Stonewall’s house DJ kept himself busier than most this year. Between The Sodomighty Show he’s been running from BBOX Radio pre-Covid, his weekly livestream parties on Insta, the digital editions of his variety show “Freak Out” and his occasional guest spots on other shows, Chauncey’s persistence keeps Stonewall’s musical heart beating through the stillness of quarantine.
The petite, dance-tastic Manhattan fashionista and J-Lo disciple was hosting shows of her own or guest performing nearly every night of the week across the borough pre-Covid. Later in the year, she was one of the first to dabble in digital drag (with sis Tina Burner) before giving socially-distanced live shows at Cherry’s and Playhouse. Also, check out her Insta for a lovely new set of shots from David Serrano.
48. Ari Kiki
One of New York’s favorite messy comedy queens, we the people have gotten our weekly fix of the Haus of Kiki matriarch since lockdown began care of her charming weekly “Makeup Mondays” (where she simply does her makeup and gabs with a guests on Insta). Ari’s also appeared in a number of virtual revues produced by her daughter Catrina Lovelace, and has done several digital shows with sis Svetlana Stoli. The real question remains, though: will Ms. Kiki keep her fetching quarantine beard in 2021?
47. Kandy Muse
One of Brooklyn and Manhattan’s fan favorite queens was off doing a Thing at a Place for much of lockdown, but returned to socially distanced live shows at venues like Hardware and 3 Dollar Bill upon her return. Among numerous other projects, Kandy recorded a single with Alaska, accompanied by a fun video that dropped in September. 2021 should be an even bigger year for Ms. Muse… stay tuned.
46. Crimson Kitty
Let’s face it: everyone knows that Mx. Kitty is one of the most ferocious talents to have ever hit the New York drag stage thanks to their amazing costumes, hilarious mixes, striking stunts and all around starpower. But because they are not a cis male, they’ve rarely gotten the same opportunities to shine as their cis male drag peers do. But now with the rise of digital drag shows, all those prejudices and politics go out the window. Crimson’s served us tons of stellar digital performances in various revues they’ve been part of this year, several of which they’ve produced themselves. Also one of the city’s premiere cosplay queens, Crimson was made to shine on the digital stage. We hope to see them on many physical stages on the other side of lockdown, but at the same time we’ll be tuning in to whatever digital hairballs they cough our way… because they will always be amazing.
45. Zeta Jones
This breathtakingly gorg dance queen is best known for her weekly show at REBAR Chelsea, which she had since adapted to a digital show care of that bar’s Instagram starting rather early in quarantine. Serving the children consistently entertaining weekly virtual shows month after month is no easy task, but Zeta has risen to the occasion… and has recently even added a second weekly digital show to repertoire as well.
44. Kizha Carr
As of this writing we can catch the incomparable Kizha–mother to such amazing local queens as Jasmine Rice LaBeija and Rosé–back at Industry Bar on Sunday nights, but earlier and on a smaller scale than her long-running show there, “1999.” Kizha had shows all over Manhattan, and was just beginning to curate a rather interesting one on a new Barracuda night before quarantine happened. She also used livestreaming to experiment with her fantastic outer spacey makeup prowess, and that was a wonderfully fun thing to behold (see above photo, for example).
43. Thorgy Thor & Alexis Michelle
2020 has turned out to be a watermark year for the Drag Race brand for many reasons–one of which being that the show’s former cast members have proven they can be TV stars outside the franchise. Boho Brooklyn matriarch Thorgy (Season 8, All-Stars 3) and Broadway mama Alexis (Season 9) joined forces with two other RuGirl alums Bebe Zahara Benet and JujuBee as the stars of TLC’s reality series Dragnificent, which premiered in April. Dragnificent follows these four queens as they travel the country improving the lives of women on the eve of momentous occasions in their lives (weddings, anniversaries, promotions, etc.), via makeovers and party planning and sage advice-giving. On paper it sounds corny, and maybe feeds into a strange niche stereotype that drag queens exist solely to be fairy godmothers of straight women. But the show is actually super sweet, the queens make for very likeable hosts, the women’s stories are profound, and the whole operation safely exposes queer culture to a much larger and more mainstream audience than Drag Race ever could. Plus, the invested queens really do seem to help these women… and the jaded souls of all us viewers in the process. Here’s hoping for Season 2!
