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Drag Trivia at The Imperial Hotel, Erskineville
Photograph: Anna Kucera | Fran Giapanni and Dakota Fann-ee

All the best ways to experience drag in Sydney

From dinner and a show to bingo, here are options for experiencing the art of drag in Sydney

Alannah Maher
Written by
Alannah Maher
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There’s always a lot of makeup and a lot of fabulousness going on, but the art of drag takes on many forms and styles – and in Sydney, there are so many ways for you to experience it. This is our (by no means exhaustive) guide to getting down with drag in the Emerald City.

Drag and dine
Photograph: GAYM Entertainment/The M1 Group

Drag and dine

Drinking and dining gets a whole lot more fun when there’s drag queens interjecting with wicked lip-syncs and witty quips. Priscilla’s restaurant at the Imperial Hotel in Erskineville has perfected the signature Drag n’ Dine experience. You’ll find a dazzling variety of drag artists stomping the stage (and the restaurant floor, and on the bar) from Thursdays to Sundays each week at the Inner West’s hallowed queer haven, as seen in the Aussie cinema classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of Desert. The Imperial specialises in production shows with up to five performers at once in sassy, comedic productions that change constantly. 

“Drag n’ Dine is suitable for anyone,” says Impy regular and RuPaul’s Drag Race star Etcetera Etcetera. “Before 9pm we allow supervised minors to dine in our Priscilla’s restaurant – so it’s a perfect place for a little diva in the making to see a big glittery show. We also have plenty of queens who love the classics and will entertain Nan with some old jazz standards and slapstick comedy. We’ve got something for everyone!” Check out the latest shows and make a booking here.

Across town, one of Oxford Street’s nightclubs transformed itself into a glittering dinner theatre venue when the city opened up after the first lockdown, and Premiere: An Immersive Dining Experience is digging in its stilettoed heels upstairs at Universal nightclub. See themed production shows most Fridays and Saturdays from the Pink Mile’s matriarchs including Charisma Belle, Carmen Geddit, Hannah Conda and other fabulous performers. Check here for info on their next shows and food and beverage packages.

Drag bingo
Photograph: Cassandra Hanagan | Coco Jumbo and Carmen Geddit

Drag bingo

We’re not sure whether it’s the excess of balls or the colourful little dabbers, but there is something about bingo that just goes hand in hand with drag. Someone who knows a little something about calling out number-based puns in a dress is Penny Tration, who has been the queen bee of Sydney’s GenderBender Bingo (and its previous incarnations) for more than two decades. “We were the original and first drag queen bingo to leave the gay clubs and cross the bridge, go interstate and even on P&O cruises,” she tells us. “We were the bingo that Dannii Minogue came to when she wanted a special birthday bingo.” You’ll find GenderBender Bingo at Coopers Hotel in Newtown on Monday nights, and at Potts Point Hotel in Kings Cross on Thursdays. Each event features a drag queen host and assistant hand-picked by Penny and involves five rounds for you to play mixed in with two performances, silly sound effects and guaranteed laughs. 

Elsewhere, you can catch drag darling Krystal Kleer hosting Bingo B*tches at Japanese style booze and snack haven Goros in Surry Hills on the second and fourth Thursday of each month. With over a decade of bingo hosting under her high waisted belt, Krystal is packing naughty prizes and naughtier quips. Bookings essential

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Drag kings
Photograph: The Kings/Patrick Boland

Drag kings

There’s more than one kind of drag royalty waltzing the streets of Sydney. While drag queens have penetrated the mainstream, drag kings (yep, think the opposite of a drag queen) are loaded with plenty of swarthy charm and tongue-in-cheek critiques on masculinity. The drag king subculture was huge in Sydney’s lesbian bars in the early noughties, and now the boys are back in town, thanks to a couple of regular events that have cropped up over the last couple of years.

From glam rock gods to befuddled IT guys, you’ll find a mixed bag of disarmingly charming gents at The Kings. “People can expect what they know about drag to be thrown on its head!” show host Big Rod tells us. “It’s a night of variety and entertainment – from lip-syncing to live music, to comedy, storytelling, erotic dancing, and the list goes on. Every show is different, but you’re guaranteed a great night out.” While The Kings previously existed as a monthly show at the now sadly closed Giant Dwarf Theatre, Big Rod tells us that the boys will be back soon, appearing at different venues. Follow @thedragkings on Instagram for updates.

