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Ross Mathews shares ‘rossipes,’ cocktails, celeb gossip and more

New book ‘Name Drop’ is collection of his favorite happy hour tales

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Ross Mathews, gay news, Washington Blade
Ross Mathews brings his book tour to Washington Sunday night. (Photo by Ricky Middlesworth)

Ross Mathews ‘Name Drop’ Tour

Sunday, Feb. 9

7:30 p.m.

Miracle Theatre

535 8th St., S.E.

GA: $35

VIP (w/M&G): $100

helloross.com

Ross Mathews got his start on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” where he was known as “Ross the intern.” 

The fabulously out gay guru has since been seen on many shows such as “Celebrity Fit Club,” “The Insider,” “Celebrity Big Brother” and, of course, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” where he’s been a staple at the judge’s table since season seven in 2015. 

He launched his book tour for “Name Drop: the Really Good Celebrity Stories I Usually Only Tell at Happy Hour” (out Feb. 4) this week in New York and plays Washington Sunday night. Mathews, 40, dished on all that and more while driving to his second home (he lives mostly in Los Angeles) in Palm Springs last week. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: How are things?

ROSS MATHEWS: Good. I feel like everyone has this sense of optimism this year that has been lacking the last couple years. People were like, “Ugh, God — this year can’t end soon enough,” but now, I don’t know, everyone I’ve talked to feels great about 2020 and so far so good. Also I’m driving to my place in Palm Springs, so I’m like in heaven.

BLADE: How were your holidays?

MATHEWS: It was really nice. I got to be with my family in Washington state and it was super nice, then I got to be back here in California and I went to Puerto Vallarta, which is another one of my happy places.

BLADE: Tell us about your book. How did it come about?

MATHEWS: The idea came to me in the shower. I was just like, “Oh my gosh, I wish I could tell everybody the stories I tell my friends at happy hour,” but then I thought, “But that’s so name-droppy.” Then I thought, “Screw it, just lean in — those are the stories people want to hear.” So “Name Drop” really is filled with celeb stories I usually only tell at happy hour and since it’s all about happy hour and I do cook every day, I thought why don’t I include some of my original rossipes in there so people can actually have happy hour while they’re reading the book, ‘cause that’s what the book feels like. It feels like you’re sitting down with me, ordering a drink and a bite and we’re just gushing over celebrities.

BLADE: So it’s cocktail and food recipes?

MATHEWS: Yes, there’s cocktails and rossipes for every single one and I pair them up with a chapter so for instance, I give Celine Dion “My Artichoke Heart Will Go On.” For Faye Dunaway, I give you my rossipe for “Endamame Dearest,” and it goes on from there. 

BLADE: You had an encounter with Faye? Is she as scary as I fear she might be?

MATHEWS: I was too scared to ask her what I really wanted to ask her, but I thought it was so fascinating that I got to meet her, so I included it in the book. You know, some of these stories are when I had my dreams come true from people I’d loved forever, and some of these stories are about people who really disappointed me when I met them but I always say no celebrities were harmed in the making of this book. I tell the reader exactly what happened but I’m not out to hurt anybody.

BLADE: And these are all your own creations?

MATHEWS: Yes

BLADE: How did you get into that?

MATHEWS: So the cocktails are all sort of like my spin on cocktails that already exist and I make them original to me. The rossipes are all things I actually make. I’ve always loved cooking. I learned from my mom and I loved watching her. I love going to a restaurant and trying something and thinking, “Oh, I’d do it this way,” and then going home and cooking. I do that with Food Network too. I watch and go, “Huh — I would make it with this,” then I try it. Cooking is art — just another way to create.

BLADE: Do you have a favorite?

MATHEWS: Oh my gosh, I love them all. I make “Baked Ziti with a Z” for the Liza Minnelli story and that one’s really delicious.

BLADE: Please tell me there’s a chapter on Omarosa (she and Mathews were on “Celebrity Big Brother” together in 2018). 

MATHEWS: Absolutely! We do an Omarosa Mimosa and then just a TV dinner because that chapter’s all about reality TV. Which by the way, an Omarosa Mimosa is made with blood orange juice.

