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Town staff looks back on 10-plus years in business

Mega nightclub was home to lauded drag cast, famous DJs and more

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Town Danceboutique, gay news, Washington Blade

Town Danceboutique takes its victory lap this weekend. For many years, the club was the hub of D.C. gay nightlife. Other spaces, such as Cobalt and the long-shuttered Apex and Omega, had dance floors, but Town was always the biggest and most heavily attended. (Washington Blade photo by Wyatt Reid Westlund)

Town Danceboutique, a staple in D.C. nightlife, shuts its doors permanently on Sunday, July 1 after more than a decade of serving the area’s LGBT community.

Owners Ed Bailey, John Guggenmos and Chachi Boyle announced the news last June after Bristol Capital Corp sold the building located at 2009 8th St., N.W. to the Jefferson Apartment Group. The space, which became a local gay hotspot, will be turned into an apartment complex.

Since 2007, Town has hosted bear happy hours, performances from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” favorites, appearances from adult entertainment stars, election night watch parties and much more. It was sort of an unofficial successor to shuttered LGBT hubs such as Tracks and Velvet Nation.

Bailey says Town has remained consistently crowded during its 11 years in business. The crowds kept the staff, which fluctuates between 40-50 people, busy. The number has dwindled as staff have begun seeking employment elsewhere as the closing approaches. Town won dozens of awards in the Blade’s annual Best of Gay D.C. readers poll. Its drag cast Ladies of Town were perennial winners for many years.

As for the DJs and drag performers that kept Town buzzing each weekend, it appears that relief and sadness are the consensus. While some have already sought gigs at other establishments, Bailey says others, including himself, are looking forward to a break.

“Many of the people who work with us haven’t had a weekend off in years and they’d like one. I jokingly say all the time I’d like to actually watch ‘Saturday Night Live’ when it’s actually live. It’s been years and years since I’ve actually been able to do that,” Bailey says.

However, the loss of Town weighs heavy on Shi-Queeta Lee who is the last drag performer from the original cast still performing. Lee has worked at the nightclub for more than 10 years.

“I’m very sad to see another one of our safe spaces/venues we call home for some and work for others lost to housing in D.C. Like we need more of them,” Lee says.

Town’s closing follows the shuttering of lesbian bar Phase 1, which ended its 45-year run in 2016.

“I have lived through many closings and openings of bars and how that has shifted over time,” Bailey says. “There have been some voids in there where there has been less nightlife. There have been times where there’s been more. The community adapts to that. It will adapt to this.”

For Bailey, the nightclub’s legacy is making gay nightlife more visible.

“Town has existed in a neighborhood that has taken the concept of the ‘big club’ out of the shadows and the other parts of town that aren’t as accessible and moved it into kind of a front-and-center location and a place that has established gay nightlife as being something that can happen in front of everybody, not just on the other side of town hidden away so that the rest of the city doesn’t have to see it or be confronted with it,” Bailey says.

He believes that the LGBT community is entering a new era in which the Internet allows individuals to connect and forge community in a way that was not accessible before. However, Bailey is still adamant on the importance of a physical space for LGBT people to gather.

Bailey and his Town co-owners are on the hunt for such a place.

“We are aggressively trying to find another opportunity to continue to do what we have done previously,” Bailey says. “We’re not retiring. We’re not stopping. We’re trying. The right opportunity has not presented itself yet and we’re not going to do it unless it’s the right opportunity.”

Town says goodbye with a weekend full of events that have been curated to give patrons the chance to say goodbye without feeling like they’re missing out by just attending one party.

The final Bear Happy Hour is June 29 at 5 p.m. with entry ending at 8:30 p.m.

Later, the final Friday night party for the 18-and-over crowd begins with a sold-out drag show at 9:30 p.m. Tatianna, Shi-Queeta Lee, Ba’Naka, Riley Knoxx and Sasha Adams will perform. Lena Lett, another Town original cast member, will host the show. Entry to the party begins at approximately 11 p.m. DJ Wess will spin tracks upstairs for the night and Back2Back will play music downstairs. GoGo boys start dancing after 11 p.m.

Bailey wants the younger crowd to enjoy their last night at Town just as much as older patrons.

“I’m a proponent of figuring out how to provide an 18-and-over environment for our community because that’s generally a very formative time and you need to have opportunities, to enjoy yourself and to be around people who you feel comfortable around and figure out who you are in the world,” Bailey says. “I wouldn’t want the Friday night crowd to feel slighted as though Saturday is somehow more important even though it’s literally the closing night.”

