Across the country, drag is under attack by conservative politicians who have somehow decided that men in heels and makeup are more dangerous than teenagers with semi-automatic rifles.
But not here. In the Bay Area, queens get the royal treatment they deserve.
Sadly, one of the biggest icons of San Francisco drag was lost this week. Heklina, aka Stefan Grygelko, shone like a spotlight in everything she did, from Golden Girls Live to her most recent show with fellow queen Peaches Christ, Mommie Queerest. Her legendary performances will not soon be forgotten.
But even with the massive, Heklina-sized hole in the local scene, the (drag) show must go on. Almost any day of the week, you can find events taking over venues, restaurants, and libraries in SF and Oakland. And at some bars and clubs, the art form makes a weekly appearance.
From drag brunches to variety shows, karaoke and RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties, these are the 12 best spots for watching drag queens and kings werq.
San Francisco drag legend Heklina performing at Oasis.(Courtesy of @optical_instrument)
Owned by drag queen D'Arcy Drollinger, this nightclub and cabaret is the place for exciting, inventive, hilarious, and spectacular drag. Oasis has something going on pretty much every day of the year, from one-woman shows to musical reviews. Coming up this month alone, you can flit between dance parties, a fundraiser to fight Tennessee’s drag ban, the monthly all-Black drag show Reparations, and the immersive theater experience We Build Houses all without breaking a perfectly painted nail. Most Saturday nights join in the fun at the club’s infamous Princess disco dance party and drag spectacular, which keeps it fresh with a fabulous new host each time. // 298 11th St. (SoMa), sfoasis.com
Aunt Charlie’s Lounge
At the Loin’s last queer bar, old-school sleaze and killer queens bring it every weekend. Aunt Charlie’s Lounge’s dedicated troupe of performers, the Hot Boxxx Girls, have been around the block a few times and their shows are all the better for it. Hostess Gina La Divina, the $65,000 Silicone Wonder, kicks things off on Saturday and Sunday nights at 10pm. // 133 Turk St. (Tenderloin), auntcharlieslounge.com
With a name that translates to "boyfriends" in French, Beaux aims to be your partner in the Castro. The club has a selection of special and regular and drag events, including Tuesdays’ The Kiki, a queer kid extravaganza with rotating hosts and DJs that spin at the intersection of house and disco. Saturdays and Sundays, Beaux goes all in on the drag brunch not once but twice a day with a gaggle of lovely ladies, killer drink specials, and a menu by Taco Boys. Fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race? Come by on Fridays for an 8pm viewing party hosted by Melanie Sparks and Hera Wynn. Get there early or risk throwing elbows to get in. // 2344 Market St. (Castro), beauxsf.com
(Courtesy of @midnightsunsf)
In its 53rd year, the Castro’s Midnight Sun is still one of the best spots in town for a little drag action. Start your week with the city’s best Monday night drag show, M@M, and end it at one of the bar’s rotating Sunday events, which include Trast4astic (a trans and non-binary drag brunch), Polly’s Follies (a drag variety cabaret), and Killer Queen (a themed drag show). In between, they keep spirits soaring with dance parties and Wednesday night karaoke (with a queen emceeing the stage, of course). // 4067 18th St. (Castro), midnightsunsf.com
Saturdays afternoons at the Lookout, drag queens and brunch eats go together like, well, drag queens and brunch eats. The one-of-a-kind variety show hosted by Carnie Asada features a rotating cast of lovely ladies with big personalities and bigger hair. There’ll be dancing and singing—who knows, maybe someone will even break out the roller skates or juggle a ball or two, pun only partially intended—along with cinnamon rolls, breakfast tatchos, chicken and waffles, and A+ cocktails. // 3600 16th St. (Castro), lookoutsf.com
Drag brunch goes all you can eat at Mission lesbian bar Jolene’s. Nosh on eggs, bacon, avocado toast, and bagels with lox as a legion of burlesque babies and drag royalty strut their stuff. The curtain rises on the variety show and buffet every Sunday starting at noon. // 2700 16th St. (Mission), jolenessf.com
(Courtesy of @officialasiasf)
The performers at Asia SF's tightly choreographed shows identify as transgender, not as drag queens, but the same level of artistry and respect for the stage goes into each polished performance. Don't expect amateur hour or rough-around-the-edges revues—the dancers and lip-syncers here nail their songs (often Top 40 hits or club bangers), hit their marks, and sometimes boast an uncanny resemblance to the pop stars they're honoring. The performers also act as servers for the dinner portion pre-show and have signature cocktails that bear their names. // 201 9th St. (SoMa), asiasf.com
Get your drag fix every other week at El Rio. If it’s the second or fourth Wednesday of the month, they’ll be spinning the ball cage at (free) Bingo for Winners, a campy take on the classic complete with prizes. If it’s the second and fourth Thursday of the month, it’s time to belt it out at Karaokiki, a night of off-key warbling and damn-she-can-sing delight emceed by Dulce de Leche. Keep an eye on their calendar to catch special, one-time drag events which come around now and then. // 3158 Mission St. (Mission), elriosf.com
In keeping with its more leather-leaning atmosphere and anything goes attitude, Powerhouse fills your drag desires with regular shows like the upcoming Wild Cards hosted by Ma Shugganuttz, and the Easter-themed Peepshow, which combines queens with DJs, dancing, giveaways, and a raffle supporting AIDS/LifeCycle. On these nights and others, expect go-go dancers, cheap drinks, bondage demonstrations, and fetish-themed parties. The first Saturday of the month, Powerhouse transforms into Powerblouse, when one lucky guy gets a full fantasy drag makeover courtesy of Juanita More! and Mary Vice Present. // 1347 Folsom St. (SoMa), powerhousebar.com
(Courtesy of @theportbar)
White Horse Bar
The oldest continuously operating gay bar in the country, this Oakland mainstay has played a huge role in the proud rise of East Bay’s LGBTQ+ community since opening in 1933. While the White Horse focuses most of their entertainment on queer dance parties, drag aficionados can feed their habit with Tuesday night karaoke hosted by Sea Wead, Friday RPDR watch parties, and occasional performances by gal groups like the Dollz. // 6551 Telegraph Ave. (Oakland), facebook.com/whitehorsebar
The Port Bar
Oh the joy you’ll find at Uptown Oakland’s The Port Bar, a gathering place for the East Bay LGBTQ+ community. As a nod to its nautical name, the Port's wall and bathroom are made from former Port of Oakland shipping containers, while its permanent art collection reflects six LGBTQ+ social-justice leaders as depicted by Bay Area artists.There’s never a shortage of entertainment here including RDPR viewing parties, Catacomb Tuesday alt-drag celebrations, and Sunday drag brunches. Every Wednesday is “A Drag,” where local queens and RPDR stars perform their asses off. // 2023 Broadway (Oakland), portbaroakland.com
Though it comes around only once a year, Oaklash is a can’t miss event with non-stop drag all weekend long. The festival draws queens, kings, and queers from all over the Bay Area for live performances, dancing, art, and more. The block party takes over Old Oakland from May 19-21, but the festivities will be gearing up even before things officially kick off with Backlash at Thee Stork Club on Friday night. Starting May 1st, Oaklash will sponsor a number of panels and workshops celebrating queer and drag culture. // 9th St. & Broadway (Oakland), oaklash.com