A Guide To Seeing Remarkable Drag And Other Talent In NYC

Also: Helen Mirren’s played more queens than RuPaul!

In New York City, there is now an Ambassador of Nightlife who might actually help clubbing thrive rather than just keep it behind bars (let’s hope), and what’s more, the old cabaret laws that crippled the scene are now okay to be ignored. Could it be that NYC is fun again? I think definitely maybe, so please check the Facebook listings of promoters like Ladyfag, Susanne Bartsch, Brandon Voss (he does a lot of Drag Race–related bashes), and Chris Ryan. You’ll be busy hopping and bopping till you’re dropping.

As for where to see live entertainment in Manhattan, here’s a healthy sampling:

The Green Room 42 at Yotel (570 Tenth Avenue)

Since last year, there’s been a funkier addition to the cabaret scene, one that brings Broadway style talent to the fore, along with some jazzy add-ons. While Feinstein’s/54 Below offers Tony award winning types for slick presentations and Café Carlyle presents soigne musical acts for even more money, the 140 seat Green Room 42 at Yotel does so with no drink or food minimum—a phenomenon that’s as rare as a vampire musical that works.

What’s more, you can order by text or get service by turning a table light on and off, which are very trendy ways to get a drink. Upon arriving at the large and comfortable room, you notice that the entryway is flanked by murals with Broadway-style sayings and references on them—everything from a dancer’s cue (“”) to a lyric from The Phantom of the Opera (“Dear Andre, what a splendid party.”) The room has played host to people like drag star Varla Jean Merman and Tony winners Lillias White (The Life) and Frances Ruffelle (Les Misérables), about whom I wrote, “In great voice, she was part chanteuse, waif, siren, vaudevillian, rocker, and wench as she performed an exotic swirl of songs.” Working the entire venue—to a crowd that included Alan Cumming, Craig Bierko, and Donna McKechnie—Ruffelle made the Green Room 42 seem as stellar as she is.

Laurie Beechman Theatre (407 W. 42nd Street)

Laurie Beechman features wacky drag shows like Distorted Diznee, plus drop-ins by Drag Race favorites from Jinkx Monsoon to Courtney Act. It’s a must for anyone serious about tucking for fun. In fact, a quick glance at their calendar sees that BenDeLaCreme and Miz Cracker are coming up this month. Get there and make some noise!

Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic
Jinkx Monsoon performing at the Laurie Beechman Theatre.

Pieces (8 Christopher Street)

The long-running Village hangout is like a gay Cheers, where everybody knows your name and every drag queen strives to entertain. The place ain’t fancy—it’s kind of a dive—but it has an edgy energy that makes it worth leaving the house for. Weekly events hosted by Marti Cummings, Momo Shade, and Yuhua Hamasaki will thrill you to Pieces.

Industry Bar (355 W. 52nd Street)

This glossy Hell’s Kitchen nightspot has become the reigning home for the city’s most established drag entertainment, with regular events featuring the likes of Tina Burner, Phi Phil O’Hara, Monet X Change, and others. Snuggle up to the bar, then sit your ass down, and prepare to be tickled by jokes, singing, lip synch, and some delightful raunch.

Café Carlyle (35 E. 76th Street)

It’s way more pricey, with talent ranging from Chita Rivera to Debbie Harry, Cheyenne Jackson, and John Lloyd Young. It’s a cultured experience, complete with a full meal, and it’ll cost you, but it’s worth it. They generally offer classic acts, along with some quirky people you might not expect to see there, which is part of the fun. I like to go uptown at least once a month, to see how the other half lives, so why don’t you join me in nosebleed territory, lol?

J. Countess/Getty
Chita Rivera at Café Carlyle.

The McKittrick Hotel (530 W. 27th Street)

At this swanky event space, party queen Susanne Bartsch brings you the crème de la fabulous of bohemian entertainment in the form of the Bartschland Follies. (Her show is returning for four Fridays at midnight, from May 18 to June 8.) The diverse and exciting performers/hosts have included Dee Dee Luxe, opera singing Shequida, trilling Joey Arias, trans diva Amanda Lepore, comedy’s own Sherry Vine, current Drag Race contestant Aquaria, performance troupe Fou York, disrobing Dirty Martini, and more. Get your tickets in advance, if you know what’s good for you.

Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street)

As I noted, this is a Broadway-style cabaret room, with talent ranging from Patti LuPone to Christine Ebersole to Michelle Lee, plus tributes to various shows and composers in need of commemoration (not to mention comic tragedienne Charles Busch, though he’s usually out of drag and in cabaret mode). I’ve always had a great time here, the food is terrific, and the sight lines are great. It’s a fab destination for any Broadway lover who wants to branch out to cabaret (and Cabaret).

Birdland (315 W. 44th Street)

This well attended, atmospheric jazz club also happens to feature Jim Caruso’s award winning Broadway nights. Everyone from Lorna Luft to Orfeh (Pretty Woman) have dropped in here to belt it out. Lorna shook the joint with her vocals, and Orfeh inevitably does the same. Birdland is definitely not for the birds.

Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette Street)

The Public Theater’s ultra cool cabaret room spans rock, folk, drag, trans, comedy, and everything else that constitutes bubbling-under performance worthy of the discriminating eye. Among the place’s best loved stars through the years have been Murray Hill, Bridget Everett, Our Lady J, Cole Escola, Justin Vivian Bond, the satirical trio Unitard, and mad rocker Kenyon Phillips. It’s like Logo TV comes to the masses.

Bennett Raglin/WireImage
Cole Escola performing at Joe’s Pub.

And also check out all the opportunities on the Lower East Side and in Brooklyn, where there’s music and mayhem for days. Also: Triad, Mercury Lounge, Bedlam, Public Arts, the Duplex, Don’t Tell Mama, Rockwood Music Hall, virtually every bar in Hell’s Kitchen and some in the Village (where drag is king), and many other bouncy boites. Cheers and enjoy!

Full Nelson

Nelson Sullivan was a bemused Southern guy who traversed Gotham’s scenes with his penetrating camera and captured nocturnal critters like RuPaul, actress Sylvia Miles, and even little old me in action. Sharon Needles is one of many fans of Nelson’s arrestingly deadpan work, which gained a following when it was included on YouTube and on DVDs after his death and alerted the masses to nighttime doings at self-expression-filled clubs like the Pyramid and the Palladium. Well, I hear that next summer, Nelson will be the subject of a sprawling exhibit at NYC’s Howl Gallery (dedicated to preserving East Village culture), with an L.A. exhibit to match. And once again, my ‘80s antics will come back to haunt.

The Mirren Has Many Faces

Jim Spellman/WireImage

“Fuuuuck!” screamed Helen Mirren gleefully, towards the top of her acceptance speech for the FSLC presentation of the Chaplin Award at Alice Tully Hall last week. I laughed and cheered, realizing once again that the grand Dame is one of us! In fact, the two times I met the multi award winning actor, she was insouciantly funny and a breath of fresh British air. And tonight was no different.

Various stellar presenters talked about Mirren’s humor, fearlessness, and ability to vanish from a role as she dives into it. Julie Taymor remembered Mirren having to shoot a scene for The Tempest surrounded by a ring of fire. “Are you okay?” Taymor asked her after that blistering scene. “It was a little warm,” deadpanned Mirren.

Mike Coppola/Getty
Helen Mirren chats with Tony Bennett at the 45th Chaplin Award Gala.

Mirren’s husband, director Taylor Hackford, remembered meeting her for the first time when he kept her waiting for a White Nights audition and she let her anger show, blurting, “Are we going to read or not?” Vin Diesel was in awe of being at this event (“34 years ago, I was break dancing at Columbus Circle!”), but he was mainly there to relate how, on first meeting, Mirren told him to “Get your act together!” and cast her in The Fate of the Furious, which he promptly and obediently did.

Robert De Niro was wonderful, joking that Mirren’s success is the result of too loose immigration laws, and saying if it weren’t for that, he could have played her roles, like the secret agent in Red who got to sleep with Brian Cox. De Niro giddily added that Mirren’s “played more queens than RuPaul!” And Mirren herself was charming about her back story (As a kid, she wanted to play the princess, but was cast as one of 24 blackbirds baked in a pie—it was a little warm) and profound about the cinematic art form, “a statue made of granite,” which lasts forever and in the process shows society’s evolving sensitivities. Fuuuuck!

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.