The Glittery History of Drag Brunch
Drag brunch has been dazzling day drinkers for decades.
The only thing better than traditional brunch is drag brunch. Booze, breakfast, queens, and glitter. Most people think drag started decades ago, but it actually has roots that date all the way back to the 17th Century. Drag brunch came about not long after.
We’re not gonna say Shakespeare and other playwrights started drag, but they did fill their plays with men in male and female roles. There’s a long-standing legend that because petticoats drag on the ground, stage actors referred to putting on women’s costumes as “putting on their drags.” Seems like foreshadowing.
Long after Shakespeare’s death, New Orleans restaurateur Madame Begue started serving something called “second breakfast,” AKA brunch, in 1884. Her eatery featured a “wall of fame” full of signed photos of celebrity guests, including Julian Eltinge -- a well-known female impersonator. Madame Begue’s now considered the inventor of brunch, so be sure to raise a mimosa to her the next time you and your crew gather at your favorite spot.
In 1895, an article titled “Brunch: A Plea” was published, urging folks to consider a Sunday meal that’s lighter than your average Sunday supper but still satisfying. This marked the first time brunch is used in print, which is a pretty big deal. The article made no mention of drag queens though, which probably would have sold a few more people on the idea. Hindsight is 20/20, though.
The drag portion of drag brunch grew in popularity in the early 1900s. Vaudeville shows became more popular, with drag performances drawing the biggest crowds. Early drag stars largely impersonated famous women of the time and people ate it up. A wrench was thrown in the works in the 1920s, however, when prohibition went into effect.
Speakeasies became the answer to bars being closed and more diverse crowds started flocking to them. Drag acts, too, flocked to speakeasies and the stage shows got more intriguing than ever before. The death drop wasn’t invented until Willi Ninja took the stage in the 1960s and wig reveals didn’t come until later either, but the queens of the day knew how to slay.
Prohibition finally ended in the ‘30s, but the Great Depression hit, and rather than crack down on booze, authorities took aim at “deviants.” Basically, everything fun about the ‘20s was considered lewd, gay people were lumped in with sex criminals, and female impersonation was banned. Boo! But out of all this restriction came something new: the Pansy Craze. Pansies, or people acting out stereotypes of effeminate men, emerged as an alternative to drag queens.
Some time passed, queens and the LGBTQIA+ community continued to fight the good fight amid discrimination, and things took a turn in the ‘70s. Hamburger Mary’s, a gay-friend burger joint, opened in San Francisco. The same year Crystal and Lottie LaBeija created the first ballroom house, House of LaBeija. Over-the-top underground events called balls were held there. They included competitions in things like dancing, lip-syncing, and modeling along with cash prizes and titles. Voguing was born from the ballroom scene.
At the same time, David Bowie’s star was on the rise. He and the New York Dolls introduced their fans to drag and the idea of gender-bending. Meanwhile, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a late-night movie success. Come the 1980s, a new vibe had taken hold and drag was getting bigger than ever. RuPaul performed for the first time at The Pyramid Club, Lady Bunny held the first-ever Wigstock, Jennie Livingston started filming the hit documentary Paris is Burning, Lucky Cheng’s opened and started offering a drag dining experience daily, and Sex and the City came out and continued to push brunch and speak to girls and gays everywhere.
Eventually, a bit of a brunch boom hit. Suburban restaurants wanted to get in on the action, so they started offering up omelets, frittatas, challah french toast, and whatever else makes brunch, brunch. Google data from 2004 shows an uptick in searches for drag brunch restaurants. Additionally, more and more young people flocked to major metro areas.
In 2009, RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered and quickly gained a massive following. The show was many people’s first exposure to drag and its hilarious, meme-worthy moments made it a social media hit. Although drag brunch was on the rise already, the premiere of “Drag Race” sent demand skyrocketing. The term was eventually trademarked by one of the largest producers of drag performances in 2018, which is a bold move.
Brunch by itself is great, but brunch with drag queens is so much better. So, thank you prohibition, thank you foodies, thank you queens old and young. We owe so many fun Sundays to you!
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