Memoirs of the Atlanta Drag Scene

When Georgia Voice reached out to me to write about the Atlanta drag scene, my first thought was “OMG, that’s a lot, and how much space can I get?” We live in a city that has an extraordinary amount of talent and all kinds of performance styles. When friends from out of town ask me where to see drag, I ask, “What kind of drag are you wanting to see?” If my friends ask for clarification about “kinds” of drag, I suggest, as examples, Midtown, East Atlanta Village (EAV), “Drag Race,” campy drag, drag kings, the circuit scene, and dine-in experiences like LIPS, among many others. I give them a general picture to gauge what they want to experience. One style or scene does not necessarily exclude others. In fact, you will find that many of the entertainers within particular scenes often intertwine with the more general city scene.

Most of the action and shows happen within the Midtown area. For decades, Midtown has been the “gay center” of Atlanta (complete with a rainbow crosswalk). Bars like Blake’s on the Park, Midtown Moon, MSR (My Sister’s Room), Friends on Ponce, X Midtown, Oscar’s, Felix’s, Marquette Lounge, Heretic, BJ Roosters, Sequel, and Mixx have provided a space for entertainers to perform. When I think of the Midtown queens, I think of camp, pageant, edgy, trending drag. Blake’s is where most folks go to see shows like “Celestial Fridays,” hosted by Celeste Holmes; “House of Brooks,” hosted by Nicole Paige Brooks; or “Supersize Sunday Show,” hosted by Edie Cheezburger; which include a plethora of diverse entertainers, including Atlanta icons Raquell Lord and Shawnna Brooks. Across the street is X Midtown, which before COVID-19 held a few shows, such as Industry Night, usually hosted by Mona Lott, Raquel Heart, and Tristan Panucci.

If you head north to the Ansley Mall area, you will find yourself surrounded by bars. At Midtown Moon you will always find a drag entertainer at almost any time of the day. When I first moved to Atlanta, I was in “The Square” many times, where I was really introduced to the Atlanta drag scene. Other shows I have seen here include Phoenix’s “Dancefloor Divas,” Brigitte Bidet’s “Tossed Salad,” “The Other Show,” “Divas of the Moonlight,” “Madames of the Moonlight,” and “The Ruby Redd Show.” Across from Midtown Moon, you’ll find Oscar’s, which has hosted many drag events and shows, like “Cherry Jubilee”; and Felix’s, with Lady Gray’s “Jueves Calientes” and Mo’Dest Volgare’s “Wild Out Wednesday.”

I want to focus on Edie Cheezburger’s “The Other Show,” which I consider to be my drag family. “The Other Show” started after Edie won a local competition, Phoenix’s “Dragnificent/Dragnique,”over five years ago. It features a group of newer performers focused on types of drag, art, and performance that were different from the mainstream. Hosted by Edie Cheezburger and Jaye Lish, “The Other Show” has had internationally recognized cast mates, such as Violet Chachki (Season 7 Winner on “RuPaul’s Drag Race”), Abhora (Winner of Drag Queen of the Year), Biqtch Puddin’ (Season 2 “The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula” Winner), and the chameleonic Evah Destruction. You can find TOS online on Friday nights at 9pm until the pandemic is over.

“Wild Out Wednesday”, hosted by Mo’Dest Volgare and Nicole Paige Brooks — which had a few locations before the pandemic — is now online and truly something you do not want to miss. They are hysterical and always pushing boundaries, getting wild with entertainers from the city and all over the country.

Not too far from this Midtown scene is the circuit/nightclub. This type of drag had a huge impact on me when I was coming out in the early 2000s. To best describe it, imagine yourself at a club listening to some amazing trance remix of your favorite song , when suddenly lights go out, fog is pumped into the air, another song you love starts, the lights are turned on, and there before you is a queen in a gag-worthy outfit, giving you a dance choreographed to the beat, accompanied by lasers and strobe lights.

