I’ve been watching RuPaul’s Drag Race live at Brooklyn bars for the past couple of years, and every time I go I’m always struck by a variety of factors—ranging from the venue to the crowd—can affect my viewing experience. That’s why I’m recapping the eighth season of Logo’s drag queen competition show with a series of holistic write-ups that take into account where I watch each episode and who I watch them with, along with more standard details like, um, what actually happens in each episode. This week, I hit up The Exley, located at 1 Jackson St off the Metropolitan G and the Lorimer L.
Even when a straight bar hosts RuPaul’s Drag Race, it’s still pretty gay.
Three consecutive weeks of late-night viewing parties hosted at queer spaces had done a number on my immunity system—not to mention my liver. So this week, I opted for a Brooklyn bar whose Drag Race event would be just that: Drag Race. No performances. No contests. Just an hour of Logo’s flagship program, and then off I’d go to recap the episode over a couple of (two) dollar slices. To ensure this desired change of pace, I ventured over to The Exley: a cozy little Williamsburg lounge just north of Union Pool.
Derrick Barry, Naysha Lopez, and Chi Chi DeVayne (Photo via World of Wonder Productions/Passion Distribution)
While normally catering to a pretty straight clientele, the venue gathered a crowd on Monday night that appeared to be almost entirely gay (and white, and male—the lone restroom is a single-occupancy, gender-neutral stall). The attendees were a mostly homogenous bunch. Not masc by Chelsea standards, but definitely residing on the masculine end of the alt-hipster-twink-with-an-office-job spectrum. The subversive aesthetic was mostly skin-deep, as evidenced by one audience member’s reaction to RuPaul’s Wendy O. Williams name-drop during Monday night’s episode. (“YES, WENDY WILLIAMS.”) But the room was still positive, albeit more subdued than viewing parties prior, and isn’t that what I ultimately wanted out of last night? Metropolitan and Flowers for All Occasions will still be there for Mondays to come once my stamina returns.
Bob the Drag Queen, Acid Betty, and Thorgy Thor (Photo via World of Wonder Productions/Passion Distribution)
The more relaxed atmosphere allowed me to focus my energy where it counted: rolling my eyes at everything Derrick Barry said and did over the course of those 60 minutes. From the confessional where she talked shit about Chi Chi DeVayne’s low-budget drag to her supremely tone-deaf, broadly racialized misunderstanding of judge Michelle Visage’s “soul” critique from last week (Barry misinterpreted “you need to show us more soul” as “you need to act ‘black'” and proceeded to talk about his “Derrick booty” with an affected voice that only white people imitating caricatures of black people sound like), this Britney impersonator has become a toxic member of the cast. Please, let next week’s “Snatch Game” episode be her undoing.
Photo via World of Wonder Productions/Passion Distribution
For this week’s maxi challenge, the contestants split off into three groups of three in order to perform New Wave-inspired musical numbers live before a studio audience. The tracks sounded like off-brand, public-domain versions of hits by The B-52s, Gary Numan, and The Ramones—which is to say, a million times better than the music that has been created for Drag Race singing challenges past. Seattle queen Robbie Turner made a triumphant leap from the bottom of the heap to the top of the pack, taking home the win, while Chi Chi and Naysha Lopez were asked to lip-sync for their lives to Blondie’s “Call Me.”
Speaking of Blondie, both Chris Stein (!) and Debbie Harry (!!!!!!!) were on-hand to serve as guest judges. The Exley erupted when Stein pointed out that Chi Chi should never have worn the same recognizable pair of black latex boots in both of her runway outfits. (Like, fuck! What are you doing next Monday, Chris??) The closest my fellow viewers came to cheering that loudly again was about 10 minutes later when Chi Chi sent Naysha home.
Two minutes later, I followed suit and went home myself. Nobody cheered—or, if they did, they at least waited until I was out of earshot. So well-mannered, these straight bar invaders.
Kim Chi, Robbie Turner, and Naomi Smalls (Photo via World of Wonder Productions/Passion Distribution)