These girls are glamazons. Their drag queen motto is simple: “hair and paint make a man what he ain’t.”
And their den mother, the inimitable Miss Shi-Queeta Lee, is a local phenomenon, an indefatigable impresaria who keeps them in line, ready for even more recognition if their D.C.-based reality TV show goes on area television later this year.
But in the meantime they appear every Sunday at Nellie’s Sports Bar — and for this weekend’s Capital Pride also on Saturday — as the stars of the weekly “drag brunch,” which continues to pack in people, into the big first floor corner room framed by big windows looking out onto U Street N.W. Shi-Queeta’s aim is always to keep them looking their best, and as the growing band of drag brunch regulars can attest, these girls do, each of them — five in all, including Shi-Queeta Lee (or SQL, for short).
But who is this Wonder Woman? She has been a Blade favorite, winning this paper’s reader’s choice as Best Drag Performer in 2006. In 2009 she appeared at the People’s Inaugural LGBT Gayla, on the eve of the swearing in of President Barack Obama. Now she appears to be nearly everywhere at once. She not only headlines the Sunday drag brunch but in addition hosts Tuesday night’s drag bingo, also at Nellie’s, and she is the “Diva of Town,” appearing there as a cast member of the Danceboutique’s drag shows every Friday and Saturday night. But where did it all begin, before the person born and raised as Jerry Van Hook became Shi-Queeta Lee, and how did this persona emerge?
“There ain’t too much to say about Jerry,” she says today, “because Shi-Queeta done took Jerry over.”
But the answer to his life in female impersonation is more complicated that that and it begins to unfold in Gretna, Va., on a farm near that small town south of Lynchburg. He was born there in 1964, the fifth of six siblings, and he seems always to have been conscious of his feminine side, saying, “I was a real country girl then, because I was a girl there, too!” But growing up, “No one called me fag or punk, and I wasn’t bullied,” he says. “They just didn’t know what to call me.”
He was a farm boy for sure. “We would get up at 5 a.m. to slop the hogs, feed the chickens and milk the cows,” he recalls. His father owned the farm but he was also a tobacco sharecropper. By high school, he recalls, “we were known as the black ‘Brady Brunch,’” since they had a live-in Alice (their aunt), like the TV sitcom of the early 1970s.
While he loved drama and music in high school, and excelled in art, he also played basketball and tennis, and in the first half of high school he played cornerback on the football team’s defensive line and ran the ball also as tailback. Later he also was a team cheerleader. After graduating, he went to the University of Pittsburgh Art Institute to study commercial art there, but two months later he returned home. He was, he says, “homesick” and he didn’t like the colder temperatures.
First he found work at a local show factory, learning how to make women’s shoes. He says that he continued to draw, especially family portraits, but he stopped pursuing it as a career, though he still has “that creative vision, which you have to have doing drag.” Eventually, an uncle who lived in Washington visited and told young Jerry that “you should live in D.C.” And so, the youth packed his bags on Christmas Day in 1985 and moved, living with his uncle for a few months, while he took several short-term jobs until he found his calling, in hospitality and food service, becoming first a busboy and then a waiter at Planet Hollywood.
Soon he was also helping train crews for the restaurant chain, which flowered in the mid-1990s backed by film stars Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. During its heyday, “That’s when I got to see the world for free,” he recalls, traveling to Atlanta and Orlando as well as to France and Indonesia. Later he worked for BET (Black Entertainment Television) when it opened its own Caribbean-style restaurants.
Later he began an acting career also, in road shows on what he calls the “chittlin’ circuit.”
He took a job as wardrobe and costume designer for a play starring the actor Billy Dee Williams, “The Maintenance Man,” and also as an extra in the play, which was about a high-priced male escort. Van Hook admits that later, as a drag queen, he also worked “for a few years” as a male escort. It’s something he says, that many drag queens do so “at some point, if you need some faster cash to make ends meet,” and there are always customers, generally straight men who sometimes frequent gay bars “to fulfill that sexual fantasy.”
In the meantime, he was also pitching for the D.C.-area gay softball team, the JR Gamecocks, and at the end of one season, in October 1998, he was chosen by the team to appear in a drag show, the Magic Tournament, a pageant sponsored by the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance. Looking back, Shi-Queeta says, “It was considered to be camp, like a Halloween costume, you just put on a wig and lipstick and you just did it yourself.” But Van Hook, as he was still then known, told his team that if he would appear in the show, he would take it seriously, “as a real drag queen.” So he decided “to hire a professional drag queen to put me together,” the late Chynna Pen Darvis who became what he calls his “drag mother.”
