When visiting contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race perform in Sydney, they almost always put one question to their audience: do you support your local queens? Each of those bankable stars started out in a local drag scene like the one in Sydney, and without the support of local drag fans, they never would’ve reached those heights. So now that the city’s drag scene is thriving – and becoming more diverse by the minute – here’s our guide to the best places to go support local artistes.
Go for: Sydney’s spiritual home of drag
This Erskineville pub has been a sanctuary for LGBTQIA Sydney since it was bought in the ’80s by Dawn O’Donnell. It’s lived many lives (it had a starring role in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) and reopened in March 2018. You’ll find drag queens at the Impy practically every night, whether they’re dining hostesses (Drag N Dine is seven nights a week) or performing pop classics late on a Friday or Saturday night atop the main bar. In the basement downstairs, you’ll find a slightly more envelope-pushing style of drag, particularly at Saturday night parties like the monthly Heaps Gay and Honcho Disko nights. (The last Honcho Disko we attended featured a trio of queens serving business woman glamour and preparing a presentation – and a blood sacrifice.) Starting in October 2018, the Impy will play host to the finals of Miss First Nation, the premier competition for Indigenous drag entertainers.
Go for: The most inclusive queer night in town
This Wednesday night celebration has been running for three years now and features performers from the non-traditional drag community, who blur lines between masculine and feminine, and drag kings and queens. It’s featured Jayvante Swing, Sarah Moany, Joe Pol and Betty Grumble.
Go for: Oxford Street royalty in the Inner West
It’s got a long history as a queer venue, but the Newtown Hotel has gone pretty mainstream in recent years. Drag has recently returned, with two shows every Friday night from Minnie Cooper, Hannah Conda and Tora Hymen. Expect something slick and glamorous with a decent dose of humour.
Go for: Something on the more intimate, scrappy side
This weekly night in Enmore (Wednesdays from 7pm) has a great community vibe and some hugely exciting young queens and queer artists of all kinds – they even have a semi-regular drag king night called New King on the Block. Whether they’re doing a tribute to Madonna, Mamma Mia! or Chicago, the performances pop up in a tiny corner of this small bar. If you want to see a queen flawlessly execute a split jump atop a pile of milk crates, this is the night for you.
Go for: Daring, boundary-smashing queer performance
This performance-slash-party is the creation of Marlena Dalí and Julia Rose, taking place on the second Thursday of every month. The “Glamdrogynous Freakshow” is intimate and wild, featuring drag performance that falls under the broadest possible definition across the full gender spectrum. Keep your eye on their Facebook page for line-up details, and make sure you book ahead as it sells out every month.
Go for: Sydney’s oldest drag show
The three-storey grande dame of Oxford Street gay clubs turned 21 this year and still features live performance every night of the week. Most of the performances happen on the ground floor stage, but it’s not unusual to see a queen pop up elsewhere – last time we were there, a Frozen-inspired queen transformed the second floor bar into Arendelle with a roof-raising take on ‘Let It Go’. On Sundays, you can see Polly’s Follies, Sydney’s longest-running drag night (it’s been running for 27 years – longer than Cats was on Broadway).
Go for: The slick Thursday night dragstravaganza
Arq features drag on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, and has some of the slickest production shows around. Our favourite night is Thursday, which is a touch more chilled (slightly fewer shirtless gym junkies) and with the focus at least as much on the killer lip-sync performances as the partying. It’s solid diva territory – Whitney, Celine, Beyoncé – and queens with the chops to really deliver. You can also catch Drag for Dollars from 10pm, which features mainly amateur queens giving their all – some are extraordinary, others not quite so much. It’s irresistible.
Go for: The Wednesday night drag comp
There are big shows at the Oxford on Saturdays, currently featuring Maxi Shield and Coco Jumbo. The venue has also started Slay 4 Pay this year, its own drag competition each Wednesday from 10pm, hosted by Charisma Belle and Carmen Geddit.