The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What has booze, bottomless bites and lots of Beyoncé? D.C.’s drag brunches.

Host and performer India Larelle Houston dances at Perry's, which has been hosting drag brunches since 1991. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Every weekend, drag queens reign supreme in the District, hosting brunches across the city. Fair warning: These are not stumble-out-of-bed-in-sweats kinds of meals. Here, you can belt out Beyoncé — with a Beyoncé impersonator — while forking a pile of pancakes.

And thanks to increased LGBTQ activism and the success of TV programs like “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the number of drag brunch options in the city is expanding. They’re also wildly popular in San Francisco, Miami, Austin and New York.

During the glitter-adorned affairs, patrons howl, clap and cheer as the queens channel celebrities with spot-on lip syncing and sky-high heels. And wherever you look, there is cause for celebration. Lively groups — of different genders, races and ages — whoop it up for all sorts of special occasions, from birthdays to bachelorettes to divorces.

Yes, divorces.

“People have really embraced the art form of female impersonation,” says Jerry VanHook, a.k.a. Shi-Queeta Lee, who has been performing drag in the area for more than 20 years. “As long as we put a smile on people’s faces, we have done our jobs as entertainers.”

Never been to a drag brunch? Here’s what you need to know before you go: Doors typically open at about noon and tables are called, one by one, to buffet stations. The food, which tends to be a mishmash of standard breakfast fare and cookout staples, like mac and cheese and fried chicken, can be rather unmemorable. Same goes for the drinks: Expect to pay extra for custom cocktails and bottomless beverages.

But let’s be honest: You’re really there for the show. Once everyone is served and seated, the program begins. It can last anywhere from one to four hours. Make sure to allow some wiggle room, because performances tend to run over (three of the shows I attended ran late).

Remember to bring dollar bills to tip the performers, and do so generously. Think of all the practicing and primping that went into the acts, not to mention the lighting-quick costume changes and gravity-defying stunts. To tip respectfully, fully extend your arm, with the cash in hand, to the perfomer.

Also, be polite, present and have an open mind. Root, applaud and dance in your seat, but don’t be grabby or try to steal the show. Reserve a table ahead of time — tickets tend to book up a week or two in advance.

Each spot below puts its own twist on the brunch. In the past three months, I visited a handful to find which is best suited for each occasion, and like any good brunch pal, I’m here to spill the tea.

A guide to the best brunch spots in Washington

The biggest show

Shi-Queeta Lee's drag brunch at Chateau Remix

Shi-Queeta Lee circled the room, reading every audience member like a witness examining a police lineup. “Oh look,” she said, pausing at a large table of women rocking hair, heels and attitude. “Here we have the cast of ‘Love & Hip Hop.’ ”

The room erupted in gasps, followed by giggles. But Lee was just getting started.

“What are you laughing at,” she shot at a neighboring table, “Real Housewives of Baltimore County?”

Turned out, the entire venue was full of doppelgangers. Cicely Tyson, Viola Davis and Jennifer Hudson stand-ins were all at Chateau Remix. One of the District’s most well-known drag doyennes, Lee hosted Nellie’s Sports Bar’s drag brunch for years before launching her own cabaret program in February. Boasting the city’s largest cast of celebrity impersonators — seven queens and one king — the group performed lip-sync tributes to a range of pop and R&B artists, including Tina Turner, Cardi B, SZA, Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu. Riley Knoxx, a Beyoncé impersonator, has even mastered the singer’s rapid-fire dance moves.

The troupe performs on an elevated stage, meaning everyone has a good view, but you should arrive on the earlier side anyway to get a front-row seat. The two buffet stations — stocked with an array of breakfast and lunch goodies that were keenly watched and properly labeled — included make-your-own pasta bowls and hot waffles. Disclaimer: The program was a four-hour affair — a bargain for unhurried celebrations, but a bit long for those on the go.

3439 Benning Rd. NE. Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. $47.29 tickets must be purchased online in advance.

A guide to the best happy hours in D.C.

The rowdiest party

Drag brunch at Nellie's Sports Bar

Straight girls love Nellie’s, and brunch is no exception. Bachelorette parties and birthday crews flock to the gay pub armed with flashy sashes and matching Ts, ready to celebrate — and Nellie’s doesn’t disappoint.