On Saturday, June 30 Town hosts “The party to end all parties,” according to its website. The drag show, also sold out, starts at 9:30 p.m. with encore performances from Tatianna, Shi-Queeta-Lee, Ba’Naka, Riley Knoxx and Sasha Adams. Lena Lett hosts the show for the final time. Bailey will DJ upstairs and DJ Wess will keep the music going downstairs. Entry to the party begins at 11 p.m.

Admission to both Friday and Saturday parties will only be at the door. For more details on the final weekend’s events, visit towndc.com.

As Town prepares to bid farewell, Bailey says that patron support has made all their hard work on Town over the years “worthwhile.”

“The thing that allows me to keep getting up every day during this process is that inevitably at some point someone will come up to me on the street, in a bar or at the club and say, ‘I know you don’t know me but I just wanted to let you know that I met my husband here’ or ‘I came out here’ or ‘I moved to D.C. and I didn’t have any friends and I found your place and now I have this great group of friends and we all met here,’” Bailey says. “So when people tell us that we’ve accomplished that goal for them in their life and that their life is better for it, that’s the amazing moment that you live for.”

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My Rehoboth Beach culinary tour

Myriad answers to the age-old question: ‘What’s the best restaurant in town?’

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(Photo by Ethan Bean)

I’ve had the privilege of indulging in Rehoboth’s evolving culinary scene for decades — from dining on Chez La Mer’s rooftop to sipping cocktails at the Blue Moon bar before the roof was installed.

The last 30 years have brought almost unthinkable change to the once seasonal small town getaway. New town homes that overlook Route 1 are going for more than $1 million. There’s not much off-season at all these days with food festivals and other events that draw tourists year round. Indeed, hotel occupancy rates for October’s Sea Witch Festival exceed those for July Fourth weekend. 

The upside to all this growth and change? Rehoboth’s culinary scene has exploded with high-quality restaurants and bars proliferating in town and thriving up and down Route 1 from Lewes to Fenwick Island and even Ocean City. In fact, the chef at Fenwick’s One Coastal was just nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award. Matthew Kern will be the first-ever Delaware chef in James Beard Awards’ history to be named a finalist in any culinary category, according to the Delaware News Journal. He will be among five chefs competing for the title of best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region. The awards are announced June 10.

As a part-time Rehoboth resident, I frequently field questions from visitors wondering: “What’s the best restaurant in town?” That usually leads to a prolonged text exchange with me offering endless choices in various categories. In an effort to answer that age-old question in a more organized fashion, I offer this roundup of my favorite haunts in the Rehoboth area in a range of styles and budgets. (And please note: These are just my opinions based on lots of experience. Inclusions/omissions are not intended to slight anyone. These things are subjective so it’s OK if you don’t like my picks.)

HIGH-END DINING

Rehoboth offers a handful of options for a truly high-end experience. For a traditional steakhouse, there’s Houston White Co. (315 Rehoboth Ave.), where an eight-ounce filet runs about $45 and a USDA Prime Porterhouse is $85. Side dishes are priced separately and shared, ranging from a $6 baked potato to $11 onion rings. The setting is probably the most formal in town. A small bar in front is always busy and staffed by friendly, knowledgeable mixologists. 

Eden (23 Baltimore Ave.) has a beach chic vibe and the menu is probably the most reliable in town. The ahi tuna — my go to — is perfectly seared and delicious rare. There’s an extensive wine list and the bar is always lively with entertaining staff. The upstairs dining room is ideal for a large party or special event. 

By far the best new restaurant to open in recent years is Drift (42 1/2 Baltimore Ave.). If you’re looking for an upscale, special occasion seafood indulgence, this is the spot. The lobster French toast gets all the press, but the entire seafood menu is as good as any in D.C., from local oysters to the crispy Atlantic swordfish schnitzel. The coveted bar seats go fast and there are only a handful of them at the unique bar that opens to the outside so go early. And this isn’t the place for a large party; the kitchen is small so take a date here if you really want to impress. The outdoor patio is lovely in good weather but the interior is beautifully decorated so that’s the better bet.

