A true staple of Fire Island’s Ice Palace, bartender and DJ Chuck McTague reflects on his storied career and his partnership with the legendary Girl of a Thousand Voices Porsche, along with the challenges and promises of this upcoming post-lockdown (fingers crossed!) but still socially distant season at the Ice Palace.
Thotyssey: Hello Chuck! Happy May! I understand you’re I’m the middle of getting your Fire Island summer house in order–how is it going?
Chuck McTague: It’s going well. Just some deep cleaning today, adding some shelving and getting ready to bring our fur babies out. And, of course, the never ending chore of laundry! All of that fun adult stuff. It’s all worth it, not having to live in staff housing. Lol!
I bet! Do you know how many years you’ve been coming to the Island now?
They were great! Good turnout for all of them. It was so nice to be back and to be inside again. Of course, [Fire Island favorite performer] Jennifer McClain surprising me from Ft. Lauderdale to sing with Porsche was the topper. I may have cried a little.
So where are you from originally? And were you always a music-minded person?
I was born and raised in Springfield, Missouri. And, music has always been an extreme passion for me. I started making mix tapes as soon as we could afford to buy dual cassette player/recorder. I eventually got one with a microphone, and played “radio DJ” when I was a kid and recorded my “sessions” onto cassette tape. I’d give anything to have those tapes back. Music has always been a huge part of my life. Mostly Madonna back then. Lol… gay!
Kids These Days don’t get the effort and emotion behind a well-made mix tape, lol! How did you begin as an actual DJ?
I was 21 years-old and starting to go to one of my hometown gay bars (before coming out to my family) called Club 1105. The DJ up in that “throne room,” for lack of a better term, just took me so aback and in awe–I had to meet him, and did. We’re friends to this day–a friend who taught me how to spin vinyl. Yes, I started on vinyl!
I was hooked from then on, and two years later became the house DJ at a bar called Martha’s Vineyard; I worked there for over a decade. For the most part of that gig, I was also the bar manager. So many wonderful memories!
When did you come to New York?
Oh boy–It was quite the journey. I left Springfield when I was 33 by the invitation of another lifelong friend to move to Tampa, Florida. Shortly after, I got a job at a restaurant / bar in St. Petersburg called Georgie’s Alibi. So, I didn’t live in Tampa for long before moving to St. Pete. While working at Alibi, I went on vacation with an ex-boyfriend (yes, I’m friends with all of my exes, lol) to Key West and fell in love with that place. It wasn’t until my second visit to there that I learned from a Bourbon Street Pub bartender that they were hiring, so I winged it and applied and got hired on the spot. [So I] moved to Key West for my new job bartending, where I eventually started DJing, too.
Long story short, I met a drag performer named Porsche, for whom I became the “production manager.” She basically “stole” me from Bourbon and got me my first DJ / bartending gig at Sunsets [on New York’s Fire Island] before moving to the Ice Palace. I went back to Key West for winter work for several years before moving to NY full time, and the rest is history.
I love that! So you and Ms. Porsche have been working together for quite some time! I guess you’ve gotten to hear all One Thousand of her Voices by now.
And then some, lol! We met in November of 2004.
Fire Island is an interesting place because it remains so rooted in it’s long history while retaining many of those longtime traditions and figureheads, but is still also constantly evolving. What are big ways that the Island has changed since you and Porsche arrived?
Well for one, Sunsets on the Bay is no longer with us. Then the Ice Palace was bought by Dr. Frank [Liguori] over a decade ago. We’ve lost a lot of local legends along the way, sadly. The pandemic was quite the challenge (which I believe has changed the island forever). And, there are a lot more young kids coming out here with theiir parents. More strollers!
I imagine that during the pandemic, those unauthorized, unmasked large gatherings on the beach were really annoying and insulting to behold.
Yes! Especially as hard as every business in the Grove worked to keep people safe from harm. Every single one of us worked extremely hard to protect ourselves, our patrons and our businesses… and frankly, our liquor licenses. So, yes, it was extremely disheartening to read about those things. We really did go the distance to do our part in getting through the worst thing that’s happened to our country since 9/11. It’s sad and selfish.
It’s still impressive that FI ultimately made it through all that, though. Do you have an all-time favorite Fire Island memory?
[Seeing] Lynda Carter, Linda Lavin, Margaret Cho, Sandra Bernhardt, Chita Rivera, Carol Channing, Lady Gaga and of course LIZA! I have countless wonderful memories of working and loving with [FI queens] Porsche, Ariel Sinclair, Brenda Dharling, Androgny, Holly Dae, Logan Hardcore, Jacklynn Hyde and the never ending list of special guests from near and far. I’m extremely blessed to have the honor and privilege to work with the best team on Fire Island, at the Ice Palace. [And I can’t forget] to mention how amazing the memories of DJing the Pines Party are. That was always sooooo much fun! The memories are all too special to say I have a favorite. It’s been a wild and fabulous ride! I’m truly grateful for all of them.
Did you ever don drag for the Invasion of The Pines?
One season I was one of the Olsen twins, and another year Darryl Hannah from Bladerunner. But, generally I’m too busy to go. I always DJ the afterparty and parade when everyone comes back to the Ice Palace.
Well, there’s no doubt that everyone’s gonna be looking at this season of Fire Island very closely, and Ice Palace will not disappoint based on what they’ve revealed of their programming so far! You’ll be DJing Porsche’s show and the preceding pool shows on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as a new show called “Masked Mondays” starring Ariel, Brenda and Holly! What else?
I’m bartending on Mondays for bingo with Ariel at 5pm, bartending “Take A Shot Tuesdays” at 9pm with Androgny, Jacklynn Hyde and sometimes Brenda Dharling, and bartending Thursday nights for Porsche Live and then Ariel Sinclair’s show. I’m also Holly Dae’s DJ on Fridays. There’s always something going on! I’m only off work on Wednesdays, lol!
It’ll be a great, busy season! Okay last question: What songs or albums or artists made this year bearable for you?
Madonna always makes things bearable for me. I love Gaga. I love Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa… and classic disco always makes me want to dance. And, putting “Rain On Me” on repeat and making Brenda and Androgny perform the choreography multiple times is always good for a chuckle. They have it down pat!
No doubt! Have a great season, Chuck!