42. Inita D
Success in nightlife has always been elusive, and in 2020 it was largely impossible. People in the biz had to work five times as hard this year to make ends meet, remain in the spotlight and be creatively inspired, all while juggling the traumas of the moment that the whole world struggled with. But even considering all that, few queens in the biz worked harder than Inita, who in her young drag career has already developed quite the rep for being a consummate professional on and off stage. Inita’s been serving delightful digital shows and hosting every live event she can, which now includes weekly brunches at Fresco’s Cantina and Tarallucci e Vino. A high-flying athlete onstage thanks in part to being a star member of Cheer New York, Inita is now proving to be an engaging hostess on mic as well… and that’s the skill you need to be a star in this town!
41. Monet X Change
Definitely a fan favorite the whole world over, comedy / music diva and Drag Race alum Monet (Season 9 Miss Congeniality, All-Stars 4 *sigh* co-winner tied with Trinity the Tuck) is another queen who proves you can find continued success outside the franchise. With a hit podcast (shared with sis Bob the Drag Queen), popular YouTube content including the chat show The X Change Rate, a rousing new single in her discography and a million Instagram followers, Ms. Monet’s multimedia platform is quite lofty. And soon, she will be adding an extraordinary new credit to her resume as she makes her London theatrical stage debut with Death Drop, opposite Courtney Act.
40. Petti Cash
Petti was already a drag star on the rise before the quarantine game changer–but even with that massive obstacle in her way, the momentum never stopped. Funny, glamorous and a scarily sick dancer, Ms. Cash dominates the Astoria scene, the livestreams, and most recently Fire Island with constant and consistently entertaining shows. And we’re pretty damn sure that Petti’s starpower has only more rising to do.
You may have noticed Jax’s name appear several times on this list already; that’s because in addition to becoming one of the fastest rising stars in the industry, she’s also one of New York drag’s go-to photographers as well. On stage, the exceedingly aerobic queen does stunts in heels that the average person can’t even dream themselves doing, and she does it all in fully realized looks. A fixture of some fun digital revues these past few months, you really need to see her live in order to gag on the Full Jax–which is why the “Black is Queen” show she hosted at 3 Dollar Bill for a few months was so popular.
Does any NYC queen represent the high fashion, beauty and glamor of 21st century drag more than Digna? The veteran scene hostess has really come into her own in recent years as a queen who can both fill bars when she’s working and blow up the internet when she posts new pics. When socially distanced live shows became a thing she was one of the first queens to return to live performing at venues like The Ritz and 3 Dollar Bill, and no doubt she will be one to shape the new nightlife landscape when full capacity returns. Also, we’re counting the minutes until Drag Race comes a-calling.
37. Kiki Ball-Change
Still relatively new to the scene, this queen has electrified stages with her sharp comic timing, Broadway pizzazz, creative costuming and boisterous personality. Already a web celeb of sorts pre-quarantine thanks to a YouTube cooking show, Kiki went with the flow during lockdown and brightened her digital spotlight even more with some very memorable performances. We’ve also gotten a few delightful live shows from her in limited capacity venues, like Don’t Tell Mama. The drag daughter of Coco Peru, Kiki is taking her place among the wigged greats of the city.
36. Janelle No. 5
Janelle has become a mainstay on New York stages–both Brooklyn and Manhattan–these past two years, serving high glamor and sultry moves. She also photographs pretty damn well, if her Insta has anything to say about it. Lately you can generally find her performing for socially distanced crowds– usually with some combo of her drag sisters Kandy Muse, Xunami Muse and Dahlia Sin–at venues like Pieces, The Ritz and Tarallucci e Vino.
35. Ruby Roo
Like Ruby told Thrillist in their great November write-up of her, it’s hard out here for a queen these Covid days. That goes doubly for hostess Ms. Roo, who’s acerbic wit, lyrical storytelling and high hair glam signal a Steven Universe-like fusion of Coco Peru, Bianca Del Rio and Joni Mitchell. Ruby had shows all over Manhattan nearly every night of the week, and all that shut down with quarantine. Choosing to largely avoid digital shows (personally, we think she would’ve made a compelling screen queen), she did boytend at Pieces throughout the pandemic–care of that bar’s lovely outdoor setup and socially distant indoor situation–and eventually resumed her Friday night shows there. No doubt Lady Roo will be back on top where she belongs in 2021!
34. Pissi Myles
We already knew that she was one of the most naturally, intelligently funny queens in all of New York and New Jersey. And we already knew she was a politically minded and progressive activist (nearly an exact year since she made headlines appearing at Trump’s impeachment hearings in drag as a Happs News correspondent, Pissi was covering Trump again care of Pennsylvania street interviews on Election Day). Oh, and she’s a scream queen too! In My Spooky Gay Family, a podcast she’s been co-hosting for a minute now, everything from horror movies to episodes from Unsolved Mysteries are dissected. These days, you can also see her hosting live shows at Pieces.
