Manhattan may have put New York City on the map as a mecca for drag, but if you’ve been sleeping on the Brooklyn scene it’s time to wake up. Inclusive, energized, diverse, and fashion-forward, the Brooklyn drag scene has undergone what some call a “renaissance” in the last few years. I caught up with Esther, one of my favorite Brooklyn queens, who spilled the tea about what sets herself and her community apart, plus her favorite places to perform and watch the best of the best in the borough.
A self-described “conduit to which various extraterrestrial entities choose to express themselves,” Esther’s love of drag started with a book. “I read Gender Trouble by Judith Butler and the book had such an indelible impact on me. It shattered my conception of gender as formulated by heteronormative patriarchy and ultimately grew my desire to explore my gender. Subsequently my love of fashion exploded and I realized aesthetic is a good avenue to express ideas, which segued to drag.”
However, it wasn’t until the the Brooklyn queen of queens, Merrie Cherry invited her to take part in Dragnet, a competition for up-and-comers, that Esther came to life in front of a crowd. “That was the first time I performed drag and I was hooked,” she said.
Esther’s creative process and inspiration leads to a performance style unlike any other. Of her process she stated, “I write a scene often with various characters and then pre-record myself playing all of them. I then play it back to have the characters speak through me.” When it comes to her aesthetic, “Esther is really inspired by silhouettes that expand upon her given body. She likes distorted and bulbous shapes surrounding her and twisting and diverting the societally perceived me. Taking back the gaze that’s put upon me and distorting the gaze.”
While Esther, in all of her avant-garde glory, doesn’t fit the typical mold of a drag performer, she thrives in Brooklyn.
“The drag scene [in Brooklyn] is anomalous in the sense that it nurtures an expansive view on what drag can be. Historically you think of drag as female impersonation but Brooklyn drag takes it to a gender expansive place,” Esther explained, “I’m never scoffed at for not wearing padding of breasts, because that’s not what this is about. I once read that gender is a canvas, and that encapsulates Brooklyn drag.”
Brooklyn drag shows and parties serve next level performances and looks like you’ve never seen, all while being completely lit. There are plenty of spots to witness the magic first hand. Check out these favorites of Esther’s, and don’t forget to tip your bartenders and your queens!
With fantastic bartenders and a patio to die for, The Rosemont is the perfect setup for a great time. While still a fairly new establishment, it has quickly become home to some of the best and most diverse drag shows Brooklyn has to offer. “The Rosemont is really where I got my start. It has a really laid back welcoming environment but at the same time it generally turns into a carry,” Esther explained, “I performed last week at Mx Montrose which is a comedy drag competition that was hosted by Crystal Mesh. ‘Oops!’ is the Wednesday night party where I really got my start with drag.”
The Deep End is an amazing restaurant by day and the ultimate event space and bar by night (it’s technically in Queens, but we had to include it). As a regular performer, Esther had nothing but praise: “I am resident host at my sister Ruby Fox’s party ‘Rubies in the Rough.’ It’s the safest experience. I always end up taking off my drag and carrying on the dance floor.” The dynamic space and inclusive vibes make it the perfect place to let loose on a weekend night, and drag yourself back for brunch in the morning.
Metropolitan is a longstanding staple of Brooklyn nightlife and it’s anything but stale. “Metro is a Brooklyn classic–and it’s always packed,” Esther explained. According to Esther, Metro is one of the best places to catch Brooklyn’s best queens, even in the daylight. “We live for a daytime show. Merrie Cherry has a regular Sunday barbecue featuring food vendors and outdoor drag shows.” In fact, their website challenges visitors to find a better backyard than theirs, and I’m willing to bet that nobody can.
Wherever you choose to catch a show, you’ll encounter good vibes.
“What’s beautiful about the Brooklyn scene there are so many different styles of drag that expand on different expressions of gender and performance, and while everyone’s style is so different were all supportive of each other,” Esther gushed. This energy is uncontainable and hard to miss.