Our Here, Now column looks at trends taking hold in cities around the world. Given how different the world looks these days, we’re focusing on the feel-good moments emerging in between.
Two must-do’s when visiting Portland, Oregon, are eating your way through the Rose City’s renowned food scene and taking in a show at one of the legendary drag venues. But as restaurants struggle to survive the pandemic, limited to takeout and outdoor dining by local restrictions, and the clubs that once dazzled with glitter and sequins are quiet and dark, many Portlanders have prepared for a little less of both for the time being.
Shine Distillery & Grill in the historic Williams District of North Portland, however, proves that Portland’s spirit is hard to keep down.
These days, drivers pulling up the distillery, which is well-known for its craft spirits and inclusive atmosphere, are greeted by flashing lights, pulsing music, and a makeshift canopy that shelters the sidewalk-turned-stage below. Drag queens, dressed in all their finery, strut along the walkway lip-syncing and dancing to a playlist of catchy tunes.
This is Drag-Thru, a drive-through drag show that Shine’s customers can enjoy while waiting for their to-go cocktails, beverage kits, and PNW-inspired fare like smoked salmon alfredo and hearty burgers to be ready. As their cars idle, a rotating cast of local queens like Lulu Luscious and Bolivia Carmichaels put on the curbside drag act, entertaining drivers from a distance, and sashaying in and out of the line of cars during dance numbers. (Masks are on whenever they’re within six feet of guests.)
“We’re giving them dinner and a show,” says owner Jon Poteet, who got the idea upon noticing how lengthy drive-through lines had become earlier in the pandemic. The move has also provided a boon to Poteet’s business since the state of Oregon restricted both indoor and outdoor dining in November. “It’s my pandemic pivot! People love it.”
And they do: Since its launch on November 18, the Drag-Thru—which is open Wednesday through Sunday from about 4 to 8 p.m.—has been a hit, with people coming from as far away as Seattle and northern California to see it. Entire caravans have shown up, birthdays have been celebrated, and locals even bring their cats and dogs along for the ride.
Though it has created a new arm of the business to manage, the team says it’s worth the effort needed to pull off every show. “I’m so grateful we’re able to do it,” says Lulu Luscious, one of the show’s main performers and its primary organizer.
Having performed as a drag queen in Portland since 2013, Luscious also feels that, even with mask wearing and social distancing, she can still put on the same vibrant, high-energy shows she would have before COVID-19. “It still feels like it’s a drag show.”
Plus, the show has provided needed relief to the performers in more ways than one. “I’m able to escape the harshness of 2020,” says Luscious of performance days. “All the financial problems and health concerns… I’m able to go to Shine and be an uplifting drag performer for a few hours. It’s a feel-good gig.”
Due to the popularity and success of Drag-Thru, Poteet says that they’ll keep it going for the foreseeable future, as indoor dining is still off the table in Multnomah County (outdoor dining reopened in December, though the region’s notorious rain has brought its own challenges). They may even continue running shows for takeout customers after indoor dining reopens—but for now, they’re focusing on the present.
“If people can forget about their problems for a few minutes, it’s worth it,” says Luscious of Drag-Thru.
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