New York’s great wardrobe reveal queen had to largely rely on her other skills (fierce lip sync and beats, a warm comedic presence) to pull off digital drag during lockdown, or else she’d likely knock the webcam over with a stray gown. Yet her Insta shows with “Broadway Mondays” (normally at Hardware) co-star Jacklynn Hyde were very fun to watch, as well as her few other web appearances. Holly’s recently returned to some of her home base venues for shows and hosting, like Industry and Rise Bar.
32. FiFi DuBois
The longtime West Village’s favorite pageant dance clown is likely as anxious to return to Stonewall for her “Polish the Queen” drag competition hosting gig as we are to see her there again. In the meantime, FiFi’s been killing us softly with digital shows–one of the first queens to start doing so, care of her weekly Disney trivia on Facebook and some other virtual appearances. She’s also popped up in some live venues for a few shows recently as well, like Club Feathers, Cecil’s Steakhouse and Side Door.
31. Selma Nilla
Another newish queen that’s now making her way among the NYC greats, Selma is known for impeccable wig designs, lavish production numbers and fully realized looks down to the smallest details (OMG, Hawaiian pig! OMG, Thanos!). Quarantine did not deter her creative pursuits… now she hosts a popular cooking show on YouTube, and has recently started giving weekly shows at The Ritz. Bonus: Selma made appearances on Rachel Ray and Watch What Happens Live this year!
30. Tina Burner
While her mysterious absence during lockdown was sorely realized, one of the city’s favorite comedy queens and most in-demand hostesses was actually one of the first NYC drag performers to give digital shows a try–always a trailblazer! And we’re glad that she and her gals Bootsie LeFaris and Tammy Spanx were able to tour with their Glam-winning Halloween show Witch Perfect for a spell as well. Known for her blunt hilarity, crazy mixes and costumes ranging from the brilliantly ridiculous to the sublimely sequined, Tina is a true drag force of nature. And while we long to see her back in the bars again hosting her shows upon shows (probably most famously the iconic “Star Search” competition at Barracuda and her annual Miss Barracuda pageant), we think it’s time we prepare ourselves to finally have to share Tina with the world.
29. Jon ALi
Lots of DJs in the city make some effort to discover new music from queer artists both local and abroad, but few do it as religiously and in-depth as Jon. The former Billboard columnist’s primary music blog, which currently hosts a popular “In Depth” podcast that has him interviewing stars of the queer music scene, is partially responsible for exposing the world to dance artists as huge as Dua Lipa as well as indie darlings from across the globe. Also a popular DJ for both lit dance parties and fun drag shows all across town, Jon additionally hosted a digital dance party on his Insta. He’s since returned to some of his weekly gigs at limited capacity venues.
28. Logan Hardcore
Would you have predicted 5 years ago that Logan Freakin’ Hardcore would be the voice of reason and sanity in 2020!? Well, she most definitely is: pulling out of nightlife venues early on in the pandemic scare, knowing what was coming; publicly calling out and shaming party throwers who defied quarantine in her notoriously unfiltered fashion; and even refraining from summering in Fire Island, where she is normally received every year as an icon. Logan is still a good time gal, as anyone who watches the riotously riveting “Slaughterhouse,” her weekly Facebook show and definitely one of the most popular of its kind, can attest. But she is also a Full Grown Woman who is not here for your dumb shit. Actually, that much is pretty par for the course with Ms. Hardcore.
Arguably the drag queeniest drag queen in the land, Jasmine of the Royal House of LaBeija always represents drag in both its most classic and most cutting edge forms. Few forces on Earth are more potently entertaining than Jasmine, even when she’s stuck with a fuzzy mic on a bar stage that’s the size of an overturned laundry basket. She’s someone we sorely missed this year, as she didn’t make too many digital appearances during lockdown (although there was the virtual AIDS Walk and the Club Cumming Virtual Variety Show, and for one glorious moment it looked like she was going to host a series where she evaluated OnlyFans pages). But Jasmine did get to enjoy a Fire Island Pines summer residency, and came back to live performing at several of her weekly venues as soon as time allowed.
26. Neon Calypso
Already a star performer and producer in Boston, Neon is slowly but quite surely making herself a force to behold in New York as well. This is because she’s such a dynamic performer: hilarious, dramatic, edgy and relentless. It’s also because she works incredibly hard, and is at all times a consummate professional. Neon’s pretty much taken over Brooklyn with frequent performances in all the videos there, including the new Pink Metal where she packed the house with a weekly show there pre-Covid. She’s also winning the digital game as well, with constant appearances on a variety of shows and revues including a weekly she co-hosts on Twitch with her sis Violencia! from Dragula, as well as her participation in the NIGHTGOWNS performance docu-series on QUIBI. It’s just a matter of time before Neon dominates the globe… let us New Yorkers and Bostonians enjoy her local energy while we still can!