Upon arrival, guests were shepherded to the roof and treated to their first mimosa or bloody mary. Right away, the sticky floors confirmed this was a party atmosphere. But host Chanel Devereaux instructed attendees to reprimand late arrivals with a saucy greeting, so don’t be tardy.

Once we were escorted to the bar’s first floor and squeezed into long tables, I treated myself to one of the bar’s “Fit for a Queen” cocktails, a refreshing Shady Lady — champagne with a splash of pineapple and peach schnapps — and munched on a free basket of miniature doughnuts. The drink was extra, but was worth it, considering the buffet didn’t open for another 30 minutes.

The buffet, an endless smorgasbord ranging from basic breakfast eats to hearty entrees like pork spare ribs, proved variety doesn’t equate to good taste. Chanel and her revolving cast of sequined sisters made up for the unremarkable dishes, sparkling in an interactive show with raunchy humor and a captivated audience. Things ended on a high note: Toward the end of the program, guests celebrating special events were treated to bubbly.

900 U St. NW. Saturdays and Sundays, 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. and 1 p.m.- 3:30 p.m. $45.21 tickets must be purchased online in advance.

The tastiest buffet

Sunday drag brunch at Perry's Restaurant

This sunny, second-story Adams Morgan restaurant has been a beloved neighborhood staple for more than 30 years. It takes credit for hosting the city’s longest-running drag brunch, a fixture since 1991 — long before “RuPaul’s Drag Race” was on the air.

By the time I arrived on Mother’s Day, a line of hungry patrons already snaked around the corner. Our waitress, who was friendly, helpful and prompt with our drinks (coffee and tea are included), brought me a $12 Dude Looks Like a Lady, a refreshing cocktail made with spiced pear, St. Germain and sparkling wine.

The well-maintained buffet beckoned with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, mac and cheese, Belgian waffles and fried chicken nuggets. There was also fresh fruit, a basket of bread and several housemade salads. All of the food was delicious and replenished often by servers — a relief to ravenous attendees.

The high-energy show got going like clockwork, about an hour into brunch. Four queens flitted and flirted throughout the dining room, channeling Top 40 divas along with some unusual characters, like Queen Padmé Amidala from Star Wars. Whitney GucciGoo was a standout, split-jumping in the air like a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader without batting a single false eyelash.

When guests celebrating special events were called up and treated to a mimosa, one smiling bruncher said she was there for her 84th birthday. As “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alum Shangela would say, halleloo !

1811 Columbia Rd. NW. Sundays, 10 a.m.- noon and 1-3 p.m. $25.95. Reservations must be made by email or over the phone. Cash is encouraged, and there is a three-credit-card limit per party.

Summer cocktails can be boring. Here’s where to find refreshing twists on classic drinks.

The best bargain

Drag brunch at City Tap House in Dupont

This weekly revue, which launched in June, is the newest addition and arguably the biggest bargain on the D.C. drag scene: Admission is free, the food is a la carte, and unlimited mimosas and build-your-own bloody marys are only $15. The eclectic and expansive menu features reasonably priced entrees that will please even picky eaters, such as blueberry pancakes topped with honey-thyme butter, and crabcake eggs Benedict. There’s also a DIY bloody mary bar with all the fixings.

Host Ba’Naka and her team of showgirls shimmied and shook to a slew of pop stars including Beyoncé, Britney Spears and Whitney Houston. And despite slow service — and a 45-minute show delay — Ba’Naka’s sass and enthusiasm (along with free coffee refills) kept me and my companions laughing and engaged. The queens strutted and sashayed effortlessly through the restaurant’s 9,300-square-foot space, stopping only to wink, smile and serenade generous guests. Sylvanna Duvel’s fitting rendition of “Dancing Queen,” Ba’Naka’s seamless portrayal of Disney villain Ursula and Alicia Love’s smooth and sultry stride delivered on all fronts.

The humor was mostly family-friendly, save for the occasional offhand comment, and I saw young attendees sing along to the music. One bruncher even brought her baby.

Tip: For a front-row seat, snag a table in one of the restaurant’s two back rooms. Face the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows to peep pedestrians’ reactions to the revelry inside.

1250 Connecticut Ave. NW. Sundays, through August. Dates may be extended. Seating starts at 11 a.m., show starts at noon. Free, but reservations are recommended.