Get to Know the Boy Behind the Queen Behind the Shots
Chaka Khanvict welcomed me to her apartment as her boy-self, Phillip, asking, “Would you like a cup of tea?” The beverage was a far cry from the brightly colored Jell-O shots I’ve gotten from her on the nights when I find her working the crowds at the Ritz.
“I’ve been working in New York nightlife for eight years,” she said. But she didn’t start here. Her beginnings trace back to Baltimore where she was the drag daughter of Tia Mae Chambers, a queen who sold boozy Jell-O shots at Grand Central and the recently closed Club Hippo.
“My look and persona definitely come from Baltimore,” Chaka said. “I’m channeling Divine, Sandra Bernhardt, Joan Rivers … and maybe a bit of Aziz Ansari.”
Chaka found her way to Manhattan via a work transfer – she was a makeup artist for MAC Cosmetics by day. One night she walked into Ritz Bar and Lounge and pitched owner Tommy Greco a simple idea: She would serve as a drag hostess and sell Jell-O shots, and she would take a commission from her sales.
“I like to say that I’ve never sold a shot in my life,” Chaka admits. “I’m selling me.”
For those who may wonder, the Jell-O shots are tequila-infused, and she makes them herself every night. So drink up, and tip a queen.
Chaka does not consider herself a show queen; she sees herself as a host and saleswoman. She works “in the trenches,” and she likes it that way. Her dramatic looks, including a fully shaded décolletage, expensive high-top sneakers, eye-catching hair and, sometimes, flashing lights strung through her outfits and wigs, all make her stick out in the crowds at Real Deal Wednesdays at The Ritz, as well as over the weekends. Despite that, she is always happy to grab the mic to tease and get a rise out of the crowd and host a contest or show.
Chaka’s nightlife resume reads more like a map of legendary gay New York venues: Penthaus Fridays, Campus Thursdays, Heaven Saturdays, Marquee, Studio 57, 20Something Thursdays, BPM, Yotel and on and on and on.
Yet there is more to Chaka than Jell-O shots and jokes. She is also a professional makeup artist who has done the mugs of numerous known celebrities. She’s worked on 15 music videos and done her magic to Katy Perry, Jennifer Coolidge, Lumidee and Kim Cole. She also runs around town on Halloween airbrushing and doing makeup for go-go boys and hosts.
Chaka’s newest pursuit is a further exploration of what she has always been known for: comedy. Phillip will be debuting at Stand Up New York on Wednesday, December 16, at 8 p.m.
“Stand-up is all about vulnerability,” she said. “You can’t hide behind a schtick. No mask. No fake boobs. I have to be myself. But it’s therapeutic and funny and very real. Plus it’s easier to get laid without all the makeup on.”
Chaka intends on seeing this new comedic pursuit all the way to a one-person show that would begin with her in drag and end with her as a boy. While she’d love to do it at Madison Square Garden, she’d be perfectly happy performing at The Laurie Beechman Theatre.
Now a legendary staple of the dance floors across New York herself, Chaka still gives thanks to the man who gave her her start: “Tommy Greco let me do this crazy idea eight years ago, and has stuck with me and always encourages my creativity – whether it’s hosting a new event or coming up with a new idea. I’m super grateful to him.”
So are all of us, Chaka.
XO Justin Luke
Justin Luke is one of New York’s premiere gay party producers and promoters and the co-owner of the nightlife company BoiParty. He is also a six-time published author and entrepreneur.
Visit JustinLukeNYC.com and
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