The combination of hot food and Seattle drag has a long and sordid history. Ground zero of the trend: Neighbours nightclub, which in the 1990s circumnavigated Seattle's draconian liquor laws—which decreed that only those establishments that offered food could sell hard alcohol—by setting up a six-foot steam table of breakfast delights that will live forever in infamy. Some imagine the Neighbours buffet as too monstrous to be real, like God or Dracula. But I saw it, with my own eyes, roiling and hissing in its darkened corner throughout many a drag show. Besides nourishing a generation of street hustlers, the Neighbours buffet operated as a sort of self-regulating intervention machine: If you were drunk enough to actually consider eating from it, you needed help. (To be fair, many people still speak wistfully of the buffet's sordid charms, especially those who appreciate trays of coagulated eggs mixed with cigarette butts.)
The spirit of the Neighbours buffet also informed Seattle's next great fusion of drag and food: the super-weird and pretty wonderful brunch shows given by Dina Martina in the early aughts at the defunct gay bar Thumper's. In the hands of the deranged Dina, who is essentially the Neighbours buffet in human form, these brunches were a woozy affair, blending point-blank daytime drag with driven daytime drinking and barely okay food. But even the last worked in its way—with the spottier dishes, it was easy to imagine Dina had done the cooking herself, perhaps using only her feet.
Which brings us to 2013, when not one but two Seattle drag stars are dishing out their crossdressing arts in rooms offering full bar service and food that humans without death wishes will eat on purpose. Once a month at the Columbia City jazz club the Royal Room, there's Queen's Brunch with Sylvia O'Stayformore. Once a week at the Capitol Hill hot spot the Unicorn, there's Mimosas with Mama, hosted by and starring Mama Tits. Recently, I attended both.
Driving into Columbia City, I realize I'm nearing my destination by the sight of an enormous blond wig atop a cartoonishly shapely waitress. She is standing at the corner of Rainier and Hudson, waving at passing cars. This is Sylvia O'Stayformore, and the sight of her in her signature "Southern diner" garb—checked gingham dress, pinafore apron, name-tag corsage—fills me with good old-fashioned drag joy. True to her name, Sylvia O'Stayformore is generous, gracious, and forever welcoming—qualities that make her one of Seattle's most beloved drag queens. She earned much of that love while hosting the long-running performance showcase Bacon Strip (RIP). Unlike many drag queens, Sylvia makes perfect sense in the daylight—she could be a character from Pee-wee's Playhouse—and placing the character in an actual restaurant setting is a natural fit (especially with actual service chores left to Royal Room staff).
The choose-your-own adventure of Queen's Brunch offers two paths. Fifteen dollars gets you access to a perfectly good-looking buffet of eggs, hash browns, biscuits, and house-made chicken-bacon sausage, or you can choose from 10 discrete options across the breakfast spectrum. From the latter menu, the egg sandwich ($9.50) was a noble failure, involving scrambled eggs, lettuce, and tomato on a sesame-seed hamburger bun that just wasn't up to the task. Sturdier bread could fix everything; as it is, it's a flimsy mess you won't eat half of. But the straightforward two-egg breakfast ($9) was just what it should be, and everything was helped by the Royal Room's seriously good Bloody Mary ($7), involving a super-spicy house recipe and a humongous olive.
After an hour of eating and drinking, Sylvia welcomed to the stage a small parade of performers, including a drag king (Mr. Caesar Hard), a Lady Gaga impersonator (Miss Cannoli), and a comedian (Peggy Platt). Whereas some drag shows present as Serious Entertainment Spectacles, the Queen's Brunch is more of a community affair, in line with old-school drag balls, where the audience applauds the spirit of the performer over the execution of the act.
The same can't be said for Mimosas with Mama, the weekly extravaganza hosted by Mama Tits, a proudly plus-sized glamour queen who oversees a slick showcase of old-school drag performance. This means lip-synching and—in the case of priceless supporting queen Tipsy Rose Lee—dancing, and in the cartoon-carnival world of the Unicorn's downstairs space the Narwhal, the whole thing takes on an impressive theatricality. Mama Tits keeps things moving with wit, self-deprecation, and tableside Jell-O shot service. The whole thing culminates with "30-Minute Hairspray," a witty blend of bits from the John Waters film and the hit Broadway musical that leaves issues of racial integration on the cutting-room floor in favor of a streamlined story of a big girl who just wants to dance.
As for the food: It's traditional breakfast (eggs, potatoes, bacon, pancakes, fruit) served buffet-style, all you can eat for $15, and it's thoroughly good, especially the cooked-dry-and-fluffy scrambled eggs. More importantly, the drinks are strong and cheap, and the audience is there to have raucous fun. "Thank you all!" shouted Mama at the end of the show. "If you weren't here, we'd just be guys with penises between our butt cheeks."