For nearly a decade now, gay bars across the United States have reaped the benefits of the LGBT community’s TV habits, most notably by hosting RuPaul’s Drag Race screening parties. From Los Angeles to Dallas to the East Coast, the much-loved drag competition series gave patrons a reason to head to their local watering holes on Monday nights, and it gave bars — many of which might not have opened their doors on Mondays — a reason to shout its clarion call. The new, ninth season of Drag Race, though, has not only a new network (moving to VH1 from its former Logo digs) but a new night as well, shifting to Friday nights.
We asked the owners of two of our favorite gay bars — Therapy in New York City and Oasis Nightclub in San Francisco — how they predict the show’s new night will affect business.
“Mondays are always difficult in the bar/restaurant business,” says Tom Johnson, owner and manager of Therapy. “RuPaul definitely was a draw to help bring in customers on that night.”
Therapy has held viewing parties for Drag Race since its inception, featuring a drag host, a drag show following each episode and Absolut Vodka drink specials when the liquor company sponsored the show in earlier seasons. Therapy would promote the parties with marketing inside of the bar, through social media and in Next and HX, two local gay magazines that have since unfortunately gone out of business.
“It was great for a Monday night,” Johnson says. “Nothing better than having a free televised show helping on our traditionally slower nights.”
Therapy also treated the final episode of each season — those moments when the show crowns its winner — as a “gay Super Bowl.” As the show’s success skyrocketed, Therapy could no longer even accommodate the crowd.
Speaking to the show’s recent move from Monday to Friday, Johnson says he was upset at first. “Thinking about how much our bars have helped foster not only the drag industry but also supporting RuPaul’s Drag Race, why didn’t they think that our community enjoys going to a neighborhood watering hole to share in the experience together, and how these watering holes need help getting customers too?”
Johnson assumes the ‘TV powers that be’ thought most viewers would simply record the show for later viewing on their DVRs. But he says that thinking is flawed. “If you don’t see Drag Race live, the result will be on your social media feed within seconds.”
Since Drag Race only runs for 10 or 12 weeks, Therapy has always had other programming on Mondays when the show isn’t airing, namely a Broadway variety show with dancing, singing and games. The bar will still screen Drag Race on Fridays, with a drag host and Miller Lite as a party sponsor.
“The bump in business on Mondays was nice,” Johnson says, “but I feel we will also get a bump in business on Fridays as well.”
It also doesn’t hurt that Drag Race screens before most bars — especially New York City bars — start to get busy. “We think 8 p.m. will still be a perfect time,” Johnson says. “At 8 p.m. we have space to absorb the extra bodies we anticipate because the typical Friday happy hour customer heads off to dinner or a show, and the weekend party animal doesn’t show up until 11.”
He adds, “I wonder, though, how many people will stay home, order in and watch it live in their living rooms.”
On the other side of the country, Heklina — herself a famed drag performer who is co-owner of Oasis Nightclub in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood — says the bar used to open on Monday nights for the sole purpose of viewing the drag competition show. The bar would put “a ton of effort” into social media marketing, hired drag hostesses and offered drink specials.
“Oasis is a South of Market destination spot, very much unlike the Castro bars, which all benefit from foot traffic,” Heklina says. “We opened on Mondays solely to screen the show, and became the instant SoMa spot to watch it at.”
Now that the show screens on Fridays, the bar will remain closed on Monday nights, which naturally deprives it of that additional night of revenue. The bar will still screen Drag Race on Fridays, though, and will have Season 5 competitor Honey Mahogany and renowned porn advocate and drag nun Sister Roma host its screening parties.
Still, Heklina adds, “I think it’s foolish of Drag Race to move to Fridays. It will make the whole show less special, and I think less of a cultural touchstone. It was the only game in town on Mondays. Now I fear it will get lost in the shuffle.”
Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race premieres Friday, March 24 on VH1.
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