Town House is the kind of bar where you can stand in one corner and see the entire place, where you can find yourself watching a TV movie or celebrity poker and forgetting where you are. It’s also a gay bar, open since 1968 in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, on the corner of University Avenue and North Albert Street.
On a recent Saturday night, Town House was stuffed. There were young queers hanging out, old townies grabbing a table where they could kick back and see the action, and regulars getting their nicotine fix on the concrete patio, washed-out and glowing in the harsh light of the outdoor lamps.
A forest of cheap chairs lined the dingy hardwood floor in the center of the room. Stage lights beamed down on a black, spangled curtain. Showtime was near.
This is Dragged Out: a drag king show that brings its lineup of kings, queens, and burlesque performers to the hallowed halls of the old gay bar. And tonight was the annual flip show, where queens become kings, and kings become queens.
Making sure all goes well was the person producing the show. Xavier has been performing since 2001, tonight wearing cherry lipstick and a leather trench coat, replete with closely shaved head.
“My wife did the makeup,” Xavier says. Nadi A’marena happens to be a burlesque performer.
Xavier’s normally a Pitbull impersonator, occasionally mistaken for the real thing. But this night reveals a drag queen persona: Penny Tration.
Xavier hits the stage to booming music and raucous applause. "Penny" is all red lipstick, leather, and sinuous, slinking movements, staring down the audience imperiously as it offers up dollar bills and screams.
Most wouldn't expect to find genderbending performance in a small, brick building in St. Paul. Town House is not The Gay ‘90s. It’s no mimosa-sipping affair, like drag brunch at LUSH. People come to Town House expecting to get a beer or a rail drink and a glimpse of Queen Latina from over by the dartboards. The Queen, in fluorescent pinks and purples, shimmies to Selina with the kind of bored haughtiness a duchess brings to lesser banquets. The show can last for hours, and its dedicated followers take breaks only to add to the growing fog on the patio.
They’re rewarded not only with talent, but oddball acts they’re not going to see with the same level of sincerity anywhere else. Another performer, completely shrouded in a dark wizarding cloak, put on an emo thrash-a-thon as Draco Malfoy, the simpering blond antihero of Harry Potter. Another made a show of crushing the patriarchy by dominating a silent, masked performer holding a sign that read “The Man.”
The crowd loves it. People wait at the edges of the stage with singles in hand, hoping for the chance to offer a dollar and maybe get a kiss on the cheek or some simmering eye contact. Some approach with wide-eyed, nervous smiles, as if they just found out something about themselves they didn’t know before.