For more exploits with stuffed and bound studs, Sydney Kings from the city’s biggest queer party starters, Heaps Gay, is a monthly night of drag king cool that always sells out at the Vanguard in Newtown. For Mardi Gras, the crew behind this event are stepping it up with What Goes Bump In The Night, an already sold out party on Saturday, March 5. You can still grab tickets to an open air rooftop screening of the Mardi Gras Parade at Broadway hosted by Heaps Gay, with food and drinks, city views, and live performances from swarthy king Marlena Dali and other entertainers.

If you want to soak up some drag king swagger during daylight hours, you can also get amongst Australia’s first ever bougie Bottomless Drag King Brunch with the dapper Axl Rod over at Elm Rooftop Bar in Darlinghurst.

Drag brunch
Photograph: Supplied/Poof Doof

Drag brunch

Drag queens don’t only emerge after the sun goes down. With a hearty helping of mimosas and the space to have a gossip about the previous night’s exploits, at some point brunch became synonymous with queer culture, so it was only a matter of time before drag performers showed up to the party to make things a little more fabulous.

There are few parties more exalted in the colourful clubbing scene than Poof Doof, and this party crew have perfected the formula for a fabulous drag brunch with much-loved queens like Coco Jumbo, Sia Tequila and Miss Danni Issues and Marilyn Mootrub. “The reason why drag brunches are so fabulous is because of me – just kidding! The real reason why drag brunches are so fabulous is that it brings the community back together,” says Danni Issues. “We were stuck in lockdown for so long and didn’t get to spend time with our friends. Drag brunches are like the light at the end of the tunnel, allowing us to be ourselves and spend time with ones we love, and who doesn't want to drink mimosas and watch six-foot glamazons strut around a pool singing their favourite tracks?!” 

You can catch the next Poof Doof Drag Brunch at the oh-so-bougie Ivy Pool Club on Saturday, March 5. Starting from $42 for standing tickets and include a 1.5-hour bottomless mimosa and brunch package. The DJ lineup includes icon Jodie Harsh, Victoria Anthony and Jimi the Kween. Save yourself for lunch and kick off your Mardi Gras weekend early at the Poof Doof Long Lunch at Uccello on Thursday, March 3 this is a networking event for queer professionals with four courses, a keynote speech from drag icon Courtney Act and performances by RuPaul’s Drag Race winners. Tickets start at $155 per person.

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Baby drag
Photograph: Universal/Ann-Marie Calihanna

Baby drag

Witnessing a seasoned, professional queen work a room with a seamless lip-synch and an unclockable look is quite something. But then, watching a brand new performer push their limits can be equally fierce. Baby drag nights are awash with performance jitters and community camaraderie, and those elements could be what sees lines of people filing down Oxford Street mid-week at Universal for Slay 4 Pay and its sister event, Slay 2 Stay, hosted by Carmen Geddit and Charisma Belle from 9pm every Wednesday. “No two nights are ever the same, but what I can guarantee is a great time,” Charisma Belle tells us. “The young queens are always full of surprises. Because it’s the first time some of these queens have been on stage, they try things that don’t always go to plan. From wigs falling off to costume malfunctions and terrible acrobatics, the girls really do whatever it takes to slay. Slay 4 Pay is for everyone that has a queer act, and entering is simple: just show up with a USB and good number and you can enter. The audience usually decides the winner, so bring your friends to cheer you on.” 

Regular Slay programming is sometimes interrupted for Slay 2 Stay, a continuous knockout competition that is known to get heated. There’s drag five nights a week at Universal, and you can also catch a lot of the baby queens at Sunday Shenanigans from 7pm, an open mic-style performance night. Over in Erskineville, you can also see some drag babies play at the Imperial’s Lip Sync Heroes from 7pm, with Farren Heit and Ruby Slippers.

“I think events like this are becoming more and more important. Drag Race and social media have changed the drag industry, and as a result, everyone thinks they are a drag queen,” says Charisma. “You can learn how to do your makeup, wig design and how to sew all without leaving the comfort of your own home. One thing that can’t be learned from a computer screen is stagecraft. The only way to truly learn what an audience wants and likes is to be up there on the stage.”

Alternative drag
Photograph: Anna Kucera | Sarabi

Alternative drag

The art of drag is much more diverse than pretty boys dressing up as even prettier girls and swanning about serving a polished interpretation of femininity (as fabulous as that category is). Queer performance artists come in a gorgoeusly diverse array of idenities, and their stage personas are a rich kaleidoscope of influences and expressions.

