Venture Inn (to) Beauty

Wednesday night my colleague/friend (BL), her sister (T), and their two nieces (K & D) and I headed out to Philadelphia for their cousin’s drag debut at Venture Inn, one of the oldest gay bars in Philadelphia. The cousin is Billy Cavallo, the National LGBT Ambassador at Stoli USA and host of Venture Inn’s Variety Show. After getting a little turned around in Camden and waiting in deadlocked traffic on the Ben Franklin Bridge we rolled into Old City Philadelphia where the aptly named Gayborhood stands in the city of brotherly love.

Wednesday night my colleague/friend (BL), her sister (T), and their two nieces (K & D) and I headed out to Philadelphia for their cousin’s drag debut at Venture Inn, one of the oldest gay bars in Philadelphia. The cousin is Billy Cavallo, the National LGBT Ambassador at Stoli USA and host of Venture Inn’s Variety Show. After getting a little turned around in Camden and waiting in deadlocked traffic on the Ben Franklin Bridge we rolled into Old City Philadelphia where the aptly named Gayborhood stands in the city of brotherly love.
imageThe bar was in a vintage structure that was not wheelchair accessible, but my friends put their backs into it and lifted me in. Immediately in the door was a 20 foot long bar with stools that curved around and lead to a dining section with ten tables and an open area of about 15 ft. by 15. The bartender greeted us and BL excitedly told him we were there to support Billy and pointed to the shirts they were wearing with his picture (him in silver lame’ hotpants and a rainbow Mr. Venture Inn 2014 sash)  and GO BILLY in gold glittery letters across the top. Someone was already putting a couple tables together for us and I pulled up to the front left corner in order to catch all the action.

Then Billy stepped out as Hedwig from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, the tortured-transvestite-rock-singer off-Broadway musical (1998), movie (2001) turned Broadway musical (2014). He was well over 6 ft. in 5 inch red heels, black fishnet stockings, and a ripped hem mini skirt. His black sun and moon tee peeking out from his cropped Jean jacket said rock-n-roll while his yellow-blonde wig said fragile. His make up, done by Mary D’Knight (billed as Philadelphia’s premiere Lady Gaga impersonator), brought forth that confused character who wants to be loved. His slight nervousness showed a bit in his face too, but he was thrilled to see his family and himself on their shirts. He went into the streets to promote the show as the seats slowly filled.

From my vantage point at the stage area I could see the entrance and the curve of the bar. As I glanced back to survey the scene they seemed to appear like visions. Amongst the crowd of t-shirt and jean clad men huddled here and there in twos and threes were two majestic queens completely enrobed in their finery. Beverly‘s curves were accentuated by a purple painted-on sweater dress. She was spangled in sparkly jewels and the cutest cat-eye glasses that BL coveted and complimented. Beverly was so gracious in accepting my card and listening to my grad student spiel about researching drag queens and drag culture, and then was off to change for her act. Iris Spectre represented old Hollywood glamour in a high-cut black body suit, black fishnet stockings and a black fascinator in her short adorable flapper-esque curls topped with black plumage. She was giving stunning young Liza Minelli face and sat at the bar daintily with her legs crossed. I spoke to her briefly and said that she looked beautiful. She replied, “Well, don’t you know how to treat a lady.” My response was, “It’s because I am one.”

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Ethereal creatures and me

We settled in to watch the show. Billy started out with the song “Sugar Daddy” from Hedwig and a fun jaunty run around the bar to collect dollar bills that were being offered by admiring audience members. I was prepared with my dollars too, thanks to this post by Schlomo Steel. He was not yet used to standing in heels let alone running in them and was comically out of breath at the end. Later his rendition of “Wig in a Box” got everyone involved. Between his humorous jog and the rousing audience participation he led with lyric cue cards for singing along we were endeared to him even more.

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Mary D’Knight giving us Lady Gaga REALNESS.

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Derriere everywhere

He was followed by Mary in the blue wig and red and black striped dress gyrating and giving us Lady Gaga realness. Most of our conversation during that act was about how great her butt looked and generally how all the queens were representing bo-da-cious! We longed for such curves and I speculated on buying some padding to enhance my own figure, but then realized most of us already do that at the lingerie stores.

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WERK

Then was Zach Ryan an acoustic guitar player who had us jamming to an unplugged version of Sia’s “Chadelier”. He was a finalist in Songbird: The Search for Philly’s Best Singer competition and has definitely honed his chops.

A comedian named Hannah Harkness hopped to the microphone and warmed us with her sex shop and drug paraphernalia humor. I think the funniest turn was when she shared that she is a grad student. It seems all of us have to find a way to feed ourselves. The time of the professional student has passed.

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Beverly disappointed in her candle purchase

Next Bev appeared in an intentionally frumpy get up lip syncing to an edited version of a Youtube video called I MIGHT Boycott Bath & Body Works occasionally cut with some snippets of dance beats. She had us clutching our stomachs with laughter and following her with our gazes around the club as she stomped around with the persona of the angry video poster collecting dollars.

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Thank you for bein’ a friend!

Miss Venture 2013, Scarlet Blue, made an unadvertised guest appearance in a beautiful black and cobalt outfit that brought out the circus ringmaster in her. She gracefully plied and spun to Britney Spears’ “Circus” in the small area like an aerialist and even had she not, her ethereal look was so stunning I think we would have happily sat there and watched her file her nails.

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Scarlet Blue, Miss Venture Inn 2013

Eventually Bev was back out in a polished ensemble of pearls over a black dinner party dress and the ever-present high heels. She entered to Will
Smith’s “Welcome to Miami” and followed it with a Golden Girls’ lip sync number that led to the whole bar singing “Thank You for Being a Friend” and ended with a confetti spray of condoms raining down on us from Bev’s purse to the motto of “No Glove, No Love”. It was the kind of laughing you feel healthier after and that makes the joy in your heart palpable.

Mary D’Knight graced the stage again, this time in full blonde curls, cream colored fishnet stockings and moves to definitely go Gaga over. She was so mesmerizing I forgot to take notes during her act and just kept holding up dollar bills for her to take. She was gold lame’ art in a peekaboo bodysuit. To my surprise and elation at the end of her act she hugged me and said she would look me up and definitely wanted to talk to me.

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Grace and Face

Billy rounded out the show without the wig and heels, only wearing the silver shorts pictured on his family’s shirts and singing “Wicked Little Town”. As he says Hedwig bears himself as a boy to his lover which he fears most.

The fanfare was great, as in big and brilliant in scale. The entertainment was perfectly timed with friendly banter between the host and performers. Heels, feathers, gems, legs, wigs, and make up aside what shines most among these people for me was not the hoopla, but the heart.

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Venture Variety March 18, 2015

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4 thoughts on “Venture Inn (to) Beauty

  1. Great post Elaine! I love the narrative! Also, HOLY CRAP BILLY’S HEELS! I can’t even walk in heels that high. Are you allowed to take video at these events? I’d love to see the performances 🙂

    Like

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