Arts & Culture

Wigs and Wonder: West Hollywood’s Drag Legacy

Plus, the best places to find drag shows and events in West Hollywood.

Michelle Backstage, “C'est La Vie” Club, North Hollywood, 1972 © Anthony Friedkin.

The term “drag,” which refers to the art of performing as a gender other than your own, likely originated in theater spaces. According to an explanation from drag queen Trixie Mattel for Them, 19th-century male actors would play women characters, donning petticoats that would drag across the stage. In the 1920s, drag became associated with queer culture and by the 1950s, drag performances were happening in LGBTQ spaces. And now, thanks in part to the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag culture has exploded into the mainstream, becoming a global phenomenon with a diverse and passionate fandom.

L: A marcher with a flair for fashion, West Hollywood Pride Parade, 1985 (Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection). R: Part of the “LA HAIRPORT” hair salon, relaxes before the start of the big Gay Pride Parade, 1981 (Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection).

As the nation’s most visible gayborhood, West Hollywood has been one of the centers of drag culture for decades and is a prime destination for both casual observers and die-hard fans of the art form. 

L: The first LA Pride Parade took place along Hollywood Boulevard on June 29, 1970 (Associated Press). R: Jane Jones’ Little Club at 8730 Sunset Blvd. (1936-1939).

Stretching as far back as the 1930s, West Hollywood has been a haven for LGBTQ people of all stripes, largely owing to its early unincorporated status and existence outside of the LAPD’s jurisdiction. The city drew a diverse mix of individuals from all walks of life and functioned as a center of social progress and counterculture. It was out of this unique cultural landscape that some of the most legendary LGBTQ establishments emerged and flourished, from Jane Jones’ Little Club to Tess’ Cafe Internationale.

Calpernia Addams –  Drag Bingo at Hamburger Mary’s in West Hollywood, California.

Before RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag shows in West Hollywood were more niche attractions, catering to a familiar clientele. Now, they’re one of the main attractions for the city’s vibrant and expansive mix of visitors and locals. For drag fans that have only been able to see their favorite queens on-screen and online, West Hollywood is a chance to experience the spectacle and shade right before your eyes.

L: February 11, 1967, more than 500 people showed up to march in front of Black Cat to protest police harassment targeting the LGBTQ community. R: Drag Queen Roxy prepares for her evening of bingo at Hamburger Mary’s.

Beyond the main attraction of drag shows, West Hollywood also offers an assortment of amusing and unexpected drag-infused experiences. Both Hamburger Mary’s and The Abbey host weekly drag brunches, at which guests can enjoy their avocado toast and champagne with performances by the most fabulous local queens. For the littlest drag fans, the West Hollywood Library hosts a Drag Queen Story Hour, during which queens read age-appropriate, progressive picture books to children. And we’d be remiss not to mention the legendary Drag Queen Bingo at Hamburger Mary’s, a hysterical weekly bingo night that benefits local and national charities.

L: Drag Queen Story Hour, celebrating the City of West Hollywood’s One City One Pride. R: Drag Bingo at Hamburger Mary’s.

Drag is just one example of West Hollywood’s presence at the forefront of cultural progress and is representative of the city’s adventurous, inclusive nature. To dive further into West Hollywood’s world of drag, check out the local happenings in the links below:

Dance club Micky’s hosts Showgirls, a weekly drag show, every Monday, and viewing parties of RuPaul’s Drag Race on Thursdays.

Hamburger Mary’s has so many incredible drag events, including drag shows, Legendary Bingo and drag brunch.

The Abbey runs a drag series called Lip Service, and lots of other fun events including drag brunches and themed parties.

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