That first pageant appearance was Shi-Queeta’s “breakthrough moment.” The name Shi-Queeta was the choice of his softball team coach at the time, Chip Brown. This was because Jerry was still living in Anacostia at the time, and “Chip thought I needed, tongue-in-cheek, a ghetto-type name.” As Shi-Queeta, he won each of the four categories.
“I didn’t expect to win,” he says, “But when I did win, I couldn’t put a pump down because I was walking on air.”
She began appearing at several D.C. gay bars like Bachelor’s Mill, the original Ziegfeld’s, Omega and Chaos, where she hosted a drag bingo until it closed in 2008. Town co-owner Ed Bailey suggested she approach Doug Schantz, co-owner of Nellie’s Sports Bar.
“I talked to Doug,” she says, “and he gave me a trial basis on a Tuesday night, and when he saw what money we could make at 8 p.m. on that night, it was heaven sent.”
Next came the Sunday drag brunch, which began in January 2010 at Nellie’s, though Shi-Queeta had pioneered an earlier version at the old Cada Vez, then at 14th and U streets N.W. At Nellie’s, it’s become so popular that she says “it’s now hard to get a reservation.”
The six girls shimmy and sashay through their lip-synch numbers, bejeweled and in full and flawless makeup and plumage with get-ups like bright red Minnie Mouse hair bows and polka-dot sashes, and sequined skin-tight lavender minidresses. It’s all illusion of course, though one of them announces, “If there’s a plastic surgeon in the house, give me your card, I need a real rack!”
Schantz says Lee and his cooks make a great combination.
“She brims with vivacious entertainment,” he says. “(That and) the inspiriing dishes keep guests singing for more.”
Shi-Queeta herself appears at the end in a flared, floor-length evening gown singing the Diana Ross classic, “I’m coming out, I want the world to know, and want to let it show!” And that’s exactly what Shi-Queeta plans, as producer and creator of the proposed new reality TV series, “Drag City D.C.,” featuring her and five of her girls, Epiphany Bloomingdale, LaCountress Farrington, Chanel Devereaux, Tyria Iman and Raquel Savage Black, in a “Real Housewives”-stye show that has already completed production on three short pilots as “teasers.” Shi-Queeta hopes they will begin to air eight completed, 30-minute episodes later this year on local cable — DCTV public access on Comcast channel 95 and in Arlington, Va., on Comcast channel 69. She’s hoping the stations will also run more episodes of her talk show “Spill da Tea With Shi-Queeta Lee.”
“We will tell the ins and outs of our lives,” says Shi-Queeta, in her persona as CEO of Van Hook Productions. “But also how we are giving back to the community, one show at a time.” In one of the shows the girls put together 200 bags of groceries for Food and Friends, and in another they perform a drag show on roller-skates as a benefit for SMYAL. In the third, they join a pole-dancing and belly-dancing class, “to show us keeping fit,” says Shi-Queeta, “so we can fit into our girdles.”
Nellie’s Sports Bar is at the corner of 9th and U Streets, NW. For more information on the Sunday Drag Brunch, which is offered every Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm, for $20 per person, visit nelliessportsbar.com. For more information on the “Drag City DC” TV show, visit dragcitydc.com.
The evolution of the open house
The more sophisticated the advertising, the more the events flourished
In the early 20th century, there were no exclusive agreements between a seller and a real estate agent. Any broker who knew of someone wanting to sell could participate in an “open listing” by planting his sign in the yard of that person and competing with agents from other brokerages who did the same. To the victor who obtained a buyer went the spoils of commission.
The rules began to change in 1919, when being a real estate broker now required a license. An agent might handle only one property at a time exclusively, but an “open for inspection” period could be used to introduce a model home or new community to the buying population.
According to the National Association of Realtors, Dallas homebuilder, Howdy Howard, hosted one of the most successful open houses of all time in the 1950s. During the first 12 days of the event, an estimated 100,000 people attended, drawn by free sodas and the ultimate prize for the buyer – a new Cadillac.
Soon, brokers began hiring additional agents who could handle multiple properties. Unlike Howard’s marathon open house, agents would now host them for a few hours at a time, usually on a Sunday, to whet the appetite of the buyer pool.
Classified advertisements with a description of a property would be placed in a local newspaper and potential buyers would review them with their morning coffee to decide which houses to visit later in the day.
Marketing in newspapers went from a few lines of black and white text to a photo of a home’s exterior, to a multi-page spread that included both photos of houses and the agents who represented them.
The more sophisticated the advertising became, the more the open house flourished as a marketing tool, not only for the home itself, but also for the agent and the brokerage. It allowed agents to prospect for buyers for that home and others, and converse with neighbors who might want to sell their homes as well.
