Desarae Penda’vis stared intently into the mirror atop her vanity table, pursing her lips as she carefully traced her mouth with dark pencil.
MAC eyeshadow palettes, wigs and bottles of Aqua Net were strewn across dressing room back stage at Fremont Street’s newest attraction, Drink and Drag, which tonight celebrates its grand opening at Neonopolis.
Penda’vis was painting her face on a Wednesday afternoon in preparation for her shift as a bartender and as one of 24 female impersonators at Krave Entertainment’s latest venture, which fills 22,000-square-feet on the second floor of the downtown mixed-use development. The same company owns 7 -year-old Krave, the gay nightclub at Planet Hollywood.
Krave touts Drink and Drag as America’s only drag queen bar/bowling alley, as well as largest employer of drag queens anywhere.
But Drink and Drag is not solely a hangout for Las Vegas’ gay community, said Eric Peterson, the company’s chief operating officer. He said he expects the venue to appeal to tourists from Middle America looking for something a little different at the top of the Neonopolis escalator.
“You’re going to have people that are going to come in and say, ‘We don’t have this in Kansas. Let’s go take a peek,'” Peterson said. “Everybody is welcome here. It’s not a gay nightclub. It’s not a drag queen bar.”
It’s also not just a bowling alley. Sure, there are 12 lanes, but each is lit by glittering chandeliers and four are VIP lanes with curtains for privacy and bottle service.
Then there’s the dance floor, billiard tables and game room with air hockey and motion-sensor chairs for Playstation 3 fanatics.
And yes, liquor will flow as drag queens onstage lip-sync classic pop songs.
Oh, and don’t forget the MoonPies. What respectable bowling alley would be complete without them?
Krave owner Kelly Murphy conceived of Drink and Drag after discovering that Neonopolis had a vacant bowling alley.
Peterson said the center has gotten a bad reputation over the years, mostly because of a period when it lacked functional air conditioning.
Talk of drag queens, drunken bowling and even rampant MoonPie abuse doesn’t merit so much as a raised eyebrow in downtown Sin City. But broken AC? That’s a different story.
“That was the first thing the mayor asked me when I went before City Council – ‘Do you have air conditioning?’ Not, ‘What is Drink and Drag?” Peterson said. “Yes, I have air conditioning. It’s a little chilly.”
Krave invested $700,000 in upgrades and is a little behind schedule. Drink and Drag was expected to open in December.
The bar used Facebook to advertise a weeklong soft opening leading up to tonight’s ribbon-cutting, and has already drawn hundreds of patrons.
Neonopolis developer Rohit Joshi is looking to fill the center with tenants that create their own traffic and don’t rely solely on the Fremont Street Experience to funnel in customers. A downstairs tenant, the Heart Attack Grill, does that by celebrating near-fatal gluttony. Drink and Drag ups the ante a notch or 12 .
“I didn’t even know what drag queen meant when I first heard about it,” Joshi said with a laugh.
“They have their own customer base,” he added. “If it was a couple of guys that were here because Zappos is coming and they want to make a fortune, I would have said, ‘Thank you, goodbye.’ These guys know the business; they’ve been here for years. They know the community.”
The Celebrity Theater at 201 N. Third St., next to what is now the Mob Bar, had a brief run with drag queens in the mid-2000s, but there’s been a shortage of wholesome gay destinations downtown, said Las Vegas News Bureau curator Brian “Paco” Alvarez.
“We’ve needed a good gay attraction. There are gay bars, but this has a very different vibe,” Alvarez said.
“Neonopolis has a great opportunity to come into its own finally,” he added. “With these sets of attractions, it could happen.”
Just as football-shaped beer cups and celebrity impersonators have come to be hallmarks of the Fremont Street experience, so too will drag queens.
“I think a business like that, which fundamentally caters as much as anything to the lookie-loo straight clientele, could and should hopefully be an appropriate business,” said Terry Wilsey, founding board member of the Lambda Business Association, the city’s gay chamber of commerce.
“There is that segment of the straight community that finds it fascinating or intriguing to say they’ve been to a drag show,” he added.
Joshi also expects the club to draw people to the core of Neonopolis, which has long been ignored. The complex’s storefronts along Fremont Street are performing steadily, but the interior was a ghost town, particularly at night.
Not anymore. Drink and Drag is open seven days a week from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. Just after 4 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, strains of “We Are Family” could be heard in the once-silent plaza.
Upstairs, Desarae Penda’vis draped a belt over her colorful, low-cut bodysuit, fluffed her wild blonde mane and strutted from the dressing room.
Contact reporter Caitlin McGarry at email@example.com or 702-387-5273..