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You’d be wise not to interrupt a drag queen when she’s waiting for her order of pancakes. Symphony McKnight Capri has just finished lip-synching to Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” at Bayou City Bar and Grill’s “Drag Me … To Brunch.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: brunch at a dive bar with drag queens in Houston on a Sunday afternoon.
“Can I get some syrup please?” Symphony asks the bartender in a tone that implies ever-so-sweetly that he’s already slacking on his duties. She sets down her purse, takes another look at the triple stack of pancakes on her plate and adds, “I’m about to go in.”
“Drag brunches” have started popping up at gay bars across the country, but Sunday’s brunch at Bayou City is a first for Houston and for many of the drag queens in attendance. Symphony admits that, after performing until 2 a.m. on Saturday nights each week, she usually sleeps well into the afternoon on Sundays.
Most of the patrons are regulars of the bar, friends of the drag queens, or both. The brunch has a lazy, but comfortable vibe. Between sets, the drag queens eat and drink at the bar with their friends and catch up on snatches of gossip from the night before. Even while sitting in this neighborhood gay bar, one can’t help but think that we’re all here, in part, because we want to keep the idea of the “neighborhood gay bar” alive. As famous gay waterholes like New York City’s Rawhide Bar shut their doors for good, places like Bayou Bar and Grill are becoming harder and harder to find.
In one corner, just a few feet away from the ATM and video game arcade, a stripper pole stands unused, for the time being. Patrons sip their margaritas, eat their breakfast tacos and hot wings, and the DJ leaves his booth to smoke a cigarette outside on the porch.
As she gets ready to introduce another performer, Raven St. James scans the audience of about 17 people, including staff, and admits, “The audience is a bit… light today, but honestly. There are more of you here than I expected.” Even still, the queens twirl, flutter their eyelashes, and work the room as if the house is packed. Later, after a performer receives a less than enthusiastic response from the audience, Raven swoops in, “Moving right along, smoothly, professionally and expeditiously. That’s our new word. Expeditiously.”
The men’s restroom at Bayou City Bar and Grill doubles as a dressing room for the performers. While the drag queens change outfits and put finishing touches on their make-up, the women’s restroom becomes a makeshift unisex restroom as well as an impromptu lounge and photo booth.
With projected highs in the 90s all week (and likely, all summer long), most patrons are sipping on frozen margaritas instead of mimosas. It’s hard to blame them. On Sundays, margaritas only cost a dollar. When Symphony finishes her pancakes, all it takes is a nod at the bartender and her drink of choice, grape Kool-Aid mixed with vodka, is on its way.
With her drink in hand, Symphony saunters toward the restroom for her next costume change. When she re-emerges, it’s to the beat of Etta James singing “I’d Rather Go Blind.” With a wig befitting a Texas drag queen and a dress that can best be described as hypnotizing, she starts performing directly for the camera. By the end of the number, she’s standing three feet from our photographer, hands on hips, ignoring the song almost entirely.
Forget brunch. Symphony McKnight Capri has found a whole new spotlight.