Arts & Culture

West Hollywood’s World of Wigs and Wonder

WeHo's historic drag legacy: From counterculture movement to mainstream phenomenon

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

Throughout most of its existence, drag was perceived as emblematic of a subversive counterculture, and only of interest to very specific audiences. But in recent years, (largely owed to the wildly popular 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)

Audiences have latched on not just to the spectacle and surface pleasures of drag, but also its values of inclusion, acceptance and self-expression. 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 drag phenomenon.

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 1930’s, West Hollywood has been a haven for LGBT people of all stripes, largely owing to its early unincorporated status and (therefore) 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 LGBT establishments emerged and flourished, from Jane Jones’ Little Club to Tess’ Cafe International.

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 them in real life. Venues like Micky’s, the Abbey, Hamburger Mary’s and more make WeHo a sort of drag Disneyland, where you can see the spectacle and shade come to life 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 performances, West Hollywood 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 take in their avocado toast and champagne with a side of performances by the most fabulous local queens. For the littlest drag fans, the West Hollywood Library hosts a Drag Queen Story Hour, in which queens read age-appropriate, progressive books to children. And we’d be remiss not to mention Hamburger Mary’s legendary Drag Queen Bingo, a hysterical weekly bingo night, the proceeds of which benefit 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 WeHo’s presence at the forefront of cultural progress, and is representative of the city’s adventurous, inclusive nature. To dive further into WeHo’s world of drag, check out the local happenings in the links below!

West Hollywood Event Calendar

Micky’s Event Calendar

Hamburger Mary’s Event Calendar

Drag Bingo at The Den on Sunset

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