Fairfax City’s Epicure is no more, a blow to the students and artists who had turned the independent cafe on Route 29 into the area’s go-to quirky-cool hangout spot.
Fortunately for the local LGBTQ community, the Palace still stands. The biweekly drag show, which was started last May by a pair of high school friends, has sashayed over to the Earp’s Ordinary pop-up bar at 3950 University Drive.
While thrilled with the new venue, Palace co-producer Alan Xtra is still reeling a little from Epicure’s sudden closure on April 6.
“Oh gosh, Epicure is just fantastic — was just fantastic,” Xtra told FFXnow by phone. “There’s nowhere else like it in Fairfax County that I’m aware of that has such a vibrant arts community and was so open to hosting shows…Our current venue is great, but Epicure was something special.”
Like many millennials, Xtra first encountered the world of drag through the reality TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which launched in 2009. Instantly entranced, the Vienna native started performing in and organizing drag shows at his college in upstate New York.
Upon returning home, however, he found that there were no shows in Fairfax County, though D.C. has a rich history of drag culture.
Xtra brought up the idea of starting a show to Chase, a friend from their days in high school theater. She instantly got on board, as did the owner of Epicure when asked if they could use the cafe, and the Palace was born.
Hosted by MasVusi, a George Mason University student who got involved after seeing a show, the Palace’s drag and variety shows received a “great” reception from the start and have only grown since then, Xtra says, though he anticipates a slight drop in numbers with the venue and time shift.
The first show at Earp’s Ordinary was held on April 12 and the next one is scheduled for 9 p.m. on Tuesday (April 26). Going forward, they will take place on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month — a change from the usual Wednesday time slot at Epicure.
Face masks are also no longer required, in keeping with Earp’s mask-optional approach, but people are still welcome to wear them. Xtra acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges and likely reduced attendance.
“Pretty consistently, I still have people say, ‘Hey, I’m not very comfortable doing in-person events still.’ That’s just where we are,” he said.
While the Palace is open to straight, cisgender individuals, it’s envisioned as a space explicitly by and for LGBTQ people — something that feels especially precious at a time of increasing homophobic and transphobic violence.
From prohibitions on discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools (dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida) to the criminalization of gender-affirming health care, state legislatures have introduced record numbers of anti-LGBTQ bills this year. Many young people, particularly transgender and nonbinary youth, have reported negative mental health impacts as a result.
Xtra sees the Palace not as a distraction from those urgent issues, but as an alternative, a space that gives LGBTQ people the sense of acceptance and belonging they’re often denied elsewhere.
“I think that a drag show is a place for queer joy,” Xtra said. “It’s a place for us to come together and celebrate each other as we are, as we’re meant to be, in our fullest selves, and love each other and give each other dollars and buy each other drinks. It’s a space for joy.”
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