Drag accommodation in host city

It’s a scorching summer Friday night in Savannah, Georgia: Singles in matching dresses, straight guys in polo shirts, vacationing LGBTQ people and a contingent of locals climb the steep, narrow steps to the top floor of the Club One and await the show.

Blair Williams, wearing high heels and longer hair, takes the stage, cracks a few jokes and quizzes the crowd. By a show of hands, most of the crowd are from out of town and have never seen a live drag show before. “Typical”, she says, before welcoming the first artist of the evening.

“It’s important to find out – it’s not just a shtick – to find out where they came from, how they found out about the place, what do they want from the show, and then deliver it because we want that ‘they’re walking away from having a good time,’ she said.

Williams came to Club One, named after his address at One Jefferson Street, in 2008 after a decades-long sabbatical. Needing to make an appearance to raise money for a local charity, she requested a hot spot on a weekend show and eventually became a mainstay of the 34-year-old gay club.

“With drag, I have a love-hate relationship, I always have had,” Williams explained one night as she prepared for a series of weekend shows. “The five minutes I’m on stage are the best feeling in the world. The process to get there is sometimes laborious, but this bar has welcomed me with open arms since the first day I walked into this establishment. Of course I love it, I wouldn’t if I didn’t love it yet.

An average week includes bingo on Monday, three shows on Friday, two shows on Sunday, and hosting brunch at Moon River Brewing Company on Sunday. Club One also has the long run “Just a Little Drag!” with Chi-Chi Bonet Sherrington and a show on Thursday evenings.

“We hang out 18 days a week in Savannah,” she said without any hyperbole.

It’s been a busy schedule, but Club One reinvigorated her love for the art form in which she went from scared newbie to winner of the 2015 Miss Gay America pageant. Her journey to a national drag title began at the late 1980s at Charlotte’s venerable nightclub, The Scorpio. She took the stage under her own name, but with someone else’s look.

“I was probably a big mess,” she said. “I had found someone who liked me and hit on me, and so I didn’t look like a rank amateur, but I was still a rank amateur because she had done everything: costumes, makeup, face , none of that. It belonged to me, everything belonged to him.

As Williams found her feet, she turned her eyes to a bigger prize: the Miss Gay America pageant.

“I was in love with it. I had grown up watching Miss America and Miss USA competitions with the beautiful clothes and the groomed hair and the talents and all that, and Miss [Gay] America is the same way,” she said.

Williams started competing and she started losing. In 1992, a bar owner called her off the cuff because they were having a direct qualifier for Miss Gay America and only one other contestant had entered.

“I finished first runner-up, second out of two people,” Williams said.

Once qualified, she finished 17th out of over 60 competitors, and that was enough to think she might win one day. Williams continued to compete, but she and her husband moved, first to Chicago and then to other cities, and she did not return to dating until after moving to Savannah.

“My goal was to go to Miss America [in 2012] and not embarrass myself, and when the dust settled that last night, I was fifth, and I was ecstatic because I hadn’t entered a contest since 1995,” Williams said. “The following year I went back there, I was first runner-up, second; the year after, I went back and I was first runner-up, second; and the next year I came back and won first place.

“Being Miss America has been a great experience, and I’m grateful to the Miss America Foundation, I’m grateful to Club One,” she said, noting the emotional and financial support given to her by artists, club owners and managers. “I thought because Miss America was my goal in this business, I could end this, but I gave up that title and it’s 2022 and I’m still working.”

She works on stage, programs the 14 other artists that Club One employs, polishes the queues, promotes the club and sometimes comes to clean the locker rooms before the big holiday weekends. In June, Williams also launched a podcast with Treyla Trash, with whom she hosts bingo each week, titled “Can I Ask You a Personal Question?”

“It’s an interesting market, especially on the weekends,” Williams said. “Mostly tourists, wedding parties, I call them ‘Straight gawkers’: people who saw our sandwich board or walked past the bar and thought, ‘This looks like a good time!’ Fridays and Saturdays, and even all week.Before, we had a more regular crowd on Thursdays and Sundays, and the Chi-Chi show on Wednesdays of course, but we see more tourists coming during the week too.

For many, this is their first time seeing a live drag show. For some, it’s probably the only time they’ll set foot in a gay bar. Williams is confident that the performers put on a show that meets everyone’s expectations.

“I say this all the time, but we have fourteen artists in our cast and the depth of entertainment in this building is mind-blowing,” she said. “Their hairstyles, their costumes, their makeup skills, their stage presence, it’s amazing and it’s definitely one of the best shows in the Southeast. I think it’s one of the best shows in the country.

Learn more about Club One at clubone-online.com.

About James K. Bonnette

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