‘We love it so much’: These drag queens are bringing their best moves to Tomales
Against a backdrop of thumping music, Carrie Underwood belted out her powerful lyrics: “Maybe next time he'll think before he cheats.” And the crowd roared.
But it wasn’t Ms. Underwood entertaining the audience at William Tell House Saloon & Inn of Tomales; it was Audrey Elle, decked out in a metallic teal dress with wing sleeves and a tutu buoyed by a pink petticoat. She tossed her long blond hair for dramatic emphasis, her lips curling as she lip-synced, “I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive.”
Five gentlemen leaped up from their picnic table a few feet away, whooping and tossing handfuls of dollar bills at her, then showering her with more dollars from a Make it Rain Money shooter gun.
Welcome to the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch, hosted through the summer by a troupe of drag queens visiting from San Francisco for music, dancing, cocktails and brunch. The show premiered in April at this historic 1877 restaurant (as the locals simply call it, The Tell), then returned in May. Now, popular demand has now dictated three more shows, scheduled for June 26, July 31 and Aug. 28.
Some 120 guests snatched up reservations for the debut drag, a nearly sold-out performance that rivaled the entire population of the 191-resident town on State Route 1 just east of Dillon Beach. The second show attracted even more guests, who took up every seat at wooden patio tables, on picnic benches and in a lounge area around a fire pit.
And while Ted Wilson, owner of William Tell House, offered a “DIVA Bus” for San Francisco-area residents wanting a round-trip trek to the show, most of the audience were locals, including that rowdy group of rain-making fellows who looked dressed for the agricultural work that dominates the rural area.
Men dressed as flamboyant women shaking their booties just seemed like a natural fit for the saloon, Wilson said, against the town’s backdrop of rolling hills dotted with grazing cows and a pocket-size downtown anchored by a white clapboard Presbyterian church built in 1868, plus an early Gothic Revival Catholic church founded in 1860. Wilson also owns The Alice Collective cafe-bar and Metal & Match Catering Co., both in Oakland.
“We were doing drag brunches at The Alice Collective, and we got shut down because of COVID,” Wilson said. “The shows were fantastic and full of positive energy. We figured that everyone needed some fun and happiness right now, so why not bring the drag show to The Tell? Our beverage director has a strong connection to the LGTBQ community and helped build relationships with a network of performers.”
Hosted by performer Ava LaShay (fabulous, in varying costumes including a pink ensemble of fluffy fabric chaps, a rhinestone bikini and rhinestone belt), the debut act also included the William Tell Cowgirls (Elle, who morphed into Britney Spears after her Underwood romp; Queera Nightly as a delightful ’50s diner waitress and then a Jessica Rabbit/Rita Hayworth type; and Mara Guevara, resplendent in a blue sequined gown, lemon-yellow wig and a voluptuous Dolly Parton-esque bosom). Clear plastic masks covered their faces from forehead or cheeks to chin.
“The queens rotate performers for the shows,” Wilson said. “Ava will still be the host, but the other performers change up to keep the show fresh.”
So the May drag brunch welcomed Nightly back (stunning in a black leatherette pantsuit with plenty of mischievous cutouts), along with Rosie Petals (strutting and doing a mini-strip tease in a giant, hot pink loofah dress) and Nia Politan (doing a Harry Potter schoolgirl tribute). The ladies do multiple costume and wig changes throughout the shows, sprinting in mile-high platform shoes and thigh-high stiletto boots from the patio to their dressing suite in the inn above the restaurant.
LaShay has been doing drag since — exactly — December 9, 2015, she said, after a college course project required students to produce an event each semester. She had attended her first drag show six months earlier, out of curiosity.