Drag yourself down to DRAGGED UP
Yes Mama! It’s hunty season again! This month sees the return of Logo’s hit reality competition RuPaul’s Drag Race (or Kickass Torrent’s hit show, depending on what part of the world you’re in). It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years since these queens kicked off the drag renaissance under watchful eye of their supreme, Mother Ru.
Since then, drag has taken over, pushing the boundaries of style, politics and everyday vernacular – C’mon Popular Culture! – and we have he lovely ladies of the Race, many of whom have become international sensations, to thank! The most popular queens can be found playing shows all over the world, and Dublin, as it once often seemed to be, is not being left out thanks to girls of Dragged Up, a long running drag variety show, hosted by Victoria Secret and featuring Dublin’s own drag superstars Pixie Woo, Paul Ryder and Regina George, that has recently taken up residence in Break for the Border on Stephens Street.
Dragged Up had been a mainstay at The Dragon Bar, up until it’s sudden and recent closure. Over the years the Victoria, Paul and the girls were able to build the Dragon into Dublin’s top drag venue, bringing a wealth of local and exotic talent to the stage – but let’s be real about the Dragon for a second – despite the work that went into the gigs, the space was problematic at best.
Neither fish nor flesh (not a good look for a drag show) the dance floor was too small, on busy nights the smoking area was too cramped to move through and the multi tier set up made the whole bar feel like an Escher painting, the one with all the staircases. The girls were so busy running the show that they couldn’t really be out in the bar, a part of the crowd, making every little gay boy feel like a special someone.
Hiring international queens was a great move. It took advantage of the Zeitgeist and brought a bigger, more diverse crowd back to the venue, but made the problems with the layout even more glaring with the audience either stuck on the narrow upstairs gangway, where only the front row had a clear view of the on stage shenanigans, or in the lower bar where the stage was barely viewable at all – when Willam visited the club she said it made her look like a transexual Mount Rushmore. Things eventually got so desperate that, during Paul Ryder’s Ringmaster’s Drag Race, Shannon O’Hara famously had throw herself off the stage and into the audience in order to make sure everyone could see her!
When the Dragon closed very suddenly the Dragged Up girls were tasked with finding a new venue, and fast. Enter Break for the Border. Once home to mid-2000’s gay mainstay Glitz, the space hasn’t been used for gay-centric events since. I’d personally avoided setting foot in it since I made some bad choices there on my 21st birthday and swore never to return. Almost a decade later, the layout was but a black out buried deep in the memory of a drunken ex-twink.
However, when Dragged Up played host to Chicago’s own Gia Gunn last month, I had to break my vow. A fierce and funny queen who had sashayed away too soon on season six, how could I resist the chance to get to see more of the Asian sensation in person? I decided that it was time to put my personal feelings about the venue firmly in the past and head out to support Gia and to check out the new space – and boy am I glad I did, because I was floored.
Firstly, the layout is perfect. It’s spacious, with enough seating for everyone to enjoy the show their way. Those who want to be close to the action can be right up at the stage, while those who would rather hang back with their friends (or I dunno, get the clap in a dark corner – sorry, I’m having flashbacks) can do that instead without actually disrupting the audience.
The dance floor here is an actual dance floor, not just a corridor leading to the service staircase, with enough space for everyone to get down and find themselves a husband, and dancing and socialising are easily integrated as the acoustics of the space don’t wholly mask conversation. Meanwhile upstairs, the smoking area is an entire plaza at the front of the Grafton Capital Hotel, complete with seating and space for plenty of people to move comfortably. I immediately started imagining it in the summer, with all the boys in vests and denim cutoffs – it could be one of the best outdoor areas in any bar in Dublin, let alone any gay bar.
Most importantly though, the stage is perfect for the kind of show that the girls put on. Standing at waist height, the audience can get right up close, giving a feel more like that of a rock show. Above the stage hangs a washing line with the letters of DRAGGED UP attached. Sure it’s crafty, and kitschy, but it makes the whole place feel more like the hipster-drag dive bars I’ve visited in in the States. Get close enough to the front and you could easily be in The Stud in San Francisco, or Brooklyn favourite Metropolitan. At certain moments the bar felt like a theatre, and it became easy to imagine a variety of drag genres on this stage, in this venue, not just the Top 40 pop set. That is definitely something I’d like to see more of.
Emcee Victoria Secret kept the crowd entertained, calling for two audience members to lip-sync for their lives. Hands flew up, bitches threw down, a winner was crowned and the audience lost their shit. It’s this kind of interaction that would have been swallowed in the space between stage and audience in the Dragon, but here, up close and personal, the queens no longer feel like untouchable entities – you can see every bead of sweat, hear the thud of every heel clad foot hit the wood, much like the opening five seconds of Wannabe.
You could tell the audience felt like part of the show too, as queens danced off the stage and through the bar during their numbers, or pulled boys up with them to use as props. Get too close and you might even get a slap in the face from resident drag punk upstart Pixie Woo. Seriously, she slapped the boy in front of me so hard I felt it! Now that’s realness!
Paul Ryder brought live vocals and fierce dance chops to the stage while Regina George dueted with guest Sasha Fierce to deliverer a jaw dropping double lip-sync performance of Alyssa Edwards classic Drop Dead Gorgeous, that was so nuanced and on point that it gagged me – a comedy highlight of the evening! Even the fully choreographed numbers which have been staples for the girls in the last few years had a new lease of life here. There was a raw and real energy to the performances and it seems and that the girls were feeding off this close up and personal energy – a group of queens this talented need this kind of space to really showcase what they can do and this sudden change in venue may be one of the best things to happen to this show.
Of course the evening would not be complete without performances from international drag diva Gia (the Boom Boom) Gunn, delivering one of the most upbeat drag performances I’ve ever seen; feeling her oats, throwing herself wildly about the stage and ABSOLUTELY delivering on her lip-sync. She spoke to the crowd like a seasoned pro, and brought laughter, cheers and catch phrases in spades, encouraging the audience to hang around for a meet and greet where she took time to chat and pose with everyone. After the meet and greet was done, she stayed out until the end of the night, talking to everyone, giving life and making sure that there was no ivory tower between her and those who had come out to see her. I’ll say it again, she was ABSOLUTELY one of the sweetest queens I’ve ever met, and she really took time to make sure everyone had an ABSOLUTELY wonderful night. ABSOLUTELY.
It was this kind of personal energy that really made the whole night special. If anything I hope that the show can flourish here and become even more daring, more inclusive, more personal and more diverse, that the change of scene brings this set of talented performers and nightlife entertainers back INTO the community. Break for the Border has the potential to become an incredible space and the Dragged Up girls could be sitting on an amazing regular club night that could comfortably house and encourage the kind of creativity and diversity that we need to see more of in Dublin’s gay scene, It’s time that we get out there to support these hard working bitches, because they are delivering and they deserve every moment of applause and every drop of love that we can give them.
Get down to Break for the Border this Friday the 13th where things are set to GO OFF when the Haus of Edwards tour hits Dublin – Alyssa Edwards! Shangela! Laganja Estranja! How much more fishy fierceness can you fit into one bar? Tickets are sold out, but there will be an extra 150 on the door, so get down there early – this show is NOT to be missed!
Doors open at 10:00.
Words: Andy Apples
Images courtesy of Dragged Up Facebook page.