Killer Queens: Seattle's Art Drag Scene is Slaying It

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday September 13, 2019

I'm sitting across from Seattle drag artist One, so close our knees are almost touching. We're looking into each other's eyes, gazes locked, as she lip syncs an impossibly fast verse from Qveen Herby's "Busta Rhymes," which is blasting through the buds we've stuck in our ears. It's oddly thrilling to be sharing such a weirdly intimate moment with this stranger resplendent in Kabuki-inspired makeup, a massive black wedge-cut wig and bright red dress. But it's not even close to the strangest stuff going down in Studio Current, which is hosting the debut of "Glory Hole," One's drag/art show.

Angel Baby Killkillkill stands to the right of One, clad in an ivory-colored lace dress with a bright red collar, skin whitened with face paint. She holds a small potted cactus aloft while creeping toward a light projection of a desert. In the kitchen around the corner, Miss Texas 1988, who has donned an apron sporting the radiation symbol, prepares pancakes while drinking a martini and cracking wise. I glance at Sylvia O'Stayformore, my escort for the evening and one of the city's most celebrated drag divas. She beams at me and I grin back. The drag scene makes Seattle worth flying across the country to visit, let alone the rest of its pleasures.

According to O'Stayformore, who owns The Palace Theatre & Art Bar, there are some 200 or 300 drag performers in the Emerald City, a "big, vibrant scene" distinguished by the diversity of its offerings, including the kind of edgy work presented at "Glory Hole" and O'Stayformore's variety show, "Bacon Strip."

"I think the amount of avant-garde drag performed here is a reflection of how creative the city is," says O'Stayformore. "We've got a lot of art colleges, like Cornish and Evergreen, in Olympia. So, we get a lot of art students who are moving in and finding themselves here, because Seattle is still affordable in some areas."

By Miss Texas 1988's estimation, there are at least 10 drag bars in the city, and about another 10 that occasionally present drag acts. Along with The Palace, among the best places to see Seattle's unique brand of drag are Kremwerk + Timbre Room Complex, The Rendezvous, and Re-bar. But even spots like R Place, which mostly serves up mainstream drag, welcomes more experimental artists; Miss Texas 1988 recently snared $5,000 when she won the club's "So You Think You Can Drag" competition.

"The Seattle drag scene is fresh, it's new, it doesn't confine itself to older ideas of gender or beauty," Miss Texas 1988 says. "It's innovating not just the structure of drag, but the structure of entertainment in general because we created such an industry out of it here. And the drag underground is kind of in charge of the scene in Seattle. The underground everywhere else does exist, but here the weirdos reign."

One agrees, adding, "Of course, there are specific performers in other cities pushing boundaries, like Sasha Velour, who won "RuPaul's Drag Race." But I honestly don't know of any drag scene like Seattle's. My theory is that it has something to do with the weather. When it's shitty outside, it makes for an indoor culture. People figure out ways to keep themselves entertained."

Seattle Essentials: Stay, Eat, Do

Headed to Seattle to catch some drag? Check out the best of the rest:

The Space Needle
After a $100 million renovation, the iconic Space Needle, built in 1962 for the World's Fair, is jazzier than ever. Now home to the world's only revolving glass floor and an observation deck encased in frameless glass, it's a must-stop for any visitor. The Needle's app, from which you can download pics from the free selfie stations scattered along the deck, is a fun addition, too.

Chihuly Garden and Glass
Legendary glass artist Dale Chihuly is beloved the world over, but Seattle is his hometown and this jaw-dropping exhibit filled with his masterworks is a highlight of the city.

Located inside the hip Hotel Max, a small boutique property happily ensconced in the midst of downtown's bustle, Miller's Guild is famed for its stellar, 75-day dry-aged beef and locally-procured seafood. Owner Jason Wilson, a James Beard award-winning chef, butchers meat in-house, wood firing it over a nine-foot, custom-made grill.

Renee Erickson, one of Seattle's most beloved chefs, just added another restaurant to her collection of popular venues. Bistro Shirlee, named after her mother, features a French-inspired menu with fall comfort favorites such as mushroom fricassee, pork chop with cherry tomatoes and mustard greens, and pop-in-your-mouth fried oysters.

Pop culture and drag go hand in hand, and there's no better place to get a sense of cultural impact than at Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture. Don't miss "Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film" or the upcoming exhibit "Body of Work: Tattoo Culture."

Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.