Hilariously funny, riotously colorful and deliciously campy, drag shows offer a vital window into the history of LGBTQ+ culture. They’re joyful and inclusive, expressive and creative, offering inspiration for new generations of queer people and those who love them. Throughout Oregon, talented performers take the stage regularly at venues in larger cities and plenty of smaller towns.
On my first visit to Portland in the early 1990s, I experienced what’s still one of the most impressive drag performances I’ve ever attended. A spirited club in the vibrant Old Town neighborhood, the Darcelle XV Showplace delivered a stunningly choreographed cabaret revue. The headliner, Darcelle XV, stood out for his irascible wit and larger-than-life personality. I felt instantly welcomed and excited about the city that would eventually become my home.
I was fortunate enough to have watched Darcelle XV — who passed away in March 2023 — and the club’s talented performers delight audiences several times over the years. One of Oregon’s foremost drag talents and LGBTQ+ activists, Kevin Cook (aka Poison Waters), the co-hostess at Darcelle XV Showplace and my friend, remembers him.
“As the father figure I never had, Darcelle taught me everything I know about the business side of drag,” says Cook, “but also how to be a person, not just a personality.”
Darcelle XV, who was 92 at the time of his passing, had been recognized by Guinness World Records as the planet’s oldest drag performer. These days at Darcelle XV Showplace — which, in its 56th year, is the longest-running drag club in the world — you can still watch Poison Waters and the club’s sassy troupe continue Darcelle’s XV’s legacy every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday night. With Alexis Campbell Starr, Waters also hosts the club’s Sunday drag brunch.
As Poison Waters, Cook also hosts a diverse lineup of events, many of them fundraisers for organizations that support LGBTQ+ and other community organizations. Indeed, when it comes to charitable causes and campaigning on behalf of human rights, drag performers are at the forefront of the community. Cook sees advocacy as a key part of the mission that’s been passed down to him.
Where to See More Drag Shows in Portland
As Oregon’s LGBTQ+ nightlife hub, Portland has many other notable venues for watching drag. Fun fact: Portland native Jinkx Monsoon was the winner of the fifth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” The legendary queer dance club CC Slaughters hosts Friday’s popular Queens Keys happy hour with live music, followed by TGIF (Thank Gawd I’m Fab), led by the incomparable Inanna Miss. Known for its rollicking drag brunches, the gay bar Stag PDX also presents evening drag performances, as does Crush Bar and Scandals, where you can attend a “RuPaul’s Drag Race” viewing party.
Monthly events to check out range from the long-running Blow Pony party — venues vary, so check the website — to drag bingo at the historic McMenamins Kennedy School hotel, the festive Rogue Eastside Pub & Pilot Brewery, and the hip Shine Distillery & Grill. Rogue and Shine also feature monthly drag brunches, as does retro-cool Swan Dive — it’s hosted by fiercely funny NayNay L Cartier.
Drag Fabulousness in the Willamette Valley
Salem’s noted queer club Southside Speakeasy has earned a devout following for its Saturday night drag shows, led by the talented RiRi Calienté, who’s beloved both for energetic, heartfelt lip-sync performances and tireless fundraising efforts.
In Eugene LGBTQ+ club Spectrum draws enthusiastic crowds to its Thursday night Lip Sync Xtravaganza with Lyta Blunt and Petra Etc along with Friday “RuPaul’s Drag Race” watch parties. Another top drag event in Eugene, Glamazons — hosted by Diva Simone Slaughter — takes place once a month at downtown’s Cowfish dance club.
Events in Bend’s Flourishing Queer Scene
Bend, home to renowned celebrity drag queen and environmental activist Pattie Gonia, offers drag shows at various times and venues throughout the year. Check the Instagram page of the Cult of Tuck drag troupe to find out about upcoming shows, and see what’s coming up at Bend’s many queer-supportive establishments. Canteen restaurant at Campfire Hotel (Bend’s only Proud-Certified Hotel) presents drag brunches and bingo produced by Justin Buckles Productions. And Bo’s Falafel Bar, a popular LGBTQ-owned breakfast and lunch spot set to reopen in a new space in summer 2023, also hosts drag shows and other queer community events.
Intimate Drag Venues Elsewhere in Oregon
It’s not just larger cities that get in on the drag festivities. Portland’s Cook notes that drag in more intimate settings can be extra fun for both performers and audiences, and also an opportunity to build bridges. “In smaller communities, where our audience might not have seen many drag shows, I work extra hard to make everyone feel welcome, seen and appreciated,” he says. He loves to end the show with a Q&A, which provides the audience an opportunity to learn a bit more about the performers.
Billing itself as the “first and only LGBTQ+ bar on the Pacific Northwest Coast,” Xanadu opened to great acclaim in downtown Astoria in 2023. It offers drag shows and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” viewing parties.
In The Dalles, Darcelle XV & Co. bring their incomparable act to the Columbia Gorge every other month at Route 30 Burgers, Bottles & Brews.
Strutting Their Stuff at Pride Festivals
The number of Pride festivals and marches held throughout the state has increased dramatically in the past decade. On most weekends from June through early October, you can find a Pride-related drag performance somewhere in Oregon. Performances by drag queens — and increasingly, drag kings — are nearly always a focal point of Pride festivals. In some smaller Oregon communities — such as Pendleton, Falls City, Yachats, McMinnville and Roseburg — local drag shows are held during the festivities.
Etiquette and Enjoying the Show
If you’ve never attended a drag performance before, you’re in for a treat. “First-time drag show attendees can expect a whirlwind of glitz and glam, lip syncing, dancing and comedy,” says Cook.
Many establishments that present drag performances have age 21-and-over restrictions, but this varies according to the venue, so it’s best to check ahead on websites before you set out.
Whether you’re game to participate in the show or would rather watch from the sidelines, rest assured: “Drag queens are very intuitive,” he adds. “We can usually tell who wants to participate and who would rather be left alone. Audience participation is completely optional but strongly encouraged.”
If you are up for being part of the fun, opt for a seat near the stage or on the aisle and try to make eye contact with the performers. Tipping doesn’t hurt either. “Handing your favorite performer a dollar or two can be a great way to show that you appreciate their art — we do really appreciate that,” Cook says. “But we also understand that tipping can seem intimidating to first-timers — it’s totally optional.”
Whatever your approach to watching a show, it’s always good form to clap, laugh and holler appreciatively. At its heart, drag is truly a community experience.