BLADE: What was going through your head in real time when she was telling you all that stuff during your little tete-a-tete on “Big Brother”? 

MATHEWS: Listen, I write all about that in the book. It was so surreal being locked away from the outside world for 30 days with cameras following us 24-7 and then Omarosa walks in and this was right after she had left the White House. I was fascinated by her and knew we had to talk about it or people wouldn’t think we were being real in that house. It’s impossible not to be real when they’re filming you 24 hours a day. So that conversation, to sit there and ask her those questions and what I was thinking and also what happened afterwards, which nobody knows about, that’s all in the book.

BLADE: Do you get a clothing allowance on “Drag Race”?

MATHEWS: No. I have to get my own wardrobe and of course, you have to step it up because you’re sitting next to RuPaul. I partner with Mr. Turk and I’m sucking up to friends who are designers. I’ve worked with Mr. Turk and Trina Turk for a long time and I’ve worn Tallia Orange before, so I try to find people who can partner with me so I’m not spending mazillions of dollars on these clothes.

BLADE: Is the stuff you wear on “Drag Race” the kind of stuff you wear in your private life or do you glam it up for the show?

MATHEWS: Well you have to wear something noticeable on that set. What am I going to do? Show up in corduroy or khakis? In real life, I love clothes but I’m not always in a suit. Usually I’m in like a jacket with a leopard scarf and a Gucci slide. When I go to Palm Springs, it’s elastic head to toe (laughs). 

BLADE: Do you do your own shopping?

MATHEWS: I’ve had stylists in the past. My partner all those years, Salvador (Camerna), was my stylist but lately I’m not using a stylist. It’s just me partnering with various designers and trying to express myself however I feel that day. The other day I had on ripped jeans and boots and I was feeling all butch, like green Army Surplus jacket and right now I’m wearing Gucci fur slides and a leopard scarf, so I’m feeling more Nellie today. It’s fun to express fashion, always a joy.

BLADE: Was there ever a “Drag Race” contestant you thought went home too early?

MATHEWS: Yes. I’ve never disagreed with the winner, but I have opinions on who should stay and who should go. That’s part of my job, I get to argue my point to Ru who makes the ultimate decision. So I have of course thought somebody should have stayed who went home at a certain point, but the cream always rises to the top and I agree with every winner who’s been chosen.

BLADE: Did you ever feel somebody who sashayed away should have won the lip sync?

MATHEWS: (long pause) Yes (laughs). But I don’t want to give specific cases. Ru is the Supreme Court and I defer to Ru all the time. But there’ve been a couple times when someone won and I go, “Huh — I didn’t see that one coming.” But that’s not my job to decide that. I’m just there to give my two cents.

BLADE: Do you hang out with Michelle (Visage) and Carson (Kressley) outside the show?

MATHEWS: Absolutely. Michelle and I just went to lunch in Calabasas the other day. She got gluten-free grilled cheese. She’s like a sister to me and Carson’s like a brother. I love them all. And we really just make each other laugh all day long.

BLADE: You’re all so chummy now but Michelle had a rather prickly relationship with (former judge) Santino (Rice). Does a little tension there help the show?

MATHEWS: Well, I can’t really speak to her relationship with Santino, but Michelle and I are like brother and sister. If we disagree, we’re not gonna keep it in. I’ll tell her she’s nuts, but we laugh about it later. We have absolutely had strong disagreements where we each draw a line in the sand and we’ll never agree on something but then we go to lunch afterwards. I’m not afraid of her.

BLADE: Who’s been your all-time favorite “Drag Race” guest judge?

MATHEWS: Oh my gosh, there are so many. I can’t believe the people we get to sit next to. I’ll come home and say, “I just sat next to Lady Gaga for like 12 hours,” or Miley Cyrus. I have to be careful not to say some of the names coming up ‘cause they’ll blow you away, but I’ll get in so much trouble. It’s one of the greatest gifts of the show the artists that Ru and World of Wonder allow me access to. It blows me away.