Since 1981, the Blue Moon (35 Baltimore Ave.) has been at the forefront of Rehoboth’s restaurant and bar scene, constantly evolving and working to feed and entertain us all. The restaurant is consistently rated among the best in town. It’s intimate and charming and some of the wait staff have been here for many years making it feel like a homecoming when you arrive. The Sunday brunch remains among the best in town, complete with white tablecloths and welcome scones. In the off-season, you can’t beat Tasting Tuesdays, a three-course dinner with wine pairings for $49. Many of us miss the old days of the Moon as a sometimes-raucous bar and dance club, but happy hour is back with half-price cocktails and appetizers, Monday-Friday, 4-6 p.m. So go for a drink and stay for dinner and enjoy crab cakes, lobster risotto, duck breast, and more.

Ah, the Back Porch (59 Rehoboth Ave.) — a true pioneer in establishing Rehoboth as a culinary destination. So many naive tourists walk past the Back Porch because it’s set back from the street, down an alleyway. But those who make the stroll are rewarded with French-inspired food and a convivial bar that’s vaguely reminiscent of Key West. It’s not fancy and fussy; it’s worn and welcoming with an elevated menu and a spacious two-story outdoor dining room. Rehoboth is inexplicably lacking in outdoor dining spots; there aren’t nearly enough al fresco options for a beach town. If you’re on a budget, give it a try for lunch or brunch. The menu doesn’t seem to change, but that’s OK when the food is this good. A true locals place, there’s always a friendly face at the bar and everyone misses bartender Bee Neild who retired last year after nearly 50 years. The Back Porch is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year; let’s raise a glass to the next 50.  

La Fable (26 Baltimore Ave.) is owned by Megan Kee, a beloved restaurateur in town with an impressive track record (she also owns Houston White and Bramble & Brine in Lewes; more on that later). Kee’s unmistakable style — pairing antique furniture and tableware with modern flourishes — can be seen everywhere from the piano-turned-bar to the mismatched vintage china. She pulled off a remarkable feat, turning the rather unappealing basement setting at La Fable into an authentic and charming French bistro. You’ll find all the French favorites here, from escargot to boeuf bourguignon to steak frites. The space is small so make a reservation. 

I offer these high-end options with two caveats/pet peeves. When paying in excess of $45 for an entree, I do not expect to sit on a plastic chair. Also, I do not appreciate overly familiar service just because the waiter is “gay too!” At those prices, a comfortable chair and formal service should be the norm.

MID-PRICED DINING

The high-end scene may be small but there are a plethora of quality mid-priced restaurants that beckon. 

My favorite in this category is the always-reliable Henlopen Oyster House (50 Wilmington Ave.) with its wide selection of fresh raw oysters and equally impressive draft beer list. Henlopen does the high-low thing so well, for example pairing an indulgent dozen Wellfleet oysters with a pint of cask beer. There are lobster rolls, salads, the best steamed shrimp in town, and much more on the menu. It’s a popular place, usually with a line forming before it opens. So go early and be patient — it’s always worth the wait (they don’t take reservations). No matter how packed the bar gets, the two Amys always offer the best service with a welcoming smile. This is my go-to when asked for seafood recommendations in Rehoboth.

As I mentioned, there are too few places for quality outdoor dining/drinks in Rehoboth Beach. You’ll find a handful of touristy hotel restaurants on the boardwalk along with the requisite fast food and Grotto’s pizza joints but there just aren’t enough places for an elevated bite. Above the Dunes (101 S. Boardwalk, 2nd floor) has the best view in town; sit at the bar and try one of their grain bowls. One of the best outdoor spots is the rooftop at JAM (210 2nd St.). The space has seen multiple concepts come and go in recent years, including the aforementioned classic Chez La Mer, Papa Grande’s, the disappointing Unwined, and before that the much-missed Azzurro. But JAM took over the space last year after relocating from Baltimore Avenue and offers the same quality food (burger specials and the salmon salad are highlights) but with a view. Grab a seat on the second floor outdoor deck and enjoy the breeze.

JAM’s rooftop is one of the few places to enjoy a great meal al fresco in Rehoboth Beach. (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

Across the street from JAM is the charming and underappreciated Aroma Mediterranean Cuisine (208 2nd St.). If you like hummus with homemade pita, falafel, kebobs, koftes, and more from the Med, then this is your spot. Try the hummus flight with three samples, including sundried tomato. Delicious.

