn’t get cursed out one way or another. But then, there’s always next Thursday, and the Thursday after that as well; enough Thursdays to take us from karaoke and buffets to pint-sized cocktails in swank lounges and back again. By the end of the winter we’ll be bosom pals, so keep your fridge stocked for when that eventuality rolls around.

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