Isn’t brunch supposed to be sort of quiet? The clink of ice in your cocktail glass and the soothing crunch of avocado toast the only aural disturbances? Yet here we are: the launch of Summer ’23, and drag brunches — an art form that combines the makeup, costuming, and lighting tricks of showbiz magic with eggs, coffee, and bright sunlight — are everywhere.
How ubiquitous is the drag brunch? A simple Google search shows that drag brunches — many of them titled Drag Me to Brunch — are now accepting reservations in all major cities and plenty of smaller ones, too: Iowa City, Kansas City, Memphis. They’re all over California, the spiritual home of brunch. In Las Vegas, there’s a drag brunch at Señor Frog’s. Let that potential sign of apocalypse sink in.
But nowhere is the drag brunch proliferation more plainly evident than right here in Provincetown. Now widely available on Commercial Street: breakfast meats and a side of wigs and disco. The Pilgrim House, the Post Office Cabaret, and Crown & Anchor all offer drag brunches that boast multiple showtimes, themes, and performers.
There was a time when seeing a drag performance had an air of exclusivity. It made you an insider — in the know about where to find a gay bar or club. It’s the same way with brunch. Breakfast has always been served indiscriminately to the masses — knowing where to find brunch, the word implying a certain secretive opulence, was the provenance of the gays. There was a moment in the ’90s when just saying you were looking for brunch implied gayness.
Now, drag brunch has invited the world to partake in both drag and brunch. The open air and broad daylight of a drag brunch encourages people, especially straight people, who otherwise wouldn’t attend a late-night drag show, to come and enjoy the spectacle. For drag artists, this is clear evidence of how far drag has come: from being a late-night, underground, and potentially illegal art form to a midmorning, mainstream, and — still — potentially illegal art form. The current wave of anti-drag legislation stems in part from the increasingly public nature of drag events. People bring their kids to see them.
I’ve avoided drag brunches for years. Before 11 a.m. on a Sunday, if I’m focused on anything, it’s my quest to find exactly the right combination of coffee, water, and tequila that might sustain me. De rigueur: a beautiful setting, soft music, delicious food, and attentive, empathetic service. Why would I risk the addition of a twirling queen who might shout at me? I’d rather skip brunch than suffer a bad time. I even opted to go alone to “Brunch by Kelly Fields” at the Crown so if I didn’t enjoy it I could leave unnoticed.
But I did enjoy it, quite a lot. The first pleasant surprise was the menu. The New Orleans chef was named “Chef of the Year” by 2016 Eater New Orleans. Her 2020 cookbook, The Good Book of Southern Baking, was named one of the best cookbooks of the year by the New York Times.
Plenty of items on the menu sounded delicious, but I ordered the crispy Brussels sprouts, an excellent test of any kitchen’s mettle. Few foods are as revolting as bad Brussels sprouts. But if the sprouts are good, you can be sure that the rest of the menu is excellent. I went on to order the spicy crab deviled eggs because, summer, and a Bloody Mary because, morning.
Tina Burner, the featured performer, and an invention of Kristian Seeber, 42, moved seamlessly between the indoor and outdoor spaces. Burner has been a top performer in the drag arts in New York City for a decade. Best known for appearing on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Burner finished a respectable seventh in one of the most competitive, talent-packed seasons and sashayed away with a massive fan base. She’s a comedy queen and a terrific singer with a powerful belt. Her lip-sync of Meryl Streep’s withering “Cerulean Belt” monologue from The Devil Wears Prada was the highlight of the brunch for me and should be on everyone’s summer must-see list.
Burner’s solo show, “5, 6, Several 8s,” currently tearing it up four nights a week at the Wave Bar, is one of the best shows in town. Along with the requisite lip-syncing, dancing, comedy, and quick costume changes (in the light booth, no less — respect!) she delivers exciting live vocals, as she did at the drag brunch, in a rousing tribute to her namesake inspiration, Tina Turner.
In all, the brunch was a perfectly enjoyable experience that surpassed my expectations. I shouldn’t have worried so much. I’m actually looking forward to checking out some of the others in town. Meanwhile, a social movement hasn’t really made its mark until some sort of counter-programing rises in opposition to it.