Bob Pontarelli, proprietor of Barracuda, Elmo and Industry Bar, has the lock on Thursday nights. He runs two of the most popular drag shows in town, Star Search and Queen.
“Star Search is the longest-running bar night in New York,” says Pontarelli, of the weekly stage show that searches for the shiniest emerging talent in the drag biz. Now at Chelsea’s “original drag bar” Barracuda, the show started at Crobar, the East Village haunt he and long-time business partner Stephen Heighton opened in 1991. Though often compared to a certain drag competition TV show, the stage show launched long before the series.
“Stephen was a big fan of drag,” remembers Pontarelli of Heighton, a beloved member of the community who passed away earlier this year.
Heighton knew there was more to drag than simply throwing on some frock, teasing a big blond wig and painting lips with the deepest shade of red. In a city teaming with fantastical personalities, a crafty gimmick can only get you so far.
A good queen needs to be the whole package. Star Search has consistently dominated the drag scene over the years. “It’s the Holy Grail of shows for queens,” says Pontarelli. “Everybody who is anybody in drag has gotten their start at Star Search.”
Among them: Candis Cayne, Hedda Lettuce and Sherry Vine (Vine headlines her own Sunday night at Barracuda). All were first seen at Star Search.
In the early days, drag legend Mona Foot hosted the evening. Today, RuPaul’s Drag Race alumna and self-proclaimed “hardest-working bitch in show business” Mimi Imfurst hosts.
Her biggest competition is 20 blocks north in Hell’s Kitchen, where the cabaret spotlight shines bright on Pontarelli’s other drag show, Queen at Industry Bar. Holding court are nightlife’s current royal highnesses Dallas Dubois and Peppermint. “When we opened Industry Bar we were very clear that we wanted a very produced, multi-dimensional show-stopper.”
Dallas and Peppermint alternate hosting duties each week. Pontarelli says he couldn’t be happier with the show’s current line-up. “It’s a great vehicle that allows both to be larger than life.”
Queen gives the talented cast an opportunity to elaborate on any theme. At a recent show, Dallas Dubois realized her fanciful wish to bring her favorite Disney characters to life. “It was hysterical,” says Pontarelli.
He isn’t worried about the competition between his two bars. “Industry is very different than Barracuda,” he says. “Star Search has more of an edge. It’s unpredictable. Queen is a full-on, elaborately produced spectacle.” And that both nights continue to bring in packed audiences proves that being a queen is never a drag.
– By JC Alvarez
Star Search at Barracuda
Thursday nights with Mimi Imfurst
275 W 22nd Street
(between 7th Ave & 8th Ave)
New York, NY 10011
Queen at Industry Bar
Thursday nights with Dallas Dubois
355 West 52nd Street
(between 8th Ave & 9th Ave)
New York, NY 10019