When it finishes, the queen disappears — either with another blackout or slowly fading along with the song. If you remember Jungle, you might have an idea of what it is like when Phoenix or Kyra Mora perform. You can experience shows like this at events at the Heretic, as well as events from Keith Young, responsible for GA Boy Productions, Xion, Peach Party, and soon to open in Downtown: Future. The latter will be hosting world acclaimed DJs, a weekly drag cabaret, and “Fantasy Girls” hosted by Phoenix.

Another drag scene I am a huge fan of is the one coming out of the EAV, sometimes referred to as the Village Queens, known for including many varieties of performances and entertainers. Ground zero in this scene is Mary’s, an amazing establishment which asserts of itself, “named Best Gay Bar in USA by LOGO!” and “one of the Top 50 Gay Bars in the World by OUT magazine.” Mary’s is a neighborhood bar that has been home to many talented performers. They are edgy, punk, alternative, and retro, with passion and statements in their performances. Their energy is insane. Shows like Gurl Frandz and Glitz have also showcased both well-known queens and artists just starting out.

Other drag scenes I am greatly intrigued by and that have been immensely influential in the gay world in general are ballroom, Stars of the Century, and pageant. Once again, Atlanta is a huge hub for these particular styles of drag. Although they are their own separate subcultures, their entertainers intermingle with each other.

Stars of the Century (STOC) — one of the longest-running shows in Atlanta — is usually on Mondays, but has had multiple homes during the week. The last venue that hosted this epic show was Heretic. I had a conversation with Taejah Thomas, a well-known drag entertainer in the city, to try to capture the essence of these scenes: Stars of the Century is all about glamour, impersonations, illusion, pageant girls, and glam entertainers. Taejah said it is also cutthroat, perhaps because everyone is looking to see that performers are giving audiences life from head to toe. When I asked Taejah why there is so much love and admiration for this show, she said many have been fans of these entertainers for decades, having grown with them as they won or lost pageants and created names for themselves. In short, they’re family.

The ballroom scene is an entity in itself, which dates back in the ’80s. This is a space where people “walk” the runway in various categories, including mix performance, dance, lip syncing, and modeling. The “House Ballroom” community is not all about drag; drag is present, but it doesn’t define this scene. Nevertheless, many queens/kings and pageant entertainers have emerged from it. An amazing part of the ballroom scene are the ballroom houses, which gain notoriety based on how their members walk the runway and the trophies they win. Some houses are well known, like Balenciaga, Mizrahi, Gucci, LaBeija, and Xtravaganza. There are four levels one can achieve in ballroom: Star, Statement, Legend, and Icon (which is the highest). Atlanta has some of the most legendary and iconic entertainers in the ballroom scene: Raquell Lord, Mariah Paris Balenciaga, and Necole Luv Dupree, among many others. Folks who go to either SOTC or ballrooms can be seen at venues like Mixx, Lips, Blake’s on the Park, Marquette Lounge, Bulldogs, and Heretic.

The pageantry system is like the Oscars of drag. Before “RuPaul’s Drag Race” became what it is today, pageant girls were the drag celebrities, traveling the country and displaying their talents. Entertainers are judged overall by what they present to their peers and panels of judges. A pageant girl is poised, with gorgeous gowns, amazing makeup, impeccable hair, and talent that gives you every ounce of life.

Atlanta has quite a few well-known pageants: Georgia Continental, Georgia US of A, Georgia Entertainer of the Year, Black Universe, Wessland, Sweetheart, Black America, and Renaissance. They all have different requirements, but winning one these titles is like winning an Oscar. Because Atlanta has a huge pageant presence, you can see these entertainers all over town. Some of the pageant queens in town I consider royalty are Raquell Lord, Tamisha Iman, Necole Luv Dupree, Shavonna Brooks, Shawnna Brooks, Celeste Holmes, and Trinity K. Bonet (although the list can go on for days). There are also a few local pageants like Atlanta Pride Pageant (organized by Billy Ledford), the Joining Hearts Pageant, and Miss Edgewood.

