“Do you want another Pink Pussy?” Tobell Von Cartier asks as she sashays toward our table at Stage 48, the newest pop-up home to New York’s original drag queen restaurant, Lucky Cheng’s. Foregoing the sharable orgy bowl, I opt for another hot pink vodka drink, as a balloon maker who just completed an inflatable penis sculpture for a guest’s mother-in-law at the table next door approaches. He’s been doing this for over a decade, but says today Lucky Cheng’s is “not the same” as it once as.
In 1993, restaurateur Hayne Suthon was out of a job. After closing her latest project, Cave Canem, a dinner club built in a former gay bathhouse at 25 First Ave, Suthon needed a new plan. Partnering with producer Robert Jason, the two envisioned opening a Chinese restaurant in the East Village. At the time, the neighborhood had a dire lack of Asian cuisine, and the duo wanted to make the new restaurant “more interesting” than your typical dinner spot, says Jason. They hired an exclusively all-Asian, gender-ambiguous waitstaff to challenge the norms of what a restaurant could be. “It was revolutionary and very taboo,” he says. Also, “it was a raging success.”