Some of the patrons at The Back Door had been waiting for almost two hours when the song “Fashionista” by Jimmy James began to play, signaling the start of the Grand Re-Opening Patio Party drag performances.
“Places. The show is about to start,” the song played. “Faces, beautiful. No ugly allowed.”
Almost all of the about 70 attendees turned to the stage as the voice of Vex Beaverhausen, host for the night, echoed over the loudspeakers.
“All right ladies and gentlemen and everyone in between,” she said. “Are you ready to party tonight?”
The crowd cheered as Vex strutted to the song “A-YO” by Lady Gaga, sporting a half-face shield and a gold coat that shone as she lifted her leg onto the railing of the patio and pretended to fall backward in a campy maneuver. She continued to dance, hop and lip-sync as she walked down the stairs from the makeshift stage.
Mocha Debeauté, Mary Fagdalane, Juniper Perón and Kalinda followed Vex’s opening number with death drops, powerful ballads and captivating performances.
After more than a year closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Back Door was finally open.
Co-owner Smoove said while he was sad the space closed in March 2020, he knew the precaution was going to help regular customers and the community stay safe.
“We’re terrible capitalists,” Smoove said. “I was all in favor of people over profits.”
Smoove said he applied for five loans to pay for utilities and keep the space. Smoove and the other owners also used some of the money to remodel the patio area, creating an outdoor performance space. The goal was to create a “dinner theater but queer” vibe, arts and entertainment director Kevin Masters said.
By Saturday, the space was a vibrant escape from the brick walls and concrete caverns surrounding it, which still served as effective spaces for smoke breaks.
Juniper Perón leaned on the wall next to the door to The Back Door’s newly renovated patio, wearing a sparkly red number and sporting thigh-high red boots, as she waited for her third song of the night to play.
Just after the first muffled notes played from the outdoor speakers, feet shuffled behind her.
“Can I go first, baby girl?” a server said quickly as they crouched slightly and sped to the door, drink tray in hand.
Juniper stepped to the side to let them pass a few seconds before she walked out to start her performance.
This sharing of the entrance to the patio was not the only technical difficulty that developed on opening night. As Juniper and other queens were dazzling the crowd with their dance moves, death drops and teased wigs, those operating behind the scenes worked through opening-night difficulties.
Leaders at The Back Door argued over whether to have an intermission during the second show because it started as people were still filing into the space. Servers continuously jogged from the bar, out the back door, down the stairs and back while carrying drink trays. Bartenders hustled to keep up with orders for specialty drinks like “the salad tosser” and “cherry poppins.”
Employees passed dollar bills to each other as they figured out the best system to deliver the performers’ tips. Vex breathed heavily after performances and complained of her feet hurting, an effect of sitting behind a desk for about a year.
Even with new adjustments, the girls were glad to be back.
During the year The Back Door and other gay-friendly nightclubs were shut down, the five queens who performed at the Grand Re-Opening took the time to rest, work on their craft or produce more digital content.
Vex worked for IU as a contact tracer. She sometimes practiced her drag makeup on half of her face.
Kalinda took some time to reevaluate the time and money she was putting into drag — including gas, makeup, clothes and wigs — compared to the money she was earning from it before she returned to gigs. She decided to scale back to focus on quality over quantity.
Juniper did some performances at outside venues and filmed a few music videos showcasing her drag.
Although the queens found their time filled with other preoccupations, they said they missed being with their found families and performing, especially in an inclusive space like The Back Door: a space where multiple patrons wear shirts with sayings such as, “sounds gay, I’m in,” where there are four different shades of purple hair in the crowd and where all people wear heels.
A few more steps, such as the installation of the canopy, need to be completed before The Back Door starts functioning at the same pace and efficiency it did before the pandemic struck.
Yet even with all of the difficulties, an inclusive community space was restored Saturday.
At the end of the second drag show, after the patrons’ pockets had been emptied of any $1 bills, Vex called all of the queens to the stage for a final curtain call.
“Love everybody, including our trans brothers and sisters,” she shouted into the microphone.
The crowd cheered in response and many people stayed after to enjoy the oasis created especially for them.
Editor’s note: A sentence was removed from this article that did not appropriately reflect the components of drag performance.