2020’s tHOTlist will no doubt go down as one of the strangest and most mysteriously subjective nightlife lists of all time, as this was a year with nearly no nightlife. The forced lockdown of New York, the United States and most of planet Earth as a result of the airborne Covid-19 coronavirus contagion nearly erased an entire global industry from existence. Drag performers, DJs, promoters, bar staffers, venue owners and all the others who make up nightlife’s lifeblood that were working six nights a week were now completely gone from the public eye in many cases. Bars and clubs largely closed for several months and struggled with adapting to mandatory food service, outdoor seating and then eventually the dreaded 25% capacity indoor allowance. Some, sadly, closed for good (Therapy, Barrage, The West End, Posh, Ninth Avenue Saloon, Boxers Washington Heights, Vodka Soda Bottoms Up, The Vault, The Copacabana, China Chalet, etc.). And New York nightlife’s big sisters, Broadway and off-Broadway, were hit even harder–we won’t see real, in-person theater again until at least mid-2021. For a minute, Thotyssey herself even began to wonder if she should throw in the towel, at least until the lockdown was over.
And besides the lockdown itself, it was a strange year for our nightlife heroes. While one of our city’s top queens was disqualified from global drag’s ultimate pageant RuPaul’s Drag Race for some truly bizarre and creepy dirty laundry, her remaining co-stars did not get to enjoy the requisite fame, windfall of cash and large scale opportunities that their predecessors got thanks to quarantine. In fact, many of Season 11’s stars were forced to face the wildly baseless social media hate from an increasingly toxic (and racist) homebound fanbase. Meanwhile the Drag Race franchise expanded to nearly Real Housewives widths, although the flagship show’s creator and namesake made herself less of a public figure than ever before. Also of note, a handful of TV shows starring former RuGirls that had no other connection to the franchise became massive crossover hits.
As lockdown progressed in later months, some nightlifers were publicly shamed for defying social distance ordinances thanks to damning social media evidence of their behavior, starting with the infamous “Rona Rave” in May. As time progressed we all got cancel crazy and incredibly snippy with each other as cabin fever, despair over poverty and uncertain futures, frustration with the Trump administration and fear of its destructive policies, rampant social injustice, and sadness with several losses in the community of beloved figures both Covid-related (Nashom Wooden) and otherwise (Sugga Pie Koko) tore at us. By the time that one crazy Fire Island queen used National Coming Out Day to “come out” as a Republican this autumn, we all nearly collectively exploded.
But of course the thing with queer culture and all counterculture is, it will adapt and outlast us all, no matter what is happening in the world. In fact, tragedy and hardship usually make a scene stronger. Cases in point: performers who barely got stage time in February suddenly became multimedia geniuses and digital darlings in March as nightlife moved to social media livestreaming; musicians who’d been putting off recording that song or filming that video were overnight prolific presences on YouTube; DJs were finding new ways to stream and release their mixes; venues used the downtime for interior upgrades; many folks hunkered down and learned new stuff and created new art and surprised themselves and all of us; hell, even Fire Island somehow had a reasonably successful summer.
Which brings us back to… this damn list! We can never really speak on its accuracy or its popularity, and it’s results are always 100% subjective. We use a magical algorithm to assign these listings that makes perfect sense to us, yet is the fodder for as much disagreement as praise. The tHOTlist is a conversation piece that draws a lot of traffic to this site, creating new subscribers and followers which ultimately benefits even the list’s most ardent haters.
This year, we looked at about 2.5 months of full service nightlife, eight months of lockdown virtual events and just about the last month and a half of limited live events mixed with continuing virtual shows for our findings. Sure, there’s no logical way to place specific value on any of this–but we’re satisfied with what we came up with.
This remains a New York-centric list: livestreamers who relocated out of New York before January are also not represented here (otherwise, folks like Honey Davenport–who’s done brilliant work this year– would’ve made Top Ten). One key difference in this year’s list is, we’ve eliminated venues from placement. It’s a shame, as 2020 is the year we should’ve been celebrating glorious newcomers like Playhouse, Lambda Lounge, Now & Then, Good Judy, Pink Metal, etc. But with everybody closed for 8 months or longer, it just seemed the fair and prudent thing to do. Venues will return to the list in 2021! For now, that gives us more slots to celebrate the folks that got us through 2020: from the individuals who ruled all the live stages and DJ booths early in the year and decided to sit out lockdown, to the folks who were born or reborn as virtual entertainers, to everyone in between.
A reminder that although we jokingly / wishfully call ourselves a “we,” one person is in fact writing this entire list and mistakes will be made. So if we misname your show Thirsty Thursday instead of Titty Tuesday please let us know in a classy DM and we will fix it! Also, we are including photo credits when we can easily find them and will happily add ones that we’re made aware of post-publication.
And finally: it’s everyone’s right to receive this list with as much positivity, negativity or complete disinterest as they choose. It is also their right to express their feelings however they choose, whether it’s a corrosive bottled up resentment or a praising screengrab or a scorching public burn. However, it’s also our right to value all good and bad feedback as good publicity, and to not really care about anyone’s particular brand of butt-hurt. Compared to what else is happening in the world, it’s not that serious. So enjoy!