Best Castro Bars to Watch RuPaul's Drag Race Finale
By Oscar Raymundo
Mondays are a real drag. Fortunately in the Castro, this means celebrity drag shows, cheap drinks, and unified passion for all things (but not all the contestants on) RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Now in its sixth season, Logo’s reality TV drag competition – equal parts Top Model, Project Runway, and Japanese game show – has filled the Monday void in gay bar programming with rambunctious viewing parties, featuring past and present show contestants as they tour across the country in a race to accumulate Twitter followers.
The Castro is not immune to the Drag Race epidemic sweeping the nation. Over the past month, I’ve gone out every Monday, bar-hopping around some of the most popular viewing parties, to help you guys decide where to watch the Drag Race season finale happening on Monday, May 19.
RuPaul fans, start your engines; here's where you'll wanna be this coming Monday night:
The newly-glammed-up hotspot on 18th Street hosts the only “official” RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing party in San Francisco. Honey Mahogany, the only San Francisco drag queen ever to compete on Drag Race, reigns here, alongside Sister Roma. The pre-show performances are fun and casual; the post-show meet-and-greet photo-op with Honey, Roma, and special Drag Race celebrity guests brings out the latest batch of hip Castro debutantes. It gets shoulder-to-shoulder crowded here, and even a twink’s silent fart can cause a scene.
As for the actual episode viewing, Midnight Sun not only plays Drag Race on all its TVs, but the show is also projected on two oversized screens. In a neighborhood where size does matter, Midnight Sun is the IMAX of the Castro. The only downside is that the episodes are pre-recorded so during commercials Honey and Roma disregard the two-minute break by pressing pause, overstaying their welcome and yakking away about… gentrification?
Based on its impressive event calendar, The Café is the powerhouse of booking current Drag Race stars to its stage… or should I say, its elevated Stairmaster platform. This is the most expensive viewing party in the Castro, charging a $5 cover and $15 for a meet-and-greet. Despite the cost, the party lures enough impressionable and overeager 20-year-old SF State Gay Straight Alliance co-founders to fill, well, The Café. But seeing reality TV queens live isn’t the only draw because The Café has a resident drag star of its own. Host Mahlae Balenciaga is graceful and refreshing, irreverent yet professional, and all-around in command of that Stairmaster platform. So don’t be surprised to see her name in a forthcoming season of Drag Race.
But The Café’s viewing party takes a dive when the actual show starts. Although set to the max, the TV volume is way too low. I’m no IT specialist, but I’m pretty sure there is a way to hook up the TV volume output to the speakers. The Café is supposed to be a state-of-the-art nightclub and we’re supposed to whisper?
Toad Hall, the Castro’s default watering hole is starting to attract a decent crowd of its own, mostly cheap lushes like me drawn by no cover charges and two-for-one drink specials. For Drag Race Mondays, Toad Hall has enlisted the venerable BeBe Sweetbriar to host a night of pre-show performances worthy of going straight to DVD. On Cinco the Mayo, for example, drag queens performed a Mexican fiesta-themed number. One queen impersonated Shakira, who is from Colombia, and lip-synced to a song about Africa, which is also not Mexico.
The execution may not be all there but the heart is in the right place. If you’re looking for a relaxed atmosphere, where you can watch (and actually listen) to the show and then have a conversation with friends during the commercial breaks, this is the it-spot. But don’t expect to bump into many Castro celebs. Donna Sachet practically received a royal introduction over the speakers when she walked in. Could it be that for Drag Race Mondays, Toad Hall – everyone’s second choice, the back-up plan, the safe bet – is actually the top pick?
Get the best of all worlds
Consider yourself lucky to live in a city with enough gay bars within a two-block radius to fill your every manic Monday void. Start at The Café and watch the pre-show performances by lovable Mahlae and her Drag Race guests du jour. When the episode starts, rush out to Toad Hall where you won’t have to worry about a line and can binge on all the cheap booze you want. Afterwards, head to Midnight Sun and strike a pose with Honey and her gang at the post-show meet-and-greet.