‘Ria Riot’ tribute on Friday pays tribute to Atlanta’s ‘gay mayor’

A memorial and fundraiser for Ria Pell is set for Friday, Dec. 13, at the Variety Playhouse and is promising a night of live music, DJs, performance art and, of course, food.

Remembering Ria — A Tribute to Ria Pell is promising to be a “Ria Riot” on Friday and will include live performances by The Rent Boys, Tweezer, The Caminos and Slim Chance & the Convicts. DJs on hand include gay favorites DJ Vicki Powell, DJ Bendito and DJ Ree DE La Vega. Performance art will take place in the streets and food will be provided by El Myr and others of Pell’s favorite places. Tickets are $20 with and everything gets kicked off at 7 p.m.

The news of Ria Pell’s death spread like wildfire via Facebook on the evening of Nov. 24. The chef and owner of Ria’s Bluebird in Grant Park had died that afternoon of an undiscovered enlarged heart while cooking at home, according to friends and family.

A loving tribute and family obituary in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution described Pell, 45, as the city’s “gay mayor.” The AJC obituary also stated, “though neither technically L, G, B or T, Ria’s queer butch love created space all around the country for people to be their true selves.”

Her family includes her wife, Kiki Carr, and her partner, Karen Portaleo.

Ben Cheeves, a co-owner of gay bar Mary’s in East Atlanta, came to know Pell around 2005.

“We both kind of came up in the punk scene,” he said. “We were going to shows in Little Five Points and East Atlanta. We were like punk rock kids and became queer later. We bonded through music and queer politics.”

Pell started working in the restaurant business and worked for such renowned chefs as Anne Quatrano at the Floataway Cafe, a highlight of her career she told GA Voice last year.

In 2000, she opened Ria’s Bluebird in an abandoned liquor store on Memorial Drive across the street from Oakland Cemetery. Her success then led to numerous other businesses opening in that part of Grant Park, revitalizing a once decrepit strip of the city.

In 2009, Pell tried her hand with a new restaurant, Sauced, on Edgewood Avenue. She sold the business in 2012 after winning $10,000 on the Food Network’s popular reality cooking show “Chopped,” saying at the time she planned to dedicate more time to Ria’s Bluebird.

Pell was voted Best Chef in 2011 and 2013 by the readers of GA Voice and Ria’s Bluebird won Best Breakfast in 2011.

She was also a founder of Mondo Homo in 2006 along with Carr, Cheeves and several others. Mondo Homo was an alternative queer art and music festival that celebrated the otherness of Atlanta and the South’s LGBTQ scenes and politics.

It staged itself away from the “assimilationist” attitude of the marriage equality movement, for example, and instead focused its energy on issues such as immigration rights and social justice for the poor while also throwing concerts with queer hip hop artists, flamboyant rockers and sexually titillating performance art. The fest was discontinued last year.

Pell performed as DJ Hawg Tied for several years at the popular “Log Jam” parties at Mary’s that was especially created to cater to trans people and be a “cruisy” night for all gender identities, Cheeves said.

On Nov. 30, more than 1,000 people attended Pell’s funeral at Westview Cemetery. A procession of classic cars, hot rods, motorcycles, trucks and contemporary cars that began at Ria’s Bluebird on Cherokee Avenue and trailed nearly all the way to the Atlanta Zoo fell in line with other vehicles on Memorial Drive to drive to the cemetery on the crisp, clear morning.

A party was held later that day at Ria’s Bluebird that included a fireworks show.

A Facebook page dedicated to Pell, named Remembering Ria, was created shortly after her death and more than 5,000 people have “liked” it already. The page has become a place where people are sharing memories, stories, photos and videos of their friend.

People can make donations to the Pell family to help pay for expenses at www.riasmemorialfund.mydagsite.com.