Dragged out to brunch
Drag queens, kings entertain in Saranac Lake
SARANAC LAKE — The owners of the Belvedere restaurant hosted what may have been Saranac Lake’s first drag brunch ever on Sunday, bringing six drag queens and kings in for a sold-out show, which the Belvedere owners say is the first of more to come.
Chrissie Wais, who owns the Belvedere building, said she’s been a fan of drag for a long time and has wanted to host a drag event at the restaurant her partner John Levy has operated since February.
“It’s an art. The art of it is interesting to me,” Wais said. “And personally, I like questioning gender.”
Wais said there were many first-timers to drag performances there on Sunday.
“As far as I know this is the first drag brunch in Saranac Lake,” she said.
It was a “hot ticket” event. Within six days of being on sale, 60 seats sold out, she said, and the event’s webpage got over 500 people seeking tickets and 50 more came into the Belvedere personally to look for tickets. Wais said she was “floored” by this response — it was surprising, exciting and anxiety-inducing.
There are drag bingo nights at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, so it is not completely unprecedented, she said, but she was was unsure of what to expect.
On Sunday, Wais announced that there was so much demand for this event, that the Belvedere will host another drag brunch on Sept. 18 — actually, two of them.
Levy said when Wais brought the idea of a drag brunch to him, he was unsure if the Belvedere would lose some of its patrons.
“In reality, I did lose three people,” he said.
But he saw a chance to build community and said it was worth it.
“Everyone is who they are. Let them live their lives. If you don’t like it, just keep your mouth shut,” Levy said.
He was excited to see a big local presence on Sunday. Levy said he want to bring new life to the business and to let people know it is a safe and accepting place to be together.
“I want this place to be open for everybody. If they don’t want to be part of everybody, then they can be part of whatever they want to be somewhere else,” Levy said. “Food is all about bringing people together. Having conversations. Talking about memories. Talking about the future. Talking about now.”
Mhisty Knights, a drag queen from Peru, New York, and currently of Plattsburgh, said she started doing drag when she lived in Saranac Lake 20 years ago. She performed in Plattsburgh back then and never thought she’d get to do drag here.
Knights saved lives and limbs while volunteering with the fire department, but she always kept her sexuality and drag performance “low-key,” because there wasn’t much acceptance then. The drag scene at the time was “dead.”
Now, she said, it’s gaining speed.
“Saranac Lake is an artsy-fartsy area. For there not to be a drag brunch prior is kind of like a letdown,” Knights said. “I’m happy that Saranac Lake finally has a drag community.”
Knights encourages people to be expressive and honest about their sexuality and gender, but she said for young people coming out, they face being kicked out of the house or being abused — verbally or physically. She is a member of the Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance board and said there is a community willing to be accepting.
Knights said the crowd on Sunday was “amazing.” They were into it — laughing, clapping, dancing, even dancing with the drag queens and tipping them generously, or turning beet red when the queens danced up on them.
On Sunday, Victoria Bohmore emceed the brunch, and bookended the event with romantic and raunchy ballads. She introduced the rest of the drag queens and kings.
When Bleu Darlin’ walked — or sashayed — into the room, she brought energy: flipping her hair in the audience’s faces and getting up close and personal.
Red D. Licious brought a classic, nostalgic style, throwing flower pedals and dollar bills all over the floor.
Christian Gaye, from Buffalo, is a drag king.
Drag kings are less common than drag queens, but Gaye said, “It’s literally just the opposite” — a woman dressing as a man, instead of a man dressing as a woman.
Gaye is a former national Mr. Gay United States and said he’s done a lot of brunches around the country, but the show at the Belvedere was one of his favorites. Also, the food was good, he said.
“I’m all for promoting shows, but if I think your food stanks, I’m not going to promote it,” Gaye said.
Ganiva Cache, of Baltimore, Maryland, said they had never heard of Saranac Lake before.
“At first I was like, ‘Where? What is that place called?’ I had never heard of it,” Cache said.
But they were excited to make history in Saranac Lake.
Chris Kinney, an Olympic bobsledder from the 2018 Winter Games who is living in Lake Placid to work as an advisor to athletes, is from Atlanta, Georgia, where he said he had been to drag brunches before. He hadn’t expected to get to go to one when he moved up here, but was pleasantly surprised.
He said though the event was smaller than ones in Atlanta, he enjoyed getting to talk with the queens more than at larger events in cities.
“For a small town, this was actually really fun and everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves,” Kinney said.