Legendary Drag Club Dragstrip 66 Returns. Inside The One-Night Reunion
On a recent weekend, the dimly-lit room at Los Globos in Hollywood filled up with patrons to celebrate the one-night-only return of a legendary underground drag club, Dragstrip 66.
The crowd showed up in intentionally messy drag outfits, elaborate makeup and carefully crafted looks. Was this a drag show? Sure, but not the brunch kind.
At Dragstrip 66, a regular LGBTQ+ club night event that was held between 1993 and 2013, anyone is free to dress in drag — whether on the stage or not — with a whole community that’s into gender-bending, raunchy live singing and a good time.
The 30th-anniversary event was a head-banging family reunion as its 500 tickets sold out from an email and a few online posts.
Maqueeda LaStar went to Dragstrip 66 for years, starting in the mid-'90s. The Los Angeles County resident says you come to this club to express yourself as who you are or want to be for the night. For LaStar, that meant showing up with a thick boa, feather eyelash extensions and her mother.
“I'm the belle of the ball with my mom because she's awesome and everybody loves her,” LaStar said. “When I finally got old enough to go to Dragstrip, it was definitely one of the older clubs I hit up. I like it because I felt like clubbing back in the day was just so much more glamorous as you get dressed up.”
What made Dragstrip 66 special
This place was known for its alternative and punk rock appearance as its founders called it a “queer bar that played rock ‘n’ roll.”
During its 20-year run, Dragstrip 66 moved quite a bit — it was once at what’s now the Echoplex, Casita Del Campo, and the defunct spots Safari Sam’s on Hollywood Boulevard and Rudolpho’s in Silver Lake. Once a month, they turned the place into a beloved LGBTQ+ destination for music, dance and performance.
Here’s a glimpse of who you might see: fully decked-out drag queens that remind you of RuPaul’s Drag Race, men wearing bright wigs with beards and messy makeup, and a couple wearing reptilian masks with pink robes.
Drag is more mainstream now, especially in LGBTQ+ communities, but that wasn’t always the case. Paul Vitagliano, the co-creator of Dragstrip 66 who’s known in the community as DJ Paul V., said there were plenty of covert sentiments that drag wasn’t welcome — even in a gay bar.
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“Back in those days, if a drag queen went to a more leather-identified bar or a masculine bar, it was like, 'okay, we prefer you didn't come in. You don't really fit the vibe,’” Vitagliano said. “Drag really wasn't all that accepted in the gay community.”
Drag really wasn't all that accepted in the gay community.
It was fine if you were a glamorous drag performer, but dressing up just to go to a club wasn’t welcome. Vitagliano didn’t want the club to be like that, so he and his best friend Mr. Dan dreamed up Dragstrip 66 to create a self-described dirty, edgy and underground take on drag.
“Paul and I had been trying to do themed nightclub events, but the truth is we were just trying to put on a little show and have some dancing for all the gays in the neighborhood,” Mr. Dan said. “By the time we got to the third event, the size of the crowd had doubled and we knew we had something special.”
Through the years, Dragstrip 66 became a home for anyone to dress up and explore their identities. The club elevated every style of drag, Vitagliano said, including one form that celebrated trashiness.
“It’s called booger drag,” Vitagliano said. “You're really just a mess. You don't shave your facial hair or any body hair. When you came to Dragstrip, everybody was on equal footing.”
Inside the anniversary night
Back at Los Globos, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a self-described “Order of 30th Century Nuns” (who were caught up in the Dodgers Pride Night controversy last week), christened the evening.
“We've come tonight to bless this resurrection of Dragstrip 66,” said one of the Sisters to a raucous crowd as they passed out a communion to honor Heklina, a well-known drag queen and friend of Dragstrip 66 who died in London earlier that month. You’d think a time like that would be somber, but the crowd cheered in her memory.
Then the party got on. DJ’s mixed nostalgic tracks like When In Rome’s “The Promise.” The crowd danced below a shimmering disco ball and hugged old friends tightly. And, of course, since this is a drag event, there had to be singing. But there was no lip-syncing around here.
“We always just felt it's more important for a real voice,” Vitagliano said. “Even if your singing voice is not American Idol worthy, but you can carry a tune, if you're having fun on stage, just belt it out.”
And that they did. A lineup of performers got on stage to sing into the mics with energy and bravado, often adding their own lyrics to popular songs.
“Dragstrip’s back, all right!” sang one of the singers in a take on the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody.”
The duo, the Boofont Sisters, brought some humor with “We’re f---ing old so you better get this party started,” an homage to the crowd’s age after 30 years and a nod to Pink’s hit “Get the Party Started.”
As the night continued, rounds of drag queens took to the stage to sing and make the crowd laugh. For newcomers, the night was a collective experience of people subverting gender expectations in song and look. And for those who came to Dragstrip 66 for years, like Shokra, it was a chance to return to his roots.
“I did drag professionally for like 15 years, but the last time that I did that was seven years ago,” Shokra said. “This specific club created a safe space for me to explore my creative expression, gender identity, everything. I can go and be whoever I want to be.”
As the night came to an end, it was time for the highlight of the event. The founders have always done a promenade to give everyone a chance to show off and be celebrated. “It was just queen, after queen, after queen,” Vitagliano said.
“We called out their names, let them take a spin on stage in front of the crowd, then we would read them for filth because that's what drag queens do,” Mr. Dan said. “Our 30th-anniversary reunion was very energizing because folks came together who hadn't seen each other in a number of years, and it proved that the queer community has strong bonds.”
Dragstrip 66’s impact
Over the years, Vitagliano’s heard countless stories of how the club gave people freedom and safety, away from a judgmental society. And that night, I heard the same. The Mynx, a drag queen, shared how she believes these reunions are the way to teach younger generations to celebrate LGBTQ+ nightlife.
“The first time I went to Dragstrip 66 I was like 17 or 18, so to have seen that has shaped my queer lifestyle and culture,” the Mynx said. “Dragstrip was [a safe space] and that’s why it’s still a phenomenon.”
The impact ranged from moments of joy to deep feelings of belonging. Patricia Jimenez spoke about how the club was always a blast and how it was nice to be out for a change. Three drag queens, Popcorn Lycra, Tera Newhaul and Felonie, showed up together because the good time was worth it.
“We've gotten older. I work a lot nowadays,” Felonie said. “But I like the camp of it, the funness, the silliness, the outrageousness.”
And people have gotten married in this community, found life-long friends and for many, a family. Vitagliano tearfully recalled an old story of how a young drag queen told their door girl of how her family had kicked her out and the loneliness she’d been feeling in L.A. until finding the club.
“I had to walk away because, the way that I'm tearing up now, I was tearing up then and I thought to myself, ‘oh my god. We are changing people's lives whether we know it or not,’” Vitagliano said.
The duty to return
By all accounts, Dragstrip’s return was a success.
They haven't announced it yet, but it's looking like they will be holding a tea dance on Sunday July 16. (They’re aiming for something that gets people home by 9 p.m., instead of the typical nightclub hours.) You can check for details when it's official at the club's website.
“We kind of have an obligation and a duty to come back,” he said. “Not just for our patrons, because we’ve certainly been filling a void for them, but I feel like we have to be in solidarity.”
The goal is to have Dragstrip 66 inspire another generation to pick up the mantle and create more LGBTQ+ spaces. And at a time when drag is being legislated against in other states, he says it’s still important for them to exist. It’s part of why the founders are creating a documentary to record Dragstrip 66’s history.
“It's not just a nightclub,” Vitagliano said. “It's just one of those lightning-in-a-bottle things [that] you could never have predicted.”
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