Another scene I love is the camp scene. Camp is an aesthetic that appeals because of its bad taste or ironic value. It is fun, creative, crazy, and exaggerated. There are two groups of drag in Atlanta that are the definition of camp for me: The Armorettes and the Possums (formerly the East Point Possums). I spoke with John Jeffrey, a community leader who has been involved with the Armorettes, the Possums and The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. He said, “The Possums are a little different in that they are more what some would call ‘booger drag.’ We are not trying to look like women, we are merely amplifying a look, a style, or an image of something that we try to put a form to or portray at that particular time. As it relates to community, the Possums are a once a year thing that raise funds for the community. Our motto is doing good work through bad drag.”

The Armorettes are closer to camp and comedy queens who perform for HIV and AIDS charity fundraising; they have raised more than $2.2 million dollars! I also mention the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, even though they are technically not drag. Rather, they are “an order of 21st century nuns dedicated to the manifestation of cosmic joy through freedom of expression, charitable acts, community outreach, and social activism,” according to their website. John said, “The goal of the Sisters is to be community-based with a common white face and similar traits for a coronet that each house wears and that is unique. The Sisters are a community-based group started in San Francisco more than 40 years ago. The main connection between them and the Possums is that they raise money for community groups.”

I also want to highlight WUSSY Magazine, as well as Taylor Alxndr and the House of Alxndr, for their role in shaping the city. WUSSY is a Southern + Queer magazine based in Atlanta that encourages the discussion of politics, art, and expression from the perspective of Southern queers. Founded in May 2015, WUSSY has attracted a dedicated following of readers looking for a curated, singular, queer-centric point of view. WUSSY has been nothing but an amazing force in this city, creating events and showcasing impeccable artists. WUSSY has hosted events all over Atlanta, covering a wide range of entertainment, as well as online content highlighting the happenings in the scene, current queer issues, and minority advocacy. Recently, they launched a podcast called “Good Judy,” “for queer culture, art, and politics hosted by two Atlanta queens, Ellasaurus Rex and Brigitte Bidet, that comes out every Tuesday.”

Taylor Alxndr and their drag house are influential power brokers. Alxndr started performing in drag in 2012. Alxndr said, “Drag, for me, is a performance of exaggerated gender, that anyone can participate in. When I started, drag was an outlet for all my talents — music, hosting, graphic design, community organizing, and much more. Since starting drag, I have created three staple Atlanta shows: AMEN, a monthly show at Sister Louisa’s Church on Edgewood Ave; SWEET TEA, a queer variety show; and Chug, a monthly drag show at Georgia Beer Garden on Edgewood Ave. I’m also known for my work through Southern Fried Queer Pride, a queer arts organization and festival I cofounded in 2014. I am the current reigning best drag queen and best LGBTQ performer in Atlanta by Creative Loafing. My drag is everywhere — from DIY warehouse parties to your local bar to music arenas and stadiums.”

In case you are wondering, at the moment who the House of Alxndr consists of: Molly Rimswell, SZN Alxndr, Aries Alxndr, Avana Alxndr, Ruby Fiasco and Canzara SZN.

The drag king scene is also big in Atlanta. I recently chatted with one of my favorite kings, Perka $exxx, who said that “the king scene is very diverse and is expanding over time, and I am happy to see it grow.” You can see kings all over town, at Mary’s, Sequel, My Sister’s Room, and Midtown Moon. Some of the best-known kings in Atlanta are LJ Van Pelt, Mr. Elle Aye, Aries Alxndr, Channing Taint, Devin Liquor and Davey Swinton.

There are also shows in Atlanta known for helping drag performers get their start.  Friends on Ponce has a show called “New Faces,” created by the late Regina Simms, where people who are starting out showcase their drag. For many established queens, New Faces was their first show. Amber Divine also has a show called “Divine Faces,” which was in Douglasville for a bit but has recently changed locations. It showcases drag that you do not normally see in the city.

Everyone should also be aware of Ruby Redd, who has various shows in town, including “BirdCage Bingo” and Ruby Redd’s “Redd Light District.”

The Atlanta drag scene is magical and has so much to offer. I encourage you to see these entertainers, tip them, and appreciate all the hard work they do to entertain us.

Although I probably missed many aspects of the Atlanta drag scene that I am unaware of or forgot, I hope I was able to shine a light on aspects of the drag scene you did not know about. If I missed something, let me know by sending a message on social media at @JustTobyme.