Does anyone still own a TV? No! We’ve gotta make due in Brooklyn if we want to watch every new episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race right when it airs. That’s why I’m recapping the eighth season of Logo’s flagship program with a series of write-ups that hop from bar to bar in the borough where you can watch the show live. This week, I hit up Lantern Hall, located at 52 Harrison Pl off the Morgan L.
“Brooklyn, gay, strep,” I typed into the Twitter search bar in vain, knowing there was no chance I’d find the answer to my paranoia-driven question.
I’ve been battling some kind of cold sinus grossness thing for the past couple of weeks—really since I began this run of recapping RuPaul’s Drag Race at a different Brooklyn bar every Monday night. Was this my immune system’s way of telling me to drink less, smoke less, write faster, and go to bed sooner? Was it Big Content’s way of telling me that TV recaps have no place in the year 2016? Perhaps. But I hawked up some fluids, put on a cute black turtleneck, and hopped in a green cab headed to Bushwick’s Lantern Hall. I’d always had the power to make it to the next venue. I just had to UberT it for myself.
Bushwick’s Lantern Hall (Photo via @lanternhall’s Instagram)
Monday marked my first night at Lantern Hall, and I did not leave disappointed. The venue, which opened last December, is normally not so queerly oriented, from what I gathered; it’s a craft beer hall with long tavern-y tables, and it’s got two tables where you can play that game that’s like air hockey but with metal sliding pucks, wooden slabs, and no air. (Comment dit-on en heterosexual?) But much like I saw at The Exley a couple weeks back, a reality show about drag queens can transform any space into a welcomingly gay one.
Plus, I’ve got to give it up to Lantern Hall’s bathroom situation. The two single-stall restrooms are wheelchair accessible, and they’re both permanently designated “all gender.” See, North Carolina? It’s really not that hard.
Elizabeth James, who hosts Drag Race viewing parties every Monday at Lantern Hall (Photo via @elizabethjamesnyc’s Instagram)
The night’s proceedings were hosted by Elizabeth James, a Brooklyn queen who used to host Drag Race viewing parties at Tandem before that bar closed in 2015. (R.I.P.) She told me that she’s happy to finally see Brooklyn properly represented on the show.
“I love Pearl [from season seven], but she’s not a New York girl—she’ll probably tell you that if you ask her. She’d just moved to New York [right before she was cast on Drag Race],” James said. “[That’s why] I am happy to see people like Thorgy Thor and Acid Betty who had started any kind of ‘Brooklyn scene’ before any of the stuff that you see now had ever been happening. Bob, too. I used to work with Bob at Boots & Saddle, that godforsaken place.”
Elizabeth spent the 60 minutes of the program itself wiglessly applying her makeup before a tiny pop-up vanity just below the projection screen—a meta, yet functional, way of letting the show take center stage from 9 to 10 p.m. It was very Tilda Swinton at the MoMA, and I was very much feeling it.
Bob the Drag Queen during the reading mini-challenge (World of Wonder Productions/Passion Distribution)
Speaking of RuPaul’s Drag Race, this week’s episode found the queens trying their hands at a host of annual Drag Race traditions. First, Ru asked them to read one another “in the great tradition of Paris is Burning.” Bob the Drag Queen came out on top, and the other six all made valiant attempts at second place. Then in the maxi-challenge, the queens were tasked with a makeover, in which they were each paired with a cast member of Lifetime’s Little Women: LA and asked to transform their partner, and themselves, into a couture take on a character from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.
The reality TV crossover felt, at times, like televised fan fiction, and I’d bet $5 and a roll of duct tape that at least one self-publisher has penned some NSFW Drag Race/Little Women: LA slash over on Wattpad. The collision of reality TV worlds also produced one of the most real and intimate workroom exchanges I’ve seen in seasons when the stars of Little Women shared what it’s like to be a little person in public, to be gawked at, called a “midget” by strangers 10 feet away. And yet within minutes, the women were back to cracking jokes with their drag queen partners. They were allowed to have both dignity and a sense of humor onscreen—a complexity not always afforded to people on reality television. Given Drag Race‘s track record on the nuances of identity this season, I did not expect this from an episode involving little people and a Wizard of Oz-themed challenge. But as Oliver Sava of The A.V. Club pointed out in his recap, the word “munchkin” wasn’t uttered once in the episode. This humanizing perspective is what drew me to Drag Race in the first place back in 2009, and I’d love to see a return to it in future episodes.
Kim Chi gets critiqued by the judges (World of Wonder Productions/Passion Distribution)
Out on the runway, Naomi Smalls finally got a much-needed challenge win for her scarecrow couture, which elicited such a thunderous, slow-building “yaaaaAAAAAAASSSSSSSSS!!!!” throughout Lantern Hall like I’d never quite heard before in all my six weeks of recapping RuPaul’s Drag Race. Kim Chi also did very well with her Wicked Witch of the West look, while Thorgy’s Citizen of Oz fell into the middle of the pack. Bob and Chi Chi were in danger of lip-syncing for their lives, but that honor (?) was saved for Robbie Turner and Derrick Barry. Like most of what she’s brought forth on the runway, Barry’s interpretation of Icona Pop’s “I Love It” was tepid at best, but Turner made the fatal mistake of removing her wig mid-performance, so it was her turn to go.
So, we’re stuck with Derrick Barry for another week. Many in Lantern Hall’s audience, it seemed, wanted Derrick to sashay away, but an even more sizeable chunk—or, at least a more vocal one—were pleased with Robbie’s elimination. The “fuck ’em both, but I guess I’ll take this person I don’t like over this other person I don’t like” vibe felt like pretty solid foreshadowing for the election this fall. Get excited!
Naomi Smalls and her challenge partner, Jasmine Arteaga Sorge (World of Wonder Productions/Passion Distribution)
After RuPaul’s Drag Race ended, hostess Elizabeth James performed her own numbers: Rihanna’s “Higher” and Selena Gomez’s “Hands to Myself.” Her special guest, New York queen Lucy Balls, also lip-synced to Natalie Portman’s ’06 Saturday Night Live rap as well as a mix of Doris Day’s “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” cut with iconic early-aughts reality TV moments like Jessica Simpson’s “Is this chicken, what I have, or is this fish?”, Tyra Banks’ “I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you! How dare you?!”, and the Wife Swap God warrior’s “DAAAARKSAHHHHHDED!!!!” Audience members were also given the opportunity to quickly drag themselves up and lip sync for the chance to win a gift certificate to sponsor House of La Rue, so there’s plenty of reason to stick around Lantern Hall after Ru tells a queen to sashay away.
As I sashayed away from Lantern Hall around 11 p.m., I popped into Brooklyn’s Natural for a pack of Camel Lights—against my better judgment. “And you were there,” I’ll tell my prefrontal cortex in the morning. “And you,” my sense of dignity. “And you,” my naïve belief that I would wake up well-rested and healthy on Tuesday.