The music is blaring within the four sweaty walls of the colorfully lit bar. On stage, there’s a lady, and she’s beautiful. Or, maybe it isn’t a lady at all, and maybe she’s not beautiful, but rather frightening or punk.
They might be strutting around the stage like a pop queen — think Britney Spears, Madonna, Beyoncé, or Rihanna. Maybe they’re performing an eccentric routine to Die Antwoord, or a dramatic rendition of a Whitney Houston ballad. They probably aren’t actually singing, but lip-syncing theatrically.
These lip-sync artists are known to many as drag queens, although that term is notably exclusive and quickly becoming out of date — try drag performer or queer artist. But by whatever name, they are the centerpiece of Phoenix's busy drag scene.
Audiences have been swelling for traveling acts, ranging from frequent performances from RuPaul's Drag Race contestants at the historic Orpheum Theatre and Charlie’s, to a recent Friday night hullabaloo at The Van Buren starring RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars season three winner Trixie Mattel.
The Valley’s local performers bring equally impressive and hilarious talents to stages throughout Phoenix’s fun neighborhoods. Comedy queens and Valley drag scene stalwarts like Barbra Seville has been performing at The Rock on the colorful Seventh Avenue for years, and Celia Putty has long occupied Friday nights at Plazma for the weekly Freaky Friday show. Meanwhile, you can’t even spit with hitting someone doing a death drop any night of the week in this town.
As fun as performers are, and they are, spectators are what really make the show. Screaming bachelorette party members extend arms as far as they’ll go to reach the queens coming through the audience. Guys work up a nerve to dance with queens on stage — only to certainly get shut down and made fun of — while couples of all kinds look on and laugh. Yes, the crazier the audience, the better the fodder for Phoenix’s many quick-witted queens. Daring hairdos, out-of-fashion jeans, bad makeup jobs, the too drunk, and the too sober are all in the cross hairs of performers. And for every moment in between, get ready to hear a lot of Gaga, Ke$ha, Madonna, Bette, and even the oracle herself, RuPaul.
From the raucous airings of RuPaul's Drag Race at Kobalt (which is currently moving to a new location at Park Central and will be back open soon — chill) to the bedazzled bachelorette party atmosphere of the Elements show at BS West, the Valley's drag queen scene is as vibrant as ever.
To help you keep it all, well, straight, we've assembled a guide to weekly and monthly drag performances happening at some of the best LGBTQ bars and nightclubs in and around Phoenix. This list, updated since it was originally published in 2016, is organized by venue, so it doesn't include shows that hop around like the wonderful, once-monthly What the Queer revue.
BS West Scottsdale
7125 East Fifth Avenue, Scottsdale
This Old Town Scottsdale spot has been around since 1988 and continues to serve the 21-and-over crowd daily from 2 p.m. until 2 a.m. BS West is also a hotspot for weekly drag performances. Stars Choice is Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m., and features a talent-show atmosphere à la The Voice hosted by Naomi St. James and DJ Solo. The popular Elements show is on Fridays at 10:30 p.m., and is one of the quintessential drag shows in the Phoenix area. The cast is made of successful pageant queens who've dominated drag in the Valley and have represented Arizona nationally: Mya McKenzie, Eva Angelica Stratton, Saellah V, Adriana Galliano, and Savannah Stevens.
727 West Camelback Road
Since 1984, Charlie's Phoenix has been Central Phoenix's go-to country-themed (mostly) nightclub. Catch Pussy LeHoot and Friends at 7 p.m. on Sundays and Piper M'Shay and Claudia B hosting The Strip Factor with male
3108 East McDowell Road
Formerly the Twisted Peacock and Ice Pics, Club Volt has already made a name for itself by bringing in major names like Sasha Velour and Shea Couleé (winner and finalist for season nine of RuPaul's Drag Race), and Trixie Mattel. This show bar and dance club also
3110 North Central Avenue, #175
Tucked away in Park Central, Kobalt is “The Place to View the Race” – meaning RuPaul's Drag Race, obviously, when in season. As for
4129 North Seventh Avenue
This Melrose District gay bar is a popular spot for drag in Phoenix thanks to a remodeled showroom. Drag icon Barbra Seville is in heavy rotation at The Rock, hosting such reccurring events as her weekly Saturday show and the Girlie Show, which is held on most Fridays. Coco St. James hosts Charm School, where new drag performers show off their fresh talent every Thursday. The last Friday of the month is saved for Lady Christian's Trailer Trash Revue, which starts at 10 p.m. like all of The Rock's shows.
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3702 North Seventh Street
You’ve seen the classic sign while cruising down Seventh Street in central Phoenix. Open daily from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., the remodeled Cruisin’ 7th Cocktail Lounge can seat 65 at the show bar, with standing room for an additional 20 to 30 patrons. C7 hosts special events as well as weekly shows, like Cruisin's Playmates, a drag show starring Lisa St. Laurent and Nikki Knowles that starts at 10:30 p.m. every Wednesday. On the weekends,
1560 East Osborn Road
Go Party at the P, as they say – especially when it's time to cap off that work week. Plazma Bar throws the weekly show known as Freaky Friday, which is hosted by Celia Putty and features a rotating cast of talented local queens like Sasha Bratz, Ruby Reynolds, Holly Peña Popper, Devina Ross, Coco St. James, and Egypt. The show starts at 9 p.m. and you can enjoy $3 Fireball shots and $4 Three Olives cocktails throughout the night.
1724 East McDowell Road
Open daily and most holidays, from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., Karamba Nightclub is a dance club known for its Latin DJs, theme nights, and weekly shows hosted by local drag performers. Catch the Savannah Moussier Show on Tuesdays, the Karamba Girls show with Adriana Galiano on Wednesdays, the Ruby Reynolds Show on Thursdays, and the Diamond Show on Sundays. There's no cover for the shows, which start at 10:30 p.m. and feature drink specials like $1 beers and $3 pitchers.
Stacy's @ Melrose
4343 North Seventh Avenue
Located in the heart of Melrose, Stacy's is home to one of Phoenix's most alternative and counter-culture drag shows. Every Tuesday at 9 p.m., Benaddiction, Rubye Moore, Carnita Asada, Dahli, and special guests take the stage for The Queer Agenda. On Sundays from 7 to 9 p.m., a huge rotating cast of local performers participates in Stacy's Follies.