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Two drag performers sit at a table and toast with Champagne glasses
Dancing Kweens at the Virgin Hotel host Jenni P (L) and queen Krystal Summers (R) of Drag Star Diva.
Hannah Dimmitt

The State of Drag Brunch in Dallas

In the wake of SB12, a look at how it’s evolving

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Courtney E. Smith is the editor of Eater Dallas. She's a journalist of 20 years who was born and raised in Texas, with bylines in Pitchfork, Wired, Esquire, Yahoo!, Salon, Refinery29, and more. When she's not writing about food, she co-hosts the podcast Songs My Ex Ruined.

The Virgin Hotel in Dallas has held drag brunch on the first and third (and fifth, when applicable) Sundays of every month in its first floor restaurant, the Commons Club, since it opened in 2020. Starting this June, the brunch was rebranded as Dancing Kweens and moved to an interior room in the hotel, a private event space dubbed the Manor. It’s part of a retool of the show, the hotel’s marketing manager Caroline Lidl and general manager Michael Bridges tell Eater Dallas.

The performers needed more space, a stage, a better sound system, and to not get lost from attendees’ eye lines when they turn a corner in the restaurant. In short, the Commons Club is not really a space set up for a show. But their eyes were also on the Senate Bill 12 (SB12) as it traveled through the Texas Legislature this session, a bill that originally contained language linking all drag performances with sexually explicit performances. The Virgin Hotel’s restaurant has floor to ceiling windows in one corner, where performances would be fully visible.

In its final form, signed by Governor Greg Abbott, SB12 enforces a $10,000 fine for businesses that allow children 18 and under to view sexually explicit performances, with vague language defining what that means. While references to drag were removed from the version of the bill that is now law, Eater Austin reports that Lt. Governor Dan Patrick issued a statement that as far as he’s concerned the law will still target drag performances. And so, the visibility from the street, right into the Commons Club, became problematic.

“We are already making changes to our drag brunch, as far as making it a more elevated experience and a curated, private experience,” Bridges says. “It’s always been a ticketed event [for people over 21], and we moved it so we can hold both brunches at the same time ... If you want to go to drag brunch, go here. If you want to attend Spinster Records’ [the Bishop Arts record store] DJ’ed brunch or live jazz music brunch, those are downstairs. We want to create multiple guest experiences and give people options.” At the same time, Bridges notes the hotel has also been considering making the drag brunch a weekly event, because it’s wildly popular — most performances sell out completely.

There aren’t a lot of weekly drag brunch options in Dallas, let alone places that make drag the center of their entertainment. Hamburger Mary’s which re-opened in Oak Lawn at the beginning of June, is one of the few, with nightly shows Wednesday through Sunday, and drag brunch every Saturday and Sunday. Tanner Roberts, food and beverage director for HV Entertainment, the company founded by Dallas franchisee Arthur Hood, calls it the city’s secondary drag venue behind the Rose Room in Station 4, which has featured drag performances for 18 years.

Roberts says SB12 doesn’t impact Hamburger Mary’s business at all, as it’s a 21-and-up establishment. But protestors, specifically from Protect Texas Kids (PTK), a self-described grassroots organization that objects to what it calls the “toxic, indoctrinating agenda of the left ” involving gender expression and critical race theory, are a constant worry. That’s the same group that organized a series of protests at the weekly drag brunch at BuzzBrews in Lakewood. The protests came to a head in January when armed protesters showed up en masse at the long running brunch spot, where the Texas Tribune reports they yelled slurs and threatened violence against performers and attendees. They were met by counter protesters with Pride flags and signs that read “fascists go home.”

A group of protesters gather outside to protest a drag show. Most are men, a few are women. Several hold signs, one holds a semi-automatic rifle.
Protect Texas Kids protesters outside of an all-ages drag show at BuzzBrews Kitchen in Dallas, Texas on January 14, 2023.
Mark Felix for The Washington Post via Getty Images

On Hamburger Mary’s opening weekend, Roberts says he was told by the Dallas Police Department (DPD) that seven different groups filed permits to protest outside. “[PTK is] supposed to be protecting Texas kids, but yet we’re 21 in the venue,” Roberts says. In the end, no protestors bothered showing up opening weekend.

Bridges says that the Virgin Hotel hasn’t seen much protesting, but following the increased visibility around drag performances in the state, moving Dancing Kweens to an interior room in the hotel, where the property’s security team can oversee who enters, will help keep the security of performers a priority.

“I never really have to talk about this or never even have to approach this subject in this way, but over the last 20 plus years of my career as a gay man and as a gay leader of this business, it’s really important to me that we continue showing our support for all people, all communities, all backgrounds,” Bridges says. “That’s not always the most popular position to have but when you have no choice, because this is who you are, this is what you have to do.”

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