Soon, the sign-in sheet was born, used by the agent to capture the contact information of a potential client or customer and to let the seller know who had visited his home. While sign-in sheets or cards are still used, some agents have gravitated to electronic applications, using a tablet computer instead of paper for the same purpose.
Fast forward to the early 2000s in D.C., when open houses became the primary source of showing property. An agent would enter a property into the multiple listing service (MLS) on a Thursday, entertain no showings until Saturday, host an open house on Sunday afternoon, and call for offers either Sunday night or Monday. The open house allowed agents to send their buyers rather than accompany them and serve multiple clients at once.
The delayed showing day strategy referenced above has since been supplanted by the MLS’s Coming Soon status. Agents can now email or text links to upcoming properties to their clients in advance of showing availability and the clients can view photos, read property descriptions and disclosures, and schedule future visits accordingly.
Enter COVID-19. Due to the proliferation of the virus and the subsequent lockdown, the real estate world had to accommodate new public health requirements.
One of the first things to go was the open house. Even agent showings were constrained, with visitors limited to an agent plus two people and additional requirements for wearing masks and disposable shoe covers and gloves.
Overlapping appointments were not allowed, showings were limited to 15 to 30 minutes, and bottles of hand sanitizer sprung up on kitchen counters everywhere.
Ultimately, technology and ingenuity provided new marketing avenues for agents that included 3-D virtual open houses, Facetime and Duo viewings, videos, property websites and QR codes. Many of these marketing techniques remain, even though traditional open houses are coming back post-lockdown.
But are they really necessary? Certainly not for all types of properties.
I believe the days of using a public open house to procure a buyer are limited. Agent security has become a concern and the desire for in-person viewings during a specific day or time has waned.
On the other hand, Internet marketing and social media have a much wider reach, so much so that some people now feel comfortable buying a home – probably the most expensive item they will ever purchase – without even stepping into it until after closing.
After all, if we can work in sweatpants or pajamas while Zooming corporate meetings, how can naked virtual reality house hunting be far behind?
Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.
D.C. homebuyers face hyper competitive market
Sellers in driver’s seat as region faces record low inventory
With job growth rising during a period of aggressive government spending and historically low mortgage rates, the spring 2021 market sits at the lowest level of inventory since 1983.
Homebuyers in the D.C. area continue to face an incredibly competitive market. This is truly a seller’s market.
Lack of Inventory: Washington, D.C. has been in a gradually worsening housing shortage since the Great Recession. The area hasn’t had a six-month supply of homes for sale for almost 12 years. Now, we add a global pandemic that seriously altered what homeowners want out of their home, Wall Street on fire, and insanely low interest rates and we get a surge in motivated homebuyers.
According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the number of homes nationwide reached a record low in December 2020, with just 1.07 million properties on the market. The DC metro area is even worse off than the national average with only one month’s supply of homes. That means if new listings were completely dried up, there would be no homes available in four weeks. On average, D.C. homes have been selling within 11 days, which is 15 days faster than this time in 2020.
Seller’s Market: The time is now for Washington, D.C. homeowners to seriously consider selling their homes if they have played with the idea. Experts predict 2021 will be another strong housing market with an increase in demand from existing homebuyers in search of larger homes and buyers who delayed purchasing a home due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Zillow forecasts a nearly 30 percent annual growth in homes for sale in 2021. This would be the largest home sales growth since 1983. Zillow’s annual report stated, “Home price appreciation will reach its fastest pace since the Great Recession, as the inventory crunch continues to pit buyers against each other, competing for a scarce number of homes for sale.”
D.C.’s Current Market: According to the NAR, in March of 2021, D.C. home prices had increased 4.1% compared to March 2020, for a median price of $635,000. There were 1,004 homes sold in March 2021, an increase from 842 at this time last year.
We are seeing many homes receive multiple offers within just a few days in the D.C. area. The average home is selling a little above 1% of the listing price and many hot homes are seeing large bidding wars and selling for 3% or more above the listing price; 42.7% of D.C. homes sold above list price in March of 2021. That is a 13.4% increase from last year at this time. Active inventory for March of 2021 was 1,457 homes, down 9% from March 2020. March 2021 also saw 991 homes sell in the D.C. area, an increase of 31% from February of 2021. March 2021’s total homes sold had a 19% increase from March 2020.
Buying a Home: In the current seller’s market, buying a home can be like playing a chess match. You need to know the rules and be strategic. It can seem more like winning than purchasing a home right now. If you find a home you want to buy, chances are you won’t be the only one making an offer. It is a seller’s market everywhere in the country right now and D.C. is no different. Be sure you know what you qualify for and what you can afford.