A Rehoboth stalwart, Café Azafran (18 Baltimore Ave.) never disappoints with its small plates, dinner specials, and, of course, bustling bar featuring Washington Blade three-time Best Rehoboth Bartender winner Holly Lane, who sings (sometimes in French) while pouring drinks. Take a group of friends and order an array of small dishes to share, like the shrimp a la plancha, stuffed arancini, and ratatouille Provencal. There’s no better way to embrace family style dining. 

One of the biggest and happiest surprises in Rehoboth’s dining scene came the night I reluctantly walked into Michy’s (19287 Miller Rd. on Route 1). Reluctantly because the restaurant sits unassuming in a strip mall off Route 1 surrounded by supermarkets and nail salons. You couldn’t find a more unexpected location for one of the area’s best restaurants. But don’t let the location deter you; inside, the décor is warm and eclectic with a small bar and lively dining room. There’s a top-notch menu, including short ribs, sea scallops, and a spicy horseradish crusted salmon, but the daily specials are the stars here so be sure to order whatever special the chef is offering. There’s always a local fish option with a creative preparation. 

AFFORDABLE DINING

Let’s face it: When you’re at the beach, you don’t always want inventive and elevated. Sometimes you just want to wander into a place in your bathing suit and still find a good meal at a fair price. 

For that moment, there’s nothing better than the Starboard (2009 Rt. 1), just down the highway from Rehoboth in Dewey Beach. The Bloody Mary bar is legendary and now comes with a dedicated “sommelier” to assist in choosing from dozens of mixes, hot sauces, pickled vegetables, and more. But the real standout here is the crush — orange, grapefruit, watermelon, lemon, and more — cranked out by the busiest and best bartenders in the area (especially Doug and Shelley). The food is consistent and satisfying, if heavy on the portion size. The crab cakes, burgers, and salads are a good bet. If you’re nursing a hangover, the breakfast skillets will ease your pain. You can design your own omelet or choose from many of their egg creations. Pro tip: Share an entrée as the portions are huge. This used to be dominated by college kids enjoying summer break, but a more mature crowd, including the gays, have discovered Starboard’s many charms, which include a DJ and live bands all weekend.

Back in Rehoboth, the gay-owned Goolee’s Grille (11 S. 1st St.) offers some of the best breakfast dishes in town, including chipped beef, waffles, sandwiches, and more with a mimosa or Bloody to wash it down. There are occasional drag brunches and watch for the popular Greek night dinner specials. If the lines are too long in town for breakfast, venture across the highway to the new Eggcellent (19730 Coastal Highway), a locally owned restaurant that is open seven days 7 a.m.-3 p.m., meaning no dinner. So the focus is breakfast all the time with omelets, avocado toast, pancakes, and more. Don’t let the strip mall vibe fool you; the interior is gorgeous. 

Need a break from pizza and crab cakes? Grab a table on the second floor deck at Mariachi Restaurant (14 Wilmington Ave.) and enjoy some of the best Mexican and Spanish fare in town. You’ll likely be met at the door by Yolanda, the tireless owner who greets locals with a gregarious hug before bringing pitchers of irresistible margaritas to your table. The vast menu offers traditional pollo asado and carne asada along with paellas and assorted seafood dishes. The chips are plentiful and the salsas perfectly spiced. Mariachi opened in 2006 and won over locals by staying open during the off-season so the crowd is always a spirited mix of tourists and residents. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

For the ideal rustic beach bar, complete with sand, the ever-popular Purple Parrot Biergarten (134 Rehoboth Ave.) beckons. The food is standard bar fare but go for the vibe — beers and cocktails outside served from a bar with a flower-covered roof and bartenders in bathing suits. Aqua Bar & Grill (57 Baltimore Ave.) offers outdoor dining and drinks as well and is always packed with gay revelers all summer long.    

Looking for something new? Check out the Libation Room in the back of Summer House (228 Rehoboth Ave.), a restaurant with a dark, speakeasy vibe or the brand new outdoor garden arranged around a gurgling fountain.

If you’re not counting carbs and are looking for a satisfying lunch to take to the beach, pick up a hulking sandwich at Frank & Louie’s (58 Baltimore Ave.) or the iconic chicken salad at Lori’s Café (39 Baltimore Ave.).

