On Thursday nights, gay bars in the city get as packed as sports bars on Sundays during football season.
The reason? “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a weekly reality show where drag queens compete to be crowned “America’s next drag superstar.” Ever since its Season 10 premiere in March, watering holes in Hell’s Kitchen have been teeming with fans.
“This is our football season and the finale is always our Super Bowl,” says Marti Cummings, a drag queen based in Hamilton Heights.
She’s also the emcee for RuPaul watch parties at Boxers on Ninth Avenue near West 50th Street, where it’s standing room only by the time the show starts at 8 p.m.
“We got here early because I wanted a motherf – – king seat!” says Jeremy Rye, a 38-year-old foundation worker who arrived at the bar on a recent Thursday at 5:30 p.m. with his friends. “[Trying to get a table] gets dangerous at 7 p.m. It’s loud. People are packed [in], anticipating the show.”
But the boisterous crowd goes quiet once the hour-and-a-half-long show starts — save for a gasp or shout when a drag queen pulls off an impressive catwalk or directs a shady insult at another contestant.
During commercial breaks, Cummings offers play-by-play analysis of the drag queens’ performances while clad in a mesh top, bra and high-waisted shorts.
“Every week it gets more packed here,” says Cummings, 30. “People are in fantasy leagues and betting money on this.”
In lieu of a halftime show, Cummings asked two guests to stand on a bar table for an impromptu twerking competition. One of them was Sean, a 26-year-old teacher based in Bloomfield, NJ. After shaking his bum for the crowd while Top-40 music played, he won the dance-off and was rewarded with a vodka-cranberry cocktail.
“Just give me a stage and I’m on it!” says Sean, who didn’t want to disclose his last name for professional reasons.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away at Mom’s Kitchen & Bar, Terry Preston, a 24-year-old publicist and competitive pole dancer, was at another “Drag Race” viewing party sipping $5 vodka sodas and cheering on his favorite drag queen, Miz Cracker.
“At first I didn’t understand why straight people like getting drunk and yelling at the TV over a game,” Preston says. “But now I get it … it’s a really fun way to meet people.”
‘At first I didn’t understand why straight people like getting drunk and yelling at the TV over a game. But now I get it .’
Viewers say that the series portrays the LGBT community in a positive light to a mass audience.
“A lot of what [RuPaul ] does is empowerment — teaching people how to push their boundaries . . . and that resonates with the queer community,” Rye, back at Boxers, says.
And while the on-screen competition may be fierce, it’s a bonding experience for everybody.
“It’s an opportunity to watch queer people on TV and see ourselves, and it’s great seeing [contestants] from all different cultural backgrounds — there’s somebody for everybody to watch,” Cummings says. “This show is a great dialogue for people to bring their straight friends to watch, and they get invested . . . it brings people together.