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‘We love it so much’: These drag queens are bringing their best moves to Tomales

Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch

Saturdays, June 26, July 31 and Aug. 28. Reservations required at info@williamtellhouse.com; brunch starts at 11:30 a.m. No admission fee, but please plan to enjoy brunch and bring dollar bills to shower the performers.

William Tell House Saloon & Inn, 26955 California Highway 1, Tomales, 707-879-2002, williamtellhouse.com

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.

From left, Melanie Green and Lorna Corak use a money gun to send a shower of dollar bills on performer Queera Nightly during the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch at the William Tell House in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021.  (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
From left, Melanie Green and Lorna Corak use a money gun to send a shower of dollar bills on performer Queera Nightly during the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch at the William Tell House in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

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.”

Perfomer Ava LaShay dances and lip syncs to the delight of the crowd at the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch at the William Tell House in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021.  (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Perfomer Ava LaShay dances and lip syncs to the delight of the crowd at the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch at the William Tell House in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

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.

Performer Nia Politan dances the Macarena with members of the audience at the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch at the William Tell House in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021.  (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Performer Nia Politan dances the Macarena with members of the audience at the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch at the William Tell House in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

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.

Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch

Saturdays, June 26, July 31 and Aug. 28. Reservations required at info@williamtellhouse.com; brunch starts at 11:30 a.m. No admission fee, but please plan to enjoy brunch and bring dollar bills to shower the performers.

William Tell House Saloon & Inn, 26955 California Highway 1, Tomales, 707-879-2002, williamtellhouse.com

“A friend of mine, Nico, suggested we do our own drag show, and all these years later I tell him it’s his fault I’m here,” she said with a laugh. “They said, ‘Then we have to dress you up.’ I didn’t want to offend anyone or embarrass myself, so I thought I should probably learn more about drag. So I went out and attended a show at The Stud in San Francisco, and I fell in love with it. And I just kept doing it.”

Querra Nightly checks the look of her outfit before performing in the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch at the William Tell House in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021.  (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Querra Nightly checks the look of her outfit before performing in the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch at the William Tell House in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Getting up close with the audience is part of what appeals to the troupe about performing at The Tell. Rather than being sequestered on a stage, LaShay and the Cowgirls visit each and every table during their high-energy acts, where guests often jump up, dancing, singing and sometimes blushing when they’re invited to tuck money into the ladies’ exquisite costumes. Polite lap dances are known to happen if it’s someone’s birthday.

Also, LaShay quipped to the crowd, “I don’t have to worry about falling off the stage in these crazy boots.”

Being so beautiful takes a lot of work, LaShay admitted. The troupe starts getting dressed at around 10 a.m. for their 1 p.m. shows. The contoured makeup, impossibly feathery fake lashes, long manicured nails and colorful, hand-style wigs have to be perfect. The costumes take up several closets in their dressing room suite, with fantastic dresses and cat suits ordered from places like AliExpress. Some they craft by hand.

Nia Politan applies her makeup in their room in the circa 1877 William Tell House before the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021.  (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Nia Politan applies her makeup in their room in the circa 1877 William Tell House before the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

“I made the pink chaps outfit with the help of my grandma, because I didn’t have a sewing machine,” LaShay said. “I cut the fabric and took it to her and said, ‘Can you just sew the lines on this one?’ And she said, ‘What is it?’ and I said, ‘Chaps,’ and she said, ‘Ooookay.’ And she just went for it. She’s taken to it a lot; now she orders me little things she thinks will be cute.”

In keeping with the Dolly Parton theme, Wilson’s mixologists come up with cocktails such as the Jolene of Skyy pineapple vodka and housemade Bloody Mary mix ($14) and the I Will Always Love You of Skyy blood orange vodka, Aperol and sparkling wine ($40 pitcher).

Perfomer Rosie Petals dances and lip syncs to the delight of the crowd at the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch at the William Tell House in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021.  (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Perfomer Rosie Petals dances and lip syncs to the delight of the crowd at the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch at the William Tell House in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

The Tell’s new Executive Chef Lauren Garcia has unveiled a new menu, as well. So in between shaking their shoulders to songs like Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman,” guests dig into an elegant salmon mille feuille of delicate puff pastry sheets layered with alternating rows of smoked salmon, avocado, whipped cream cheese, shaved red onion and capers with a crunchy crust of black and white sesame seeds ($19). They nosh on rye toast mounded in oyster mushrooms, poached egg, candied tomatoes and micro arugula ($15) and navigate hot, messy, delicious barbecue oysters draped in bacon, herbed butter and cotija ($20, half dozen).

The ahi sandwich is particularly winning, looking as pretty as the performers with its rich pink seared sashimi tuna, creamy avocado slabs, sliced cucumber, purple slaw and drizzle of sweet soy on a soft roll brushed with spicy dynamite sauce ($18).

A side of skinny crisp fries are an option ($5), while more adventurous types go for the fries with eyes ($12), which are salty, battered anchovies for dunking in black garlic aioli. The fish bites are strongly flavored but settle down with a cold, hoppy Faction IPA ($8).

Performer Queera Nightly hams it up with the audience during the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch at the William Tell House in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021.  (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Performer Queera Nightly hams it up with the audience during the Dolly’d Up Drag Brunch at the William Tell House in Tomales on Sunday, May 29, 2021. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

If LaShay and her troupe had any pause about taking their shows on the road to such a miniature heritage town in the middle of nowhere, she is quick now to say, no, it was simply curiosity.

“We love it so much here; it’s so exciting,” she said. “The team wasn’t sure people would go for it, but I said, it’s perfect. I’m always the Guinea pig queen, so whenever there’s a new show, people are like, ‘We’ll bring you in and see how it goes,’ because I’m pretty good at working with different groups of people.”

And indeed, as the performers took their bows — and curtsies — after the debut show, one of the farmer gentleman from the rowdy back table yelled, “Thank you for the diversity!”

And the crowd roared.

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