OUTTA TOWN

If you’re an old pro and have already exhausted Rehoboth’s many dining options, venture up or down Route 1 for something different. Ocean City isn’t known as a fine dining destination, but things are changing. Check out Liquid Assets (9301 Coastal Highway) and don’t be deterred by the entrance in a strip mall through the liquor store. The restaurant’s high-end menu includes Maryland crab, blackened rockfish, steamed local oysters, along with steaks and even vegan options. Browse the extensive wine list or, better yet, wander around the shop and pick a bottle from the shelves. Not far away is Ocean View/Millville with its own growing roster of appealing restaurants. One of the best is Melissa’s (35507 Atlantic Ave.), with a small menu featuring a fish of the day, seafood pasta, and shrimp or lobster fried rice. Back north in Lewes is a gem of a new discovery. Located behind Bramble & Brine (102 2nd St., Lewes, the former Buttery) is the Pink Pony, a bar and restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner that pays homage to one of Rehoboth’s first gay bars of the same name. Owner Megan Kee can often be found on her laptop at the bar and seems to know everyone who walks through the door. It’s welcoming, friendly, and the décor a real throwback. Check it out.

Our independent restaurateurs and their dedicated staff need support, so skip the chains and enjoy the diverse array of Rehoboth-area restaurants this summer.

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What’s new at Rehoboth Beach for summer 2024

Higher parking fees, Pamala moves to Diego’s, and more

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Rehoboth favorites Magnolia Applebottom and Pamala Stanley are reunited this summer at Diego’s. (Blade file photo by John Bator)

Another Rehoboth Beach season is upon us. I have been going to the beach for more years than I can count, and always love it. Some now consider Rehoboth a year-round community, and in many ways they are right. But summer still brings out tens of thousands of tourists, from day-trippers, to those with second homes at the beach. Others book a weekend, or longer, at the many great hotels. They all come to the beach for the sun and sand, food, and drink. Some like to relax, others to party, and you can do both in Rehoboth. 

So here is some of the good (and a little of the bad) of what’s new this season. First the bad: Parking at a meter will now cost you $4 an hour. Meters are in effect May 15-Sept. 15. Parking permits for all the non-metered spaces in town are also fairly expensive. You can find information on both transferable and individual permits, online.

Now for the good — and there is lots of it. First, Aqua Bar & Grill has reopened for the season. During Women’s Fest they were packed, with many sitting around the outdoor heaters, and that included lots of good looking men. I recommend taking advantage of the Thursday Burger night. Then the Blue Moon just announced John Francis Flynn will be on the piano from May 26-June 26, Sunday to Thursday, 6-8:30 p.m. He will then be back again on the same schedule from July 30-Sept. 11. During July, Nate Buccieri returns to town for a month-long runs of shows.

My favorite place at the beach, The Coffee Mill, in the mews between Rehoboth and Baltimore Avenues, opens every morning at 7 a.m. Whenever I am at the beach I am there. Mel, who also owns Brashhh! on 1st Street, announced he is starting his own clothing line, called FEARLESS! 

The Purple Parrot, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year so be sure to spend some time there raising a glass. The Summer House last year opened the upscale Libation Room, with drinks like a Bacon Maple Old Fashioned. This year, they opened a nice garden looking out on Rehoboth Avenue, with a fountain. With the renewed interest in vinyl records you may want to stop in at Extended Play. Traveling a little beyond the town is the new 302 Local, located in Coastal Station behind Iron Hill Brewery. It is themed as a 1920s-era speakeasy. If you are in town on a Sunday for T-dance, you will have the chance to hear Pamala Stanley perform at Diego’s Bar and Nightclub. This is the perfect venue for Pamala’s talents in an indoor-outdoor setting that is already drawing packed crowds. Don’t miss it. Speaking of Diego’s, Pamala and Best Rehoboth Drag Queen winner Magnolia Applebottom are reunited there this summer. Don’t miss Magnolia’s Memorial Day Thursday party on May 23 from 8-10 p.m. featuring “naughtee bingo.”