Armed with rousing daredevil dance stunts, a vivid glam punk androgynous (duh) look and a liver clearly forged with the metal that Wolverine’s claws are made out of, AndrogyNY is kind of a throwback and kind of the new face of drag. Rather than wilt as a dancer confined in the box of digital drag, (s)he utilized the space to its maximum potential and just blazed ahead with crazy antics (like a kiddie pool propped in the middle of their apartment as an homage to The Ice Palace’s Pool Show) and endless, booze-fueled chat, several nights a week for months… and it worked! It was all enthralling, particularly the uber-popular “Take a Shot Tuesdays” that co-starred Brenda Dharling and Jacklynn Hyde. AndrogyNY was also a headlining Fire Island performer this summer as well, after a long period of guest starring and bartending there. We can’t wait for more live AndrogyNY moments–in fact, “Take a Shot Tuesdays” with all three hostesses recently made it’s live debut at Playhouse.
24. Dahlia Sin
Once part of the now-dispersed Haus of Aja here in NYC, the fierce Dahlia left us for LA a few years ago; she’s just recently returned during quarantine to give us some socially distant shows at venues like 3 Dollar Bill. The End. Just kidding, of course! Between her departure and return, Dahlia was a cast member of Drag Race’s tumultuous (but so damn good) twelfth season. And yes, she was the first sent home–someone has to be, but this early dismissal really stung because any fool could see her potential, and how a longer stay would’ve made the show even better. The judges totally gagged at her stunning, urban chic form on the runway. And she was trade! And she has a twin (!). Well, at least she proceeded to make several cameos throughout the remaining season dressed as a giant broccoli, cuz our girl Ru loves a surreal running sight gag (and so do we). Anyway, whether she stays here or goes back to LA or even decides to relocate to Fiji or something, Dahlia’s legacy is cemented and her starpower shines bright.
23. Bootsie LeFaris
A true NYC treasure as far as singing comedy hostesses with increasingly eclectic fashions go, it’s just a matter of time before the city gets better and Bootsie returns to her hectic eight-nights-a-week work schedule. But during the downtime we got to enjoy her Fire Island Pines residency and her Halloween Witch Perfect mini-tour with Tina Burner and Tammy Spanx, plus she made a bunch of funny livestream appearances as well. At this writing, Bootsie’s back to hosting at Industry, Hardware and Pieces.
New York drag queens are so great, they’re even getting on Drag Race: Canada! While Lemon certainly honed her considerable skills during her year-plus stint as a NYC queen, she’s a Toronto native and returned to the Motherland to deliver some very memorable moments (that yellow coat! The pageant toddler look! “The only thing that you’re fucking is stupid!” JOJO!) on our northern neighbor’s premiere season. A trained dancer with a magnetic look and a charming spoiled princess repertoire, Lemon is a fully realized character that we’d love to see on our stages and screens over and over again. We’ll be bitter forever that she didn’t make the Drag Race finals, but it’s all lemonade from here on out.
This is usually the time in a RuGirl’s career when a queen begins the patient wait for the All-Stars callback… but our glorious Pep might just be too busy for that. Since her turn on Drag Race’s ninth season back in 2017, this shining light and veteran entertainer has been on Broadway (Head Over Heels in 2018, making history as the first trans woman originating a Broadway role), acting on TV (POSE), walking tall and strong through the streets of NYC as an activist, and recording music (her concept album A Girl Like Me: Letters to My Lovers dropped in October). And as if all that wasn’t enough, Peppermint also joined a panel of trans ex-Drag Race cast members in hosting the Translation talk show on Amazon, and solo hosts Pepp Talk weekly on Twitch.
20. Jacklynn Hyde
If 2020 wasn’t already the Year of Covid, it would be the Year of Jacklynn; it’s pretty hard to see her in action and not think that we have a new big star on our hands. Sutton Lee Seymour’s drag daughter first wowed the Astoria crowd with her unique combo of deadpan wit and friendly warmth, her Broadway boss energy and her knack for celebrating the humor in everyday things (see her “Coffee” mix). She soon claimed Manhattan audiences as well thanks to Broadway Mondays at Hardware. And when quarantine happened she became a ubiquitous presence online–she performed, gabbed, cooked, ate, drank, and in probably the most ambitious livestream of the year she spent 24 enthralling hours online doing a bit of each, plus sewing, wig styling, getting her tarot read and a number of other adventurous tasks. Who knows what exactly the future holds for NYC in the coming months? Well one thing we do know is, Jacklynn will be there lighting the way.