BLADE: Who would be your dream judges?

MATHEWS: Liza, Cher, Bette, Madonna — you know, the icons.

BLADE: Do you guys write all your own puns for the runway commentary or do you have help?

MATHEWS: No, we come up with it as it’s happening. As we see it, we say it.

BLADE: They’re pretty clever most of the time. I’ve always thought, “They must get some help with this.”

MATHEWS: No, we just try to make each other laugh. There’s no better feeling than making really funny people laugh. There are some stinkers from time to time and the editors help us out. 

BLADE: About how long does it take to tape a full “Drag Race” season?

MATHEWS: Well, there’s a lot going on. I don’t want to ruin it for people but of course, it takes longer than just what you see. There are outfit changes and you have to stop for production and sometimes there’s a lighting cue that goes wrong you have to redo. There’s a lot that goes into a production of this size but as someone who loves showmanship, I don’t want to give too much away.

BLADE: What’s the biggest thing being behind the scenes on these kinds of shows that stands out to you that you’d never have thought about as a viewer at home?

MATHEWS: Well, like the first time I went to the Oscars, I was staring at all the stars on the red carpet then you turn to the left and see 12 portapotties. I was like, “Wow, I didn’t know those were there,” they cut those out of the shots for TV. Or being in the “Big Brother” house and hearing the camera operators in the wall saying, “I’ve got a close up on Ross’s face, he’s going to bed.” I was like, “Oh my god, I didn’t think about that.” Or there’s a microphone hanging over the toilet, the one toilet you share with 11 other celebrities. It’s not all glamorous but it’s all a piece of the puzzle. 

BLADE: Have you seen Ru’s new Netflix show?

MATHEWS: I have! Michelle and I went to the premiere. We were basically wearing the same red suit, it’s on my Instagram. It’s so great, I’m so proud of Ru. You know, Ru refuses to be put in any box. You think you know what Ru can do, then Ru goes, “Oh, I can also do this.”

BLADE: When Ru was on the cover of Vanity Fair in December, the article suggested he’s only knowable to a point, down to earth and candid in some ways — I’m paraphrasing — but also with a bit of aloofness, like he only lets you get so close or never totally lets his hair down. Is that your impression?

MATHEWS: Um, I can’t really speak for other people’s impressions of Ru, but I can tell you what Ru has been for me. Ru has been so kind and so supportive and so welcoming and you know, there’s one quote on the cover of my book and it’s a quote from Ru and that’s on purpose because for this phase of my career, Ru’s been the one who has sort of given me a platform and said, “Hey, look at this guy, he’s really funny.” ‘Cause Ru could have picked anybody for that seat next to him and so for me, he’s a mentor and a friend.

BLADE: You’ve made self-deprecating cracks about your sex life on “Drag Race.” You gettin’ any these days? Or dating anyone? 

MATHEWS: (laughs) I am dating a lot actually. I never did this before. I didn’t really date in my 20s because I was figuring out how to be a famous person and I felt like a clown a little bit, so I felt like I had to choose between being funny or sexual. Then I got in a relationship and we were together for 10 years and now I found myself out dating again and I’m really confident now in who I am and I’ve never been single and confident at the same time, so I’m having a really good time dating. I find people fascinating. I like meeting people and I like learning from people and I think if you’re inquisitive and confident, you’re a really good dater.

BLADE: Reality TV and media can be rather soul sapping. And Ru is always spouting great spiritual wisdom. How do you refuel spiritually yourself?

MATHEWS: Not to sound cheesy, but I’m really fueled by living my dream. I don’t need anything else. 

BLADE: Good luck with your book and tour.

MATHEWS: Thanks! Please come out. It’s just an hour and a half where we shut the door on the world,  ‘cause everything’s fucked right now …

BLADE: Yeah, especially in Washington!

MATHEWS: I know, right? We just shut all that out and have some laughs. 

Ross Mathews combines his love of cooking, cocktails and Hollywood in new tome ‘Name Drop.’ (Photo by Ricky Middlesworth) 
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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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