Eat, drink, and be Mary at a sports bar

Naomi St. James.

By Timothy Rawles, March 2020 Issue.
Photos by Silas Gutierrez

What is it about drag brunch that makes people so happy?

It might be that it’s the weekend, or maybe it’s the guilt-free indulgence of day drinking, or maybe seeing performers dressed as exaggerated women lip-syncing to pop hits and randy hip-hop lyrics. Or could it be the food?

Whatever it is, on the third Saturday of every month along Seventh Street in Phoenix, a crowd can be seen forming at the entrance to Bevvy Uptown, a swanky gastropub with a giant central bar, numerous flatscreen televisions; some playing meme-inspired video clips and others the latest sports broadcasts.

It’s not a gay bar, so it doesn’t seem like the typical place to have a drag brunch, or even a drag queen let alone three, but the affair sells out almost every time.

Mya McKenzie.

Bevvy Uptown sits on the fringe of the Phoenix LGBTQ landscape, “Bevvy doesn’t necessarily identify itself as a straight or a gay bar,” says General Manager Liza Loewenhagen, who also works behind the bar during drag brunch, her concentration focused on making drinks while servers bombard her with constant orders. 

“We are an altogether friendly, upscale neighborhood sports bar with many offerings — lunch, brunch, happy hour, dinner, late night,” she says.

Drag brunch has become more and more popular over the past few years. Thanks to RuPaul and celebrity drag queens the straight public has sort of embraced brunch as a humorous threshold to the artform.

In some ways the straight crowd may appreciate the raw talent and craftsmanship that goes into each performance more than fellow queens who may look at it more critically.

As for Bevvy Uptown, where female servers and hostesses dress in black belly shirts and short shorts, the brand seems more focused on appealing to the straight male crowd, but Loewenhagen says the regulars are loving it and it has grown in success every month.

“We have not experienced any backlash — and in fact, have had so many positive reviews that we changed our initial plan of a quarterly drag show to a monthly one,” she explains.

Brunch noms.

Another demographic outside the LGBTQ community are straight women who appear to love drag brunches or just drag shows in general. Bachelorette parties or birthday celebrations are popular events that also add to the success of drag entertainment.

Drag brunches are the perfect places to induct them into the theatrics of it all, plus it happens during broad daylight and bigger tables can be reserved for parties larger than four. In these times of Insta-ready social media scrapbooking, drag is the perfect photo op.

You will probably see Mya McKenzie hashtagged in a lot of those photos. She’s the drag queen who headlines the program and has been since its debut just over a year ago. Her opening act begins with an energetic pep talk before going right into her routine which varies from show to show.

Her costumes are gorgeous and as she works the room gathering dollar bills from the hands of patrons, she gets a feel for the crowd. During the show I saw, she elicited gasps from brunchers as she showed off her feminine curves.

Bevvy burger; photo by Jeff Rawles.

McKenzie is perfectly happy playing to her straight fans at Bevvy. She knows that the venue is different, and that’s fine by her.

“Even though it’s not a gay bar the staff and patrons there are absolutely amazing. So very friendly and accommodating,” she says.

But there is also another aspect that Bevvy patrons may not be aware of — some of McKenzie’s co-stars are trans. Recently there has been some criticism about trans women doing drag, especially when it comes to RuPaul’s Drag Race. But at Bevvy they are welcomed with open arms.

“They do identify as female,” says McKenzie. “I love my trans brothers and sisters. We have a new cast every month and that includes my trans brothers as well.”

On the day I went, Nikki Knowles and Naomi St. James, both trans women, stunned the crowd with their revealing costumes. There was no clear demographic of straight or gay patrons at a glance, but that didn’t matter; everyone was having a great time.

The other part of drag brunch is the food, and Bevvy has made a menu of pretty tasty items. From breakfast dishes that range from chilaquiles to churro waffles to avocado toast, the list is pretty extensive. I had the Brunch Burger and a Diet Coke. But the cocktail menu is filled with specialty drinks, or if you prefer the traditional route a mimosa will set you back $8 a flute.

Bevvy Uptown isn’t a very big place and the “stage” is placed up toward the entrance which makes it hard for people sitting in the back booths or T-tops to see. It doesn’t appear to have been built as a showplace, but the entertainers stroll around the room and interact with the guests during the extensive show.

Since this isn’t a designated gay bar or nightclub, the patrons come from all walks of life. I noticed representation from the gay community and its allies. There was no disrespect except from the queens who let adults-only zingers fly much to the delight of the attendees who seemed to want more.

With all of its success, Bevvy is sticking to its schedule, but have added another drag entertainment tradition.

“As of now, we do not intend on adding more shows a month,” says Loewenhagen, who personally looks forward to it. “However, following the success of our Drag Brunch we have added Drag Bingo to our list of monthly events.”

As for McKenzie, who will also host bingo, these events are more about fun than where they’re held.

“The staff and management of the bevvy are so welcoming to all the performers and patrons,” she says. ”When you are comfortable and safe at an establishment, you can easily put on a great show.”

Bevvy Drag Brunch happens every third Saturday of the month at Bevvy Uptown, 5600 North Seventh St. #100, in Phoenix. bevvyuptown.com.

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