19. Nicky Doll
The only thing that most New Yorkers outside the realm of Susanne Bartsch parties knew about French-born, San Francisco transplant Nicky Doll for the first year she’s lived here is that she’s drop dead gorgeous. But besides being a cosmetic prodigy and supreme fashionista, Nicky’s run on this past twelfth season of Drag Race showed the whole world that she is also funny, campy, smartly sexy and interesting. And a recent pair of outdoor shows at Don’t Tell Mama revealed that she can sing, too! Although Covid derailed the opportunities that Season Twelve’s cast members were supposed to enjoy the same way that recent season’s RuGirls have, it will be the smart, versatile and creative girls that can still keep their momentum going. So Nicky should be just fine!
18. Pixie Aventura
She’ll always be one of our city’s most cherished dance queens and hostesses, so we were grateful to get any Pixie fix that we could in 2020. Our best bets for catching this candid superstar diva were her summer residency at the Fire Island Pines, her web shows on Instagram and YouTube, her virtual Drag Out the Vote participation and her revived shows at Hardware and Playhouse as of October.
17. Maddelynn Hatter
Dragula Season 3 alum Maddelynn certainly brought all the fun drama to that series (sidebar: what were they thinking leaving her off the Shudder Halloween special?), but in the real world remains a professional with her fiery eyes on the prize. The Queen of 365 Days of Halloween turned the livestream shows that many queens felt forced to do in consolation of no more live gigs into the perfect vessel to harness her own dark craft. Maddelynn’s two shows on Twitch, “The Madd Hour” which serves as a solo affair and “Banshee” co-starring her Dragula sisters Evah Destruction and Louisianna Purchase, remain stellar platforms for her brilliantly ghoulish glam.
16. Lagoona Bloo
During quarantine, NYC’s liquid lady of live singing drag graced us with a livestream Instagram presence (viewed by hundreds weekly) that sometimes included one or both of her Stephanie’s Child sisters Jan & Rosé. She also dropped some high quality cover songs and videos for our listening and viewing pleasure, and along with her SC sisters released a Christmas album. Another hot ticket this year was the cabaret Mamacitas starring Lagoona and her daughter Castrata, which premiered at Don’t Tell Mama long before Covid and continued throughout with outdoor editions. Unfortunately Therapy Bar, the home of possibly the city’s most successful drag show “Soaked Thursdays” that starred Lagoona, Rosé and Brita Filter, did not survive the lockdown. It would be great to see that show resurface in some fashion somewhere, but regardless Ms. Bloo is no doubt preparing for her 2021 world takeover.
15. Rify Royalty
Whether she’s serving Boy Bod realness or Glamor Girl eleganza (although these days it’s more often than not the latter), Rify knows her way around a gagworthy happening in nightlife–given that she’s either the producer or star attraction of many of them. Quarantine proved a nearly insurmountable obstacle for most party makers, but Rify soldiered through via an increasingly lush Instagram gallery lookbook, appearances in several digital events from Susanne Bartsch and others, dropping a fierce Fiona Apple video, going to Target, curating an OnlyFans, and hosting the socially distant weekly “I Know You Didn’t Do Shit This Summer” drag revue at 3 Dollar Bill. Few folks on the scene today embody that chic, counterculture cool factor that drew many of us to nightlife in the first place the way that Rify does, and as long as she’s around New York will still retain a bit of that classic coolness.
14. Misty Meaner & Mocha Lite
This on and off stage pair has been a staple of New York drag for a decade or so; they’ve had shows all over town, but still hold a particularly legendary status in Brooklyn. For a minute, it seemed uncertain that Misty and Mocha would be active during quarantine–many established queens opted to avoid digital drag and outdoor shows altogether. But then suddenly the internet was aflame with the twosome, thanks at first to a popular weekly show they co-hosted (which turned into a Drag Race: Canada viewing party). Then later, Misty herself debuted “Replican’t,” where she re-created makeup looks from internet trends, RuGirls and even the worm from Labyrinth; anyone who wasn’t already in the know now understood that she’s actually kind of a makeup genius (and nowadays she’s a bathing suit designer and star wig stylist to boot). Meanwhile, vampy dance queen Mocha recently hosted her digital birthday showcase and streamed a Twitch game night. Eventually the twosome resumed live shows in Brooklyn, much to their fans’ delight. Few in the business have proven more adaptable to the times than Mocha and Misty, and we’re excited to see what they have in store for us in 2021.