If you are looking for culture Rehoboth has some of that as well. There’s Clear Space Theater on Baltimore Avenue. This year’s shows include The Bodyguard, The Roommates, Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages and The Prom. Tickets sell fast so I suggest you book early and they are available online. Then there is the Pride Film Festival, June 14-16. More information on that can be found at CAMP Rehoboth, the LGBTQ community center. CAMP plans the annual Sunfestival each Labor Day weekend, a not-to-miss event each year. On the CAMP website you can also find information on its speaker series, concerts, and other special events that will be going on during summer. This year Rehoboth Beach Pride takes place July 18-21. Sussex Pride is taking the lead on the festival, which will happen at the Convention Center July 20 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. If you visit CAMP, or are just walking up Baltimore Avenue, make sure you pick up a copy of the Blade in the box in front of the building.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the other restaurants and clubs in town. Just a reminder, during season you often need reservations. Come to the beach often enough, and you can try them all: The Pines (and their Monday steak night) and Top of the Pines are at the epicenter of the fun on Baltimore Avenue. Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant offers a busy summer of events and entertainment. Rigby’s remains a go-to spot for the LGBTQ community on Rehoboth Avenue. Bodhi Kitchen is back in its second year offering delicious modern Asian cuisine “with a twist.” These are only a few of the great places to eat and drink at the beach.

Remember to book your reservations for hotels and restaurants early. Rehoboth is a happening place and very busy. Here’s wishing you fun at the beach. 

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‘RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars’ cast visits D.C.

8 queens vie for $200,000 prize for charity in new season, premiering May 17

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The cast of the latest ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars’ season sashayed on the National Mall to promote the reality show's ninth season on Monday. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MTV; used with permission)

Donning sparkling and star-studded red, white, and blue attire on a gloomy, humid D.C. Monday, the cast of the latest “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” season sashayed on the National Mall to promote the reality show’s ninth season.  

This upcoming season is different than those in the past — eight queens are competing for a donation of $200,000 for the charity of their choosing, rather than a personal cash prize. 

Several cast members noted how it felt important to visit the nation’s capital, being authentically themselves and wearing drag. Nina West, who competed in season 11, likened drag to armor. 

“We’re here during a really specific time in history, that’s, I would say, markedly dark,” she told the Blade at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. “And there’s an opportunity, as drag has always done, which is for our community as specifically LGBTQI+ people, to stand in our truth and be wonderful — like guardians and fighters for our community.” 

She’s competing for the Trevor Project, which is focused on suicide prevention and crisis intervention for young LGBTQ people. This season’s pivot to compete for charity made Nina West want to come back on the show for the All Stars season. She’s been offered the spot two times before this, she said, and this twist aligned with what she wanted to do. 

Several of the other queens mentioned that it’s an honor to be featured in this season, including season 5’s Roxxxy Andrews. She also competed in two subsequent All-Stars seasons. 

She chose the organization Miracle of Love, which provides HIV/AIDS prevention programming and assistance in central Florida. It’s a smaller, more local organization, which is why Roxxxy Andrews chose it. She wants to make its work more nationally known. Also, vying to win during a charity season makes the competition feel more rewarding, she said. 

Plastique Tiara of season 11 also noted it’s different competing for charity. She’s competing for the Asian American Foundation, which launched in 2021 in response to the rise in anti-Asian hate and aims to curb discrimination and violence through education and investments in nonprofits. 

“It’s more competitive because then you’re fighting not just only for yourself, but your ideas and the things that you love,” she said. 

Vanessa Vanjie of seasons 10 and 11 agreed that competing for charity adds a bit more pressure — she chose the ASPCA. And as onlookers near the Lincoln Memorial took pictures of and with the queens, she said she was relieved. 

“I was a little bit worried somebody would yell some slurs at us,” Vanessa Vanjie said. “Nothing happened. Everybody came to take pictures like Santa Claus in the middle of the mall.”

There’s a range of contestants from different seasons for this round of All Stars. Some queens hail from recent seasons, but Shannel competed on the show’s first season. To be a part of this new season is surreal, she said. 

She’s competing for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, which she has a close tie to. She’s dealt with anxiety her entire life. The association is focused on increasing awareness and improving diagnosis and treatment. 

“I always felt like I just wasn’t normal, sadly,” she said. “And so now being able to be able to do this season and to get back to that organization is like amazing to me.”

Gottmik, from season 13, is competing for Trans Lifeline — a nonprofit providing advocacy, a hotline and grants created by trans people, for trans people. Being able to do drag and give back is the “perfect scenario,” Gottmik said. 

Gottmik was the first openly trans man on Drag Race, which was overwhelming when first on the show. Gottmik felt pressure to be the “perfect example,” but later realized that they didn’t have to worry so much. 

“I just want to show people that trans people are real people. We can express ourselves however we want to express ourselves, through drag, through whatever it may be,” Gottmik said. 

The new season will be available to stream on Paramount+ on May 17. 

The cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race pose with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at The Little Gay Pub on Monday. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MTV; used with permission)
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