Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Silver Lake Marks Return of Dragstrip 66, a Punk Rock Club for Glitter Queens

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In 1998, on the fifth anniversary of Dragstrip 66, a famed punk rock drag club in Silver Lake, I wrote: “If a dance club in Los Angeles can make it to its fifth anniversary, it deserves a bit of respect. If it’s a rock ‘n’ roll club for men who dress in drag, it warrants a bid for the Guinness Book of World Records.”

In an article titled ‘Big Hair Belongs Here,’ I wrote about the divas on the dance floor, cross-dressers vamping it up to the sounds of Marilyn Manson. Iggy Pop, and Death in Vegas.

Now, 30 years after it began in 1993, Dragstrip 66 is back, and it’s right on time.

“In the decade since we ended Dragstrip 66, we lost contact with many friends and fellow freaks, so we knew that it was time for a 30th anniversary reunion,” said Dragstrip co-creator and MC, Mr. Dan, aka Gina Lotriman.

On July 23, Dragstrip 66 resumes quarterly at Los Globos in Silver Lake with a Sunday tea dance, and for Paul V. — the club’s co-founder and DJ — the club was born out of a crisis and is now rebooting during a crisis, a verifiable lifeboat for the LGBTQ+ community.

“Dragstrip 66 was truly a ‘you had to be there’ kind of phenomenon; a lightning in a bottle moment that was just the right idea with all the right people during the right era,’ said Paul V, a music industry veteran who managed Porno for Pyros. “It was a necessary lifeboat for an embattled LGBTQ community who were still dealing with so much loss, grief, and death because of HIV and AIDS; one of the only gay identified nightclub events that didn’t have a hierarchy of class, status or beauty; and in fact sought out and elevated the misfits and the freaks, and allowed everyone a safe, welcoming space to discover their sexual identities and authentic selves.”

So here we are in 2023 facing a new kind of “plague,” Paul said.

“A plague called MAGA, with monsters like Ron DeSantis and the rest of that vile ilk who are wholly targeting the LGBTQ community (again!), and especially the drag and trans community. And hurling lies calling us ‘groomers’ and ‘pedophiles’ because that’s what instills fear in closed minds, and what forces those closed minds to open their wallets and send them money,” he said. “Honey, this is the same shit, different decade; and this has been going on since fucking Anita Bryant in 1977.”

Although he says it’s a scary time because “these assholes are armed to the teeth and showing up to our Pride events and drag shows, it also means that our community needs to be louder, queerer, and more fearless than ever. And we don’t fight pathetic bullies by retreating.”

They fight with sequins and moxy — and that’s part of the magic and power of drag.

“It allows you to unleash your creativity, where you can shapeshift your outer self and discover an inner super power you didn’t even realize you had,” he said.

And the queens who populated Dragstrip became Hollywood legends — drag artists like Jackie Beat and Alaska Thunderfuck.

“Dragstrip 66 was the ultimate melting pot because it welcomed absolutely everyone: polished, professional drag queens, gay guys plopping wigs on their heads just for fun, DYI art punks, and adventuresome heterosexuals. And, of course, tons of cool celebrities,” said Jackie Beat, a Dragstrip 66 performer since 1993.

“Dragstrip 66 was one of the first parties I ever went to when I started to go out in drag in Los Angeles,” said Alaska Thunderfuck, a Dragstrip performer and winner of Ru Paul’s Drag Race Allstars Season 2. “The music was amazing, and everyone looked incredible, but it’s really the vibe and the overall energy that made me fall in love. Everyone was participating in the drag – whether they were good at it or terrible at it – and the entire place was one of support, and love, and celebration.”

Part of what set Dragstrip apart was its monthly themes — among the memorable nights over the years: Florence of Arabia, 20,000 Queens Under the Sea, Muscle Beach Bikini Party, Dragula, Tranny Get Your Gun, Night of a Zillion Jans, Dragstrip 666–The Omen, Mommy Queerest, and Swish Bucklers. Lol.

Among the celebrities who frequented the club were Drew Barrymore, Sir Ian McKellan, Courtney Love, Perry Farrell, and Flea. Dragstrip was memorialized by the LA band, Black Angels Death Song in a song titled “Dragstrip 66”.

“Silver Lake in 1993 was still sketchy and dangerous in some parts, and way less gentrified and more ethnically diverse, and artists could actually afford to live here,” said Paul. “And our original venue Rudolpho’s was way off the beaten path at Riverside and Fletcher. And we kinda loved that people had to put in some work to even find it.”

It was all word of mouth and for two glorious decades, it sparkled with glitter and grit. Paul and Mr. Dan are producing a film about the Dragstrip titled “Frockumentary” — a reminder that at Dragstrip, there was no lip-synching — the divas had to perform.

“It wasn’t even like a nightclub,” said Stephen Vara, aka Sharon Needles, a Dragstrip staffer and performer. “It was like a masquerade ball that the Emperor decided to put on, and we were the royal family.”

“Our drag aesthetic was wholly punk, DIY, messy, and genderfuck inspired,” said Paul. “Also we did something during our stage show called the Promenade, where anyone in drag or masquerade could walk on stage, get introduced, and get their moment in the spotlight to be exalted.

“And honestly, we feel like it is our duty to come back in 2023. To not only provide that same safe space for people to express themselves, but to show our solidarity with our brothers and sisters all over the country (many in very red and not progressive cities and states) that are still showing up, still performing, and still being visible.

Dragstrip performer Mink Stole summed it up best.

“That feeling of ‘we’re glad you’re here’ is what made it — it was all love.”

L.A. will be feeling that love again on July 23 at Dragstrip’s Beach Bondage Barbie night.

Let the glamor begin.

Dragstrip 66, 3040 Sunset Boulevard, Silver Lake; July 23, 4 to 9 pm. More info here.

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