13. Susanne Bartsch
What is the Empress of Nightlife to do without a nightlife? Whatever she can, or alternately, whatever she wants. Susanne–who didn’t per se invent nightlife but refined how music and fashion and street smarts could fuse into something that functioned as art and entertainment and community–left us with a few baubles. First there was “Strip Down,” a raunchy and riotous virtual revue series of her favorite fashionistas and colleagues. Then there was “Hey You,” a chat show she co-hosted on Insta with iconic sis Joey Arias. And of course there were several Bartschland Zoom parties highlighting her army of look queens and cutting edge DJ Judys; those were as close to the real thing as they could possibly be. No doubt the True Queen B has a lot of pent up creative energy to burn these days… 2021 is gonna be lit.
12. Miz Cracker
Now, that was more like it! RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars 5 saw Cracker return to the franchise with a ferocity and slay her way to the final three, where every New York drag fan knew she belonged. And this time she wasn’t bogged down by the “inner saboteur” narrative she was stuck with on Season 10–like she told Ru that time around, sometimes your inner saboteur can be your friend. Her erudite comedy (although she’s not above poop jokes) and risky-but-always tasteful fashion choices (yet sometimes she dresses like a pickle) make New York proud. That skill set’s also enabled her to remain in the spotlight post-Drag Race via a bop, a podcast, a Hulu appearance, a busy YouTube channel, a million Instagram followers and a planned North American tour in the spring.
We profoundly miss seeing our favorite bawdy Broadway babes command a live stage like they did at Hardware and Therapy in recent times, but fortunately they were two of the first queens to get onboard the Livestream Express. Giving us warm belly laughs while wowing us with their vast repertoire and vocal gymnastics, Sutton and Cac both have a way of making us feel like we’re all in the same room again, even if we’re just enjoying them from our touchscreens. Separately, they each slayed their own massively popular Facebook shows (Sutton with “Musical Mondays,” Cacophony with Tuesdays’ “Live in Isolation”), but the even bigger treat was their shared show, “Together Apart” on Saturdays. Given the fact that both queens generally spend a great percentage of their drag time on the road or abroad, perhaps these livestream shows might remain an option for both of them–a way to keep their fantastic vibes and visages fresh in the minds of their fans.
10. Holly Dae
One of Manhattan’s most essential queens, the hilarious Holly hosted a drag competition at The Ritz and several weeklies for the sexy Spunk party while also starring in a popular off-Broadway Disney stage revue and fronting possibly the city’s largest-by-scale weekly drag show “QUEEN” at Industry. Then came Covid! Rather than wallow, Holly became a pioneer of livestream drag and wound up with two very fun, widely viewed virtual shows on both Facebook and Instagram. These days, Holly has returned to Industry, the Ritz and Monster, and makes frequent appearances at Club Feathers as well. But we are all chomping at the bit for the return of QUEEN!
The darling Ms. Dharling stole our hearts–and our undivided attention–for yet another year in 2020, starting with her new show at the Playhouse, the site of the defunct Boots & Saddle Drag Lounge where she had her first weekly show. But New York’s widely celebrated dance queen, who also happens to be a classy pageant winner several times over and an all around sweetheart at that, did not go quietly into that good night with quarantine. She wound up in a pretty unlikely situation: doing magnificently messy livestream home shows with sisters AndrogyNY and Jacklynn that eventually evolved into “Take a Shot Tuesdays,” the crazy sprawling masterpiece of a web show that helped us all get through Covid. As of this writing, Brenda and her “Take a Shot” co-stars just had their first live show at Playhouse, and she’s also back doing her thing at Industry and Monster.
We have genuinely kind things to say about everyone on this list (why else would they be on it?) but words nearly fail us when we attempt to describe how this pair of dancing rock witches re-invigorated our excitement about drag. Perhaps because even when they perform the most sugary of pop material, they bring a thunderous energy to it that comes closer to heavy metal than anything else in drag (in fact, Boudoir does a straight up jaw-dropping homage to AC/DC’s original version of “Back in Black”). Or maybe it’s the easy-breezy, all-fun-but-no-nonsense banter they have on stage that makes everyone want to be their friend. Or how about the extraordinary production value they put into every they do, from Boudoir’s flashes of sparks in her live numbers to Kimmi’s gorgeously lavish video accompanying her sexy banger “One Night?” They don’t call themselves The Assassins for nothing! But also they support other queens and other causes, and they’re super professional and ugh… let’s stop the fan-geeking right this second! Oh wait, there’s that glorious video set to a Led Zeppelin song that sister Assassin Nick Gaga shot of Boudoir (Nick also shot Kimmi’s video, btw) that basically dramatizes what’s going on in every queen’s head during Covid. Okay, that’s enough! Anyway, The Assassins rocked Fire Island this summer, and while they mostly avoided digital drag (although Boudoir did a production that included a four piece orchestra one incredible night). And now they’re back at Pieces and Playhouse. We’re just dying to see what The Assassins will slay us with us next!