Conclusion: The NAR and the Mortgage Bankers Association both project prices of existing homes to increase 5.9% in 2021. This may mean buyers will have to be more flexible than in the past. For example, making an offer contingent upon the sale of a current home may be harder than before. It’s also possible you will pay more than the list price. The D.C. real estate market is on fire and many homes are off the market within 24 hours of listing. For sellers, if you have been thinking of selling your home there is no better time than the present.
Khalil El-Ghoul is Principal Broker for Glass House Real Estate. Reach him at [email protected] or 571-235-4821. Glass House Real Estate is a modern, more affordable way to buy and sell a home in the D.C. Metro area. Learn more about what makes us different at glassshousere.com.
Still the hottest vehicles in dealer showrooms
Crossovers keep wending their way into our driveways—and our hearts. After overtaking sedans, station wagons and minivans as the hottest vehicles in dealer showrooms, crossovers are now taking aim at the most quintessential of American rides: the muscle car. With naughty looks and hepped-up engines, the two dynamite crossovers below are sure to blow your mind—and just maybe your budget.
DODGE DURANGO SRT HELLCAT
Mpg: 12 city/17 highway
0 to 60 mph: 3.5 seconds
For more than 20 years, the Dodge Durango has been a solid if nondescript family hauler. But this year the automaker jazzed up its midsize crossover with brawnier styling and the latest tech toys. And for the first time, Dodge is offering a limited-edition Durango SRT Hellcat—a high-test model with the same hellacious Hemi V8 engine in the Challenger super coupe and Charger sport sedan. With 710 horsepower, this blazingly fast crossover can kick some serious ass, outrunning many a Ferrari and Lamborghini.
The upgraded suspension provides more dynamic handling and cornering, as well as selectable steering for better grip. For straight-line acceleration and to prevent nasty fish-tailing, I simply flipped the “launch control” toggle switch. The massive Brembo brakes also were stellar, with stop-on-a-dime performance and flaming red calipers on each wheel. Another plus: the iconic Hellcat exhaust rumble could be heard blocks away—music to the ears of any auto aficionado. As with all Durangos, this bruiser has best-in-class towing capacity of 8,700 pounds.
Inside, there’s plenty of space, including more room than expected for third-row passengers. The steering wheel, dash, and trim accents now have trendy Euro styling, though it’s more VW than upscale Audi. And you can opt for flashy seatbelts and premium seats in a color Dodge calls Demonic Red, along with black velour floor mats and a soft-touch headliner. Other features include heated/ventilated seats, a large 10.1-inch touchscreen, wireless smartphone integration and the ability to pair two Bluetooth devices at once. Options include a 19-speaker Harman Kardon stereo and rear-seat entertainment with Blue-Ray player. Alas, this is a limited-edition model and all 2,000 of these speed demons quickly sold out months ago. But there’s still hope: Dodge allocated some of the racy Durangos to select dealerships, so you can call around to see if any are still available. And you can always try social media to find a lucky Durango Hellcat owner who just might be willing to sell this rollicking ride, if the price is right.
LAND ROVER DEFENDER X
Mpg: 17 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.7 seconds
For decades, both the Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover have been ubiquitous in the United States. Not so the smaller and less ostentatious Defender, often seen as a work-horse vehicle in BritBox reruns or action flicks like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. But last year the Defender returned to these shores after nearly a quarter-century hiatus.
Available in two- or four-door models, both Defenders start around $50,000. My test vehicle was the new top-of-the-line Defender X, which added—yikes!—another $35,000 to the sticker price. The look on these crossovers is boxy chic, which allows for a ginormous amount of headroom, legroom and cargo space. Land Rover also added extra stowage areas and cubby holes, as well as transom windows and a sliding panoramic sunroof to keep things airy. While the cabin may be sparse and full of solid plastics, the walnut trim on the center console and door panels is quite elegant.
Land Rovers have a somewhat infamous reputation for less-than-stellar electronics, but the 10-inch touchscreen was crystal clear and synced up seamlessly with the infotainment system. Tricked out with a jet-black roof, hood, and side cladding, the press vehicle I test drove was painted a haughty Eiger Gray Metallic. It also came with thick all-terrain tires, adding to a slightly menacing vibe. A full-size spare is conveniently mounted on the vertical tailgate, which swings completely open like a refrigerator door for easy access. The Defender X may not be as lightning quick as a Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, but it’s still plenty fast. And this brute can tackle the toughest of terrains, thanks to locking differentials, hill-descent control and a standard air suspension that can raise the chassis 11.5 inches above the ground. Overall, the Defender X can’t quite hide its refined roots as a tony Land Rover. But as with the Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, this burly crossover flexes some serious muscle.
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