Laughter and inebriated chatter fill the room. Champagne glasses cover every tabletop as servers carrying platters of carnitas Benedict weave precariously between tables. Potentially overserved senior citizens sit adjacent to leather-clad daddies, while a contingent of platinum blondes with bearded boyfriends babble in a booth over Bloody Marys. Sequin-adorned drag queens crowd the coffee dispenser at the bar, quipping as they pour. Suddenly, the voice of Nae Nae Dominatrix travels around the room: “Don’t forget to tip your servers, y’all—we don’t just tip cows in Oregon!” It’s almost 11 a.m., and the drag show at Night Light Lounge is about to begin.
Yes, drag brunches are a thing. With the creation of gay-friendly restaurant chain Hamburger Mary’s in 1972, drag brunches arrived on the East Coast a long time ago. Around here, however, they’re more of a sleeper hit. The Portland trend started in 2011, when McMenamins tapped local drag-legend Poison Waters to host the grand opening of its Crystal Hotel downtown. “It was just supposed to be a onetime thing,” says Waters. “[But] they were like, ‘There’s something about this, let’s keep it going.’ It’s just like any other show; it’s just eight hours earlier. It’s not for the faint of heart to be a brunch queen.”
Fast-forward eight years, and Portland now boasts, by our count, three drag brunches nearly every week. Shows typically include crass ad-lib comedy and exuberant lip-syncing. During one show this past December at Night Light, Nae Nae dove out the front door and danced in the middle of SE Clinton Street, not even moving for a Toyota that attempted to encroach on her performance. From inside, the fogged-up windows showed only her cherry red, six-inch heels as she cartwheeled down the street.
“You definitely put your body through it to make sure people are having a good time,” says Atlas Marshall, who has performed as Nae Nae Dominatrix for the past 11 years. “Drag is limitless, and we’re creating a space in Portland that is limitless. I love what I do, [and] I get a chance to let people forget about the world and just have a good time.”
Here’s where to brunch like a queen, currently:
Mission Theatre At OG drag brunch Poison Waters & Friends, queens crack jokes and “sing” while patrons stuff breakfast sausages in their faces. Plus, the Mission screens flicks like Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Auntie Mame each week after the show. 10 a.m. Sundays. $21 per person, includes food, coffee, and movie.
Night light Lounge Drag queens dance, lip-sync, and make raunchy jokes galore. “We have a lot of non-LGBTQ people who come to the show, a lot of white women from the suburbs,” says Marshall. “It gives us a chance to show [people] that at the end of the day—black, white, straight, gay, trans, anything—we’re human.” 11 a.m. Sundays. $21 per person, includes food, coffee, and show.
Stag PDX Rotating hosts Valarie DeVille, Godiva DeVyne, and Poison Waters crack jokes and shimmy on the same stage where bare-naked exotic dancers perform every night. (“I think they wash it,” says Waters.) The menu consists primarily of hangover cures: omelets, hash browns, gravy. Try not to forget dollar bills: they’ll have some to exchange, but it’s never enough, and you’ll feel like a jackwagon when someone does a somersault in a latex bodysuit in front of you and you have nothing to hand them. 11:30 a.m. Sundays. $20 per person, includes food, coffee, and show.
23Hoyt Think challah French toast with chantilly cream, house-made biscuits and pork sausage, and sometimes-hostess Bolivia Carmichaels in heels. The venue offers brunches only around holidays, beginning in June with Pride and sashaying through Christmas, but there’s no regular schedule. Be sure to book tickets in advance; they sell out fast. Seasonal. Multiple showtimes offered, see 23hoyt.com. No cover.