Over at Redfern’s artsy neighbourhood bar, the Bearded Tit, the weird and the wonderful are wholeheartedly embraced. There is a mix of punters that properly reflects the Sydney rainbow. On Wednesday nights from 7pm, Queerbourhood hosted by Jonny Seymour of Stereogamous fame puts performances on the stage that you might not have the chance to see on the glittery stages of the Pink Mile. The program is not strictly drag, per se, but each week two queer performance artists will leave it all on the floor. You might see a vogue dancer bend some shapes and the gender binary, or an Indigenous drag queen like Sarah Moany or Sarabi drawing on their ancestry to turn out a jaw-dropping performance.

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Drag trivia
Photograph: Anna Kucera | Fran Giapanni and Dakota Fann-ee

Drag trivia

An old fashioned round of pub trivia is always a good excuse to flex your general knowledge over some schooners and a schnitty, but throw in some drag queens and a battle of the brains starts to get a whole lot more interesting. If you land a host with a wit bigger than her wig, you might find she’ll have dicier questions for you and your outfit choices than those you’re scrawling down on your answer sheet between hushed debates. As a huge LGBTQIA+ centric pub with a major drag presence, it is only natural that the Imperial Hotel has a drag trivia night to get quizzical with every week. On Wednesday nights from 7pm, your beautiful and sharp hostesses with the mostesses Fran Giapanni and Dakota Fann’ee are queering trivia at the Impy. They will have you slapping your thighs in laugher and no-doubt slapping your noggin’ in frustration as you try to get out those trivia answers on the tip of your tongue. There are half price pizzas all night to fuel up your table as you try to come up with a team name more underused than ‘Let’s get Quizzical’. 

On Monday nights on Oxford Street, Charisma Belle will get you revved up with Turbo Trivia at the Stonewall Hotel from 7pm.

Old school drag
Photograph: Stonewall Hotel/Ann-Marie Calihanna

Old school drag

There is a certain level of over-the-top campery and brutal showgirl wherewithal that is true to Australian drag of a certain vintage. The kind of drag that inspired The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and pre-dates the fallout of Instagram-geared pouting influenced by the Drag Race phenomenon. The drag of Oxford Street’s golden era still lives on. On a good night between lockouts and lockdown, you could plot a crawl up the ‘Pink Mile’ to catch trios of seasoned queens popping up with synchronised performances on stages from Stonewall, across Taylor Square to the Oxford Hotel and the podiums of Arq. The Stonewall Hotel is an old faithful bar where young twinks mingle with mature gents. Its open seven nights a week. The big production shows it is known for are on hiatus for now, but there are entertaining performances every night but Monday. Every Thursday night you can see a different showgirl take the stage with her own mini solo show for Bring Back My Girls, with shows at 9pm, 10pm and 11pm. There’s the aforementioned Turbo Trivia on Mondays; on Fridays and Saturdays the show comes to your table with Meals on Heels, from 6-9pm Lada Marks will serve you your dinner as well as performances; you can level up your weekends with late night drag performances every Friday, Saturday and Sundays at 10pm, 11pm and midnight; and on the first Thursday of every month Victoria Anthony hosts Trans Glamore, a showcase of trans performers. 

If you want to pack more classic queens into your weekend, up the road at Gingers (above the Oxford Hotel) Maxi Shield, Carmen Geddit and Coco Jumbo star in Three in the Pink, a free production show from 8pm every Saturday.

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Casual cabaret
Photograph: Supplied/Newtown Hotel | Minnie Cooper

Casual cabaret

If signing up for a set menu is too much commitment for your crew, and trivia or bingo involves a little too much thinking for you at the minute, we have a perfect alternative where you can still see some top notch drag queens. Drag is back amongst the colourful mixing pot of Newtown at King Street’s Newtown Hotel, with famous Sydney queen Minnie Cooper leading a trio of showgirls in live drag shows upstairs at the pub. You can be entertained with performances craftily coordinated by a leading lady of drag as you help yourself to a drink, a snack or something more filling. Minnie is joined by her posse including Jaqui St Hyde, Tora Hymen and Mynx Moscato with DJ Victoria Anthony on the decks. There’s no lock-in price, but you will need to book a table at 8.30pm, 9.30pm or 10.30pm on Saturday nights. 

There are plenty more nights of camp drag-y antics at the Newtown Hotel too. Immigrant carnie drag king Marlena Dali hosts That's Entertainment on Wednesdays; Dammit Janet and Kalin Klein get Camp every Thursday; King and Spacey host Crash, an all-inclusive night of drag and DJs every Friday night; and on Sunday afternoons local legend and sex clown Betty Grumble hosts Sunday Grumble, a self-styled "soft landing serenade for radical rejuvenation". Find out more about the above here.

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