7. Brita Filter
Let’s give it up for Queen Brita Filter, one of New York’s most beloved and celebrated nightlife entertainers of the past few years–with her trademark mammoth smile, octopus wigs, eye-catching costumes and effervescent dancing–for doing us proud on Drag Race Season 12. She didn’t win, and she dared to draw the ire of the young fandom for having words with her “kooky outsider” co-star that their collective hysteria anointed as the one they had to be devoted to (and when guest judge Leslie Jones went in on that, shit got really weird). At least Brita was somewhat vindicated in the reunion episode when her other co-stars talked up her genuine kindness and professionalism, but receiving all that negativity from faceless strangers while you’re quarantined at home for months on end cannot be easy. Someone do something about that garbage fire fanbase, please! Anyway, after devoting her time digitally to the Drag Out the Vote cause, Brita has recently moved to Hawaii and is giving DJ’ing a go. No doubt she will put her All into it and slay like she does with everything else, but hopefully the New York drag stages won’t remain without Ms. Filter for too long. We already miss her hard!
6. Paige Turner
New York’s longtime blonde Broadway bombshell musical comedy diva is always here to make you forget your troubles and have a good time. While we mourned the loss of her home base Therapy Bar, Paige’s monstrously popular pair of weekly livestream shows gifted her loyal fanbase with many joyful moments thanks to songs, puppets, and really good lighting. Circa December, Paige is back to live hosting in NYC care of Rise Bar and a pending holiday show at Don’t Tell Mama. Let the Slurping commence!
5. Jackie Cox
Jackie’s great success on this recent twelfth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race (she made Top 5) was meaningful on many levels: 1) Of all the New York queens cast that season, she made it farthest (aside from that one who made it all the way to the Top 4, but was eliminated before the finale); 2) Jackie’s brand of Broadway-informed bravado mixed with whipsmart standup and pop culture references is one of the most New York presentations ever on the show; 3) she got to embrace and display her Persian heritage–most notably with her American flag-inspired hijab runway look courtesy of Travis Oestreich–which is an opportunity rarely afforded to her Hell’s Kitchen shows, and the type of symbolic gesture that Middle Eastern queer people have rarely if ever seen before; and 4) she reminded New York and the world that she’s trade. Having won her own tribe of fangeeks this season, the future is quite bright for Ms. Cox–especially when you consider that’s she already been writing and producing her own stage shows for quite some time. But if you need a Jackie Fix right now, she’s currently hosting a weekly YouTube show for Broadway Talk Live.
The Welsh-born musician is probably best known to New York nightlifers as the DJ behind “Romy And Michele’s Saturday Afternoon Tea Party,” Club Cumming’s East Village institution of blissful reto vibes which has recently resurfaced as a part outdoors / part online event. But BLBL already had three albums under his belt of eclectic, dreamy dance pop, and 2020 brought us his fourth and arguably best release: Fun City. At once wistful yet energetic, this collection gives us a neo disco meets new wave vibe that actually feels very in-the-moment. In fact, the lead single “This Was My House” might accidentally function as the anthem for the loss of nightlife in the age of quarantine, or even the death of our idea of what America is in the era of Trump. The record also boasts the gut-wrenching AIDS-inspired ballad “Saying Goodbye Is Exhausting,” a duet with Justin Vivien Bond. That’s all pretty heavy stuff, but first and foremost Fun City is, well, fun. And “I Used To Be Cool” has one of the year’s most sexy-funny, mustache-friendly videos. Queue it up and werk through the rest of 2020!
In 2020, the whole world felt their JANtasy. She was already a superstar in New York drag thanks to her gloriously giddy stage persona and gorgeously glam presentation, not to mention those high octave popstar vocals that were in harmony with Lagoona Bloo and Rosé when the three performed as Stephanie’s Child. That trio previously scored some high rated TV time thanks to appearances on The Voice and America’s Got Talent, so Jan came into Drag Race Season 12 with an unusually qualified pedigree despite her youth. And while she wasn’t the New York queen who lasted the longest in the competition, she may have made the biggest impression on viewers due in part to the wide array of talents, aesthetics and characteristics she revealed onstage. It also “helped” that she didn’t actually win any main challenge–one non-win in particular, which was really confounding to any viewer with half a brain, had her break her own cheery disposition with a face crack that became an internet-destroying meme (much to Jan’s delight) which in turn evolved into a true pop art moment. Fans were very much on her side, and when she eventually sashayed away they immediately wanted her to shante right back. That might happen soon enough, but until then the JANtasy continues in New York as our queen resumes her live shows at Icon and Albatross, while getting ready to finally release some highly anticipated original music on top of the holiday collection Stephanie’s Child just dropped.
Remember back in 2016 when everyone who already knew the effortlessly hilarious Bob, along with everyone who discovered her on the first episode of Drag Race’s eighth season, just recognized immediately and unequivocally that she was gonna win the whole thing? Well, everyone was right… and this queen continues to win. In fact, Bob has to be one of the most successful alums of the show–she’s a compelling enough figure that we can easily see her leaving drag behind at this point and making it work as an actor and comic. But Bob isn’t anywhere near done with drag yet. Right now she’s co-hosting the beloved Sibling Rivalry podcast with good sis Monet X Change, is World of Wonder’s best ever host of “The Pit Stop,” has dropped tons of hilarious original YouTube content of her own, touring and livestreaming when and where she can (anytime she appears online with Peppermint is a golden moment in the making), producing live events with partner-in-crime Mitch Ferrino like the revamped “Look Queen” drag competition at Playhouse, connecting with her nearly one and a half million Instagram followers, and chilling with her two cute boyfriends. And, oh yeah… Bob stars alongside Shangela and Eureka O’Hara in that other drag-themed show starring RuGirls that isn’t part of that franchise. We’re Here on HBO is actually a true phenomenon, following the three queens as they explore rural red America to connect with queer people who live very differently than what we see in our urban bubble. It’s at once beautiful, insightful, fascinating, funny and vital to understanding that there are many ways to be queer and many different potential obstacles to overcome for one to live as their true self. The show’s crossover success has people across the world who have never seen an episode of Drag Race falling in love with the three hosts and the people they meet. OMG, remember when Bob burst out crying while talking to that rustic grandfather who was so supportive of his drag grandchild? Girl we were right there with you. And now that Bob’s recently moved to LA, it’s likely that we’re going to be seeing Bob on screen in some fashion a lot more. And we’re definitely here for that!
Truth: when all of nightlife shut down this year, Thotyssey wondered whether we should continue with our daily posts; the idea of just linking to blank pages seemed a waste of time at best. But very quickly, Marti came online with the first new digital shows of the year, and soon enough many other queens began to follow suit. It’s not surprising that Marti was the leading trailblazer once again–they’ve been finding new ways to stay fresh and relevant since they arrived on the scene. And nowadays, Marti’s innovation extends well beyond their own career and image. The long time unfiltered comedian, later reality series star / producer and recent “Baby Shark” viral video maker has been gradually developing into an activist, and now at last the activist is becoming a politician. They founded the Hell’s Kitchen Democrats in 2017 which soon became one of the most powerful political clubs in the city, and Marti currently sits on both Upper Manhattan’s Community Board 9 and Mayor De Blasio’s NYC Nightlife Board. Now Marti is also running to be the city’s first openly non-binary council member (District 7, vote in November next year). And they’re not just keyboard crusading their way to the finish line–Marti’s been out there on the front lines during the most heated moments of police violence during the summer protests, and at one point was even arrested with a crowd during peaceful demonstration. Marti’s presence on social media and the streets right now serves as a bridge of sorts between the political might of New York and the currently powerless, disenfranchised queer community of the city–not to mention the near gutted hospitality and entertainment industries as well. The nightlife world needs a drag politician more than ever before–someone who gets us and who can speak that civic language–and while drag queens have always been crusaders, Marti as usual is here to blaze this particular trail. But on top of all that–this is a list about the business of nightlife entertainment after all, not the OUT 100–this year’s Glam winning Entertainer of the Year Marti G. Allen-Cummings has remained connected to drag via fun and silly shows that may soon all return to live venues, like Sunday bingo at Pieces already has. Fixing our troubles is one thing, but helping us occasionally forget them is another equally important business. That duality might not be a thing forever as Marti’s political duties become more intense over time. But for now, this Crazy Covid Year has proven at least to be a very interesting and gratifying moment to know this fierce and fascinating person.
Epilogue: Once again, a special shout-out to all the bar owners and managers and employees who are keeping this dormant industry alive through your persistence, hope and unwavering strength. Without your continued efforts during these impossible times, no one on this list would matter. And to those who couldn’t quite make it through, we thank you dearly for your service and the memories you’ve given us, and we hope you’ll let us know how we can help you back to the table when the time is right for you. New York nightlife’s enemies have taken many forms throughout the decades, but somehow we’ve all managed to overcome and evolve. The next chapter might